WASHINGTON — Like a band on its farewell tour, the 2010 Maryland Terrapins gathered a final time Wednesday and recorded one more win before sending a tearful coach Ralph Friedgen off with hugs, a Gatorade shower and 10 years of memories.
If nothing else, Maryland's 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the Military Bowl provided solace for Friedgen, who had likened his final days at his alma mater to a "slow death."
When it was over, Friedgen smiled as he hoisted the gleaming Military Bowl trophy. He exchanged long embraces with quarterback Danny O'Brien and receiver Torrey Smith -- who announced he was forgoing his final season to enter the NFL draft.
Friedgen choked up when telling how he lingered after the game because "I just wanted to savor being in the locker room with the kids." He said his last wish for this team is that it makes the final Top 25 rankings.
Friedgen, 63, said it remains it to be seen whether his ouster -- announced on Dec. 20 -- will prove the right course for Maryland (9-4). "Everybody has their own opinion," the coach said to a large gathering of media members. "Obviously, the powers that be just didn't feel like I was good enough to go to the next level. Only time will tell whether that's accurate."
Against the overmatched Pirates (6-7), Friedgen got a 91-yard touchdown run (a school record) and 200 total yards from tailback Da'rel Scott, playing his last Maryland game. Scott was voted the game's most valuable player. Maryland also got four rushing touchdowns from goal-line specialist D.J. Adams.
East Carolina entered the game ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, surrendering 479 yards per game. As Maryland well knew, the Pirates are particularly susceptible to the run.
Friedgen was not the only one exiting after the game.
Many of his assistant coaches will not be returning. Friedgen and assistants Don Brown, Dave Sollazzo and Charles Bankins were all doused by players on the sideline. "We pretty much gave everybody we could a Gatorade bath," said Smith, who had 12 touchdown catches this season and said he is leaving because he has already graduated and believes he will be drafted high by an NFL team.
It was also the last game for standout linebacker Alex Wujciak and 15 other seniors. Wujciak said Friedgen told his players in the locker room that they could call him and that "he's going to be here for us for the rest of our lives."
Maryland fans serenaded Friedgen with chants of "Ralph, Ralph" from the stands. A fan hung a banner with "RALPH" in red letters. Scott gestured for fans in the stands to applaud the coach at the end of the game. Friedgen -- wearing khaki pants, a black jacket and white Terps ball cap -- walked to the stands and huddled with his players as the band played the alma mater.
Friedgen was hired in 2001 from Georgia Tech, where he was offensive coordinator. The Terps won, 23-7, in his debut. "What I remember is we played North Carolina and the first play from scrimmage went 70 yards for a touchdown -- for them. And I know everybody in the stands said, 'Here we go again.' But our kids hung in there and we ended up beating them," Friedgen said in an interview.
On Wednesday, Maryland used its multiple blitz packages to pressure quarterback Dominique Davis, who was 35-for-57 for 268 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
"They had incentive," said East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil, who said it was evident how badly the Terps wanted to win for Friedgen. Maryland is searching for Friedgen's replacement. Athletic director Kevin Anderson was at the bowl game and later attended at least part of Maryland's men's basketball victory over North Florida.
Sources said Maryland has expressed interest in in former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach -- who is to interview as soon as today -- as well as Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and others. Anderson said he wants to take the program "from good to great."
Friedgen has not ruled out returning to coaching. "If I get the itch again, I think somebody will hire me," he said.
Maryland said four players were academically ineligible to play Wednesday. They were defensive lineman Drew Gloster, receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree and offensive lineman Pete White. It would have been Gloster's last game.
Maryland took a 6-0 lead on its second possession on O'Brien's 45-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dorsey. The extra point was blocked. Adams' 1-yard scoring run pushed Maryland's lead to 16-3 in the second quarter. Adams became the first Terp since Chris Downs in 2002 to rush for four scores.
In its third season, the Military Bowl -- formerly known as the EagleBank Bowl -- was played before an announced crowd of 38,062 at RFK Stadium. The building with the distinctive curving roof was home to the Redskins, who left for FedEx Field in 1997, and to baseball's Senators before they departed for Texas in 1971.
The stadium is distinctly old-school, just like the man who coached his last Maryland game there.