- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ralph Friedgen had just finished reiterating how proud he was of his 2-10 Maryland football team despite Saturday’s 19-17 loss to Boston College when a man asked him the 800-pound-gorilla question: Did he expect to be coaching the Terrapins in 2010, and did he want to be?

Blunt answer.

“I do,” said Friedgen, replying to the second part first, “and I expect to be coaching the team next season.”

Then he added the necessary caveat: “But we’ll have to see.”

Throughout his nine years at Terptown, alumnus Friedgen has been as candid as any coach can be and more so than most. He really is proud of his tattered Terps. He really does care about his players and his school.

And he really does deserve a 10th season, which would tie him with Jerry Claiborne (1972-81) as the second-longest-serving gridiron boss in College Park behind school patriarch Curley Byrd.

Yet this autumn’s agonies and four losing seasons in the past six years seemingly have downgraded Friedgen’s job status from inviolate to itchy. Sometime soon, athletic director Debbie Yow says, she will evaluate his performance and that of his staff. Then, as the Fridge noted, we’ll see.

One thing in his favor should be the Terps’ resiliency. Midway through the fourth quarter Saturday, they hadn’t scored since early in the second and trailed BC 16-10 following three field goals by the Eagles’ Steve Aponavicius. But then sophomore quarterback Jamarr Robinson led Maryland downfield and pitched a 28-yard touchdown to wideout Torrey Smith with 1:34 left.

Suddenly, startlingly, the Terps were in position to win. And if Nick Ferrara’s onside kick had twisted and turned into the hands of somebody wearing a black jersey…

But of course it didn’t, leaving the 2009 Terps in solo misery as the only Maryland team ever to lose 10 games in a season - the last seven in a ridiculous row.

Did Friedgen rant and rave in the locker room, as some coaches might?

Forget it.

“I told them how proud I am of them,” he said. “I told them I expect to be back, but if I’m not I wanted them to know how much I love them.”

I would imagine some of his big, tough football players got a bit weepy at that.

Under a plan devised by Yow a while back, Friedgen is expected to turn over the job to assistant head coach/offensive coordinator James Franklin in 2012. Perhaps Yow might ask Friedgen to hang up his whistle a year sooner, but it seems unlikely that she would dictate or endorse a more drastic move.

For one thing, it would cost the university more than $4 million to buy him out, which could be disastrous in view of the financial shortfalls afflicting most major universities these days.

For another, Yow is a former coach and surely can relate to the season’s mitigating circumstances, such as the presence of just 14 seniors on the team, multiple injuries and severe inadequacies along the offensive and defensive lines.

For a third, Debbie is no dummy - far from it.

And even while Friedgen awaits official word one way or another, he will be looking ahead to a dramatically sunnier 2010. His manner was subdued as he started his postgame news conference, but his spirits lifted and his eyes twinkled as he talked about Robinson’s performance and those of other relatively untested sophomores and freshmen.

“We have good leadership,” he insisted. “We had, what, 70 plays today, and 65 of them were good. Jamarr was very poised, not rattled, confident - he’s really gonna grow. He definitely made a statement today.”

Now somebody in authority at Maryland needs to make a positive statement about Friedgen, the sooner the better.

“These kids never quit on me,” he said. “So why should I quit on them?”

And Maryland shouldn’t quit on the Fridge, who ranks right up there with Jim Tatum, Claiborne and Bobby Ross as coaches who have yanked the Terps out of the football doldrums. His nine-year record is 66-46 - hot stuff compared with such woebegone recent predecessors as Joe Krivak, Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden, who had a lot of ghastly seasons rather than just one.

Ralph Friedgen is a class guy who doesn’t deserve “what have you done for us lately?” treatment from anybody around College Park.

No way.

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