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Opening the mailbag

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Thank goodness for reader questions during a bye week – even if they sound kind of familiar.

If there’s a clarion call sounded almost weekly among Maryland’s fan base – especially in the weeks after losses – it is the startling turnaround from Ralph Friedgen’s first three seasons to the four-plus seasons since.

So here’s loyal reader Slatter’s take and question on this issue:

Friedgen enjoyed the bulk of his success from 2001-03, when he compiled a 31-8 record and got the Terps to three straight bowl games (including a BCS berth). In the last four and a half years, Fridge’s record has dropped to 29-25 with only two bowl appearances, and he has even said a few times this season that he doesn’t feel that he’s reaching his players. Was there a logical explanation as to why Fridge coached better with Vanderlinden’s kids? Was it just a matter of talent?

I am very reluctant to speak much of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 teams, since I wasn’t around on a every-day basis to see them at work. But I can say Friedgen’s first team was willing to run through a wall for the guy, mainly because they couldn’t seem to get over the 5-6 plateau with Ron Vanderlinden.

Friedgen certainly inherited some talent, but I think he collected just as much of it on his own. It just so happened that Maryland has not come up with a dominant offensive line, a deep collection of defensive linemen or a truly gaudy quarterback in that span. Other than maybe a corner who can take out an opponent’s best receiver, those are the things I’d want to establish more than anything else while building a program. Without them, you can dictate a lot less on a week-to-week basis.

Much as I am loath to admit it, the ACC is a nastier neighborhood than it was five years ago, and that has something to do with Maryland’s problems. No program other than Virginia Tech is a regular threat for 10 wins, but at this point just about everyone is a threat to win six – either this year or next year. Yes, it’s the Land of 8-4 Teams – but a bunch of 8-4 teams don’t make for an easy schedule, either.

This concept is worth a separate entry altogether, and I’ll hold off on that for a while. Other possibilities include a lack of continuity created by coaching staff turnover, the serious loss of buzz with the consecutive 5-6s in 2004 and 2005 and a few recruiting mistakes along the way.

But, as Slatter points out, the numbers don’t lie – and Friedgen’s results since the start of the 2004 season don’t come close to stacking up with the three magical years at the start of his tenure.

Patrick Stevens

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