- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

He has been away for 14 years, but yesterday, Ralph Friedgen finally returned to the University of Maryland.

Friedgen, 53, a Maryland graduate and most recently offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, was named the program's 34th football coach yesterday. His task, as stated by athletic director Debbie Yow and university president C.D. Mote Jr., is to return Maryland "to football prominence." Friedgen accepted the challenge.

"I think it's time for the Maryland community to unite. They have a Terrapin now as their head coach," Friedgen said. "I've waited all my life for this opportunity. I'm not going to let anybody down."

Friedgen signed a guaranteed six-year contract with a base salary of $175,000 with built-in provisions that push the total to more than $700,000. After meeting with the university's search committee Tuesday, Friedgen flew back to his Atlanta home Tuesday night and returned to College Park yesterday, where the parties agreed to terms around 11 a.m. Friedgen will assume his duties immediately although the Yellow Jackets play in the Peach Bowl Dec. 29.

Very popular among alumni and his former players, Friedgen was the only candidate with no head coaching experience considered by the Maryland search committee, Yow said. Friedgen's candidacy was bolstered by his familiarity with the Atlantic Coast Conference and its recruiting areas. His status as a Maryland graduate and former Maryland coach was only a secondary factor, but university officials moved quickly to avoid risking losing Friedgen to other schools with coaching openings, Yow said. Friedgen also was contacted by Memphis concerning its vacancy.

"I don't think you can compare coach Friedgen to any other assistant," Yow said. "I know of no other coordinator who has been part of a national collegiate championship team and a Super Bowl team. To me, that sets him apart."

That didn't set Friedgen apart four years ago, when he was considered but not interviewed for the Terps' coaching vacancy. Yow bristled when asked why Friedgen wasn't interviewed then, saying the situation was "complex" and she was not comfortable commenting on it. For his part, Friedgen chose to believe that this was the right place and the right time.

Friedgen did not hide his satisfaction at finally becoming a head coach; he said the fact that he is not a self-promoter and concentrates on his job had probably hurt him in the past. He also dismissed any doubts about becoming a first-time head coach.

"I've been coaching for 31 years. You start to wonder whether you're going to get this opportunity or not," he said, mentioning Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech) and George O'Leary (Georgia Tech) as colleagues who had become head coaches in recent years.

"A better question is to ask is, 'How many head coaches have accomplished what I have as an assistant?' " Friedgen said. "I think it's logical that if I've accomplished more than they have as an assistant, then I have the potential to accomplish more than they can as a head coach."

Friedgen, a heavyset, stern-faced man, didn't speculate about how fast he would get Maryland consistently into the top 25 and the upper half of the ACC. Something will have to give, though: Maryland has had two winning seasons in the last 15 years, while Friedgen-coached teams have not had a losing record in the last 12 years.

"I don't make a lot predictions about how we're going to be, but I'm not a good loser," Friedgen said.

A six-player committee that included juniors Guilian Gary, Shaun Hill and Aaron Thompson met with Friedgen for 90 minutes during the interview process. The Terps players and Yow said they appreciated Friedgen's no-nonsense attitude.

"He was confident about getting this position," Gary said. "He knew there was nobody better qualified than him to fill this coaching void."

Said Friedgen: "I told them I can show them how to win… . It's a small, a very fine line between winning and losing. You have to learn how to win and I think I know how to [teach] that."

Friedgen said he has specific candidates in mind to fill positions on his staff and expects to begin the process in the next 10 days. Both Yow and Friedgen said the budget allotted for his staff is more than adequate to lure top-notch coaches.

Mike Locksley, James Franklin and Elliot Uzelac, all assistant coaches under previous coach Ron Vanderlinden, were given the option by Yow to stay on pending the new coach's decision. Locksley, a strong recruiter, and Franklin were in attendance yesterday, and both said they wanted to remain at Maryland. Friedgen will meet with the coaches in the next 10 days.

For now, though, Friedgen is concentrating on moving his family from Georgia, where he recently began building a house. Those plans will have to be put on hold.

"This is the right year, the right time and the right place for Ralph Friedgen," Mote said.

Friedgen last coached in College Park when the Terrapins last were a force, in the mid-1980s. A 1968 letter winner at guard and a 1969 Maryland graduate, Friedgen has made a name for himself with his dynamic offensive schemes at all levels. He served as Maryland's offensive coordinator under Bobby Ross for four seasons before following Ross to Georgia Tech in 1987 and the San Diego Chargers in 1992. Ross led the Yellow Jackets to a share of the 1990 national championship and the Chargers to the 1994 Super Bowl. He returned to Georgia Tech in 1997 under O'Leary.

He did as good a job this season as ever, taking a Tech offense that had lost stars Joe Hamilton (quarterback) and Dez White (wide receiver) and maintaining its potency. Friedgen was one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the nation before being hired away from Georgia Tech.

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