- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

A chair flying through the locker room at N.C. State. The confident stare before the biggest kick of the season at Georgia Tech. The pep talks before games.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen may be an offensive whiz, a meticulous organizer and a tireless workaholic. But for all those attributes, his mastery of motivation has been the most critical factor in transforming a losing team full of self-doubt into a confident ACC champion headed to the Orange Bowl.
"He's an expert at playing mind games," quarterback Shaun Hill said.
Friedgen, who became the first Maryland coach to be named Associated Press national coach of the year Thursday, won't take complete credit for the Terrapins' 10-1 mark. He points to his assistant coaches, a supportive administration which gave him a 10-year contract this week and a group of receptive players. Those same players credit the first-year coach for his contagious self-confidence.
"The main thing about Coach Friedgen is, I don't think he tries to say the right things," linebacker Aaron Thompson said. "He just says what he feels in his heart. That's why it means so much. You can see in his face he means it. I'll play all my life for a guy like that."
Wide receiver Guilian Gary called Friedgen "borderline crazy" on game days, the type of guy who has no problem head-butting a helmeted player after a big play. The 54-year-old coach revealed that his motivational methods are sometimes planned and other times off the cuff.
One of the impromptu sessions occurred Nov. 17, with the Terps trailing N.C. State 9-3 at halftime. Maryland seemed listless before the break. The coach was angry before going into the locker room, where he quickly managed to work himself into a boiling rage.
"I was talking to them, and they had this blank, deer-in-the-headlights stare," Friedgen said. "I wanted them to get going. I said, 'Damn it. I'm a damn competitor. What about you?' And I threw a chair over their heads. They still kept looking at me, so I threw it again. The second one got them fired up."
Maryland responded with a thrilling second half, complete with a last-minute touchdown pass from Hill to Gary to win the ACC title outright and earn a BCS bid.
It was a vintage performance from Friedgen, who can be an intimidating madman or a soothing father figure depending on the circumstances.
"There is no one way," the coach said. "You just have to feel the pulse of the team and know what strings to pull, what buttons to push, who to encourage and who to get on."
The parent in Friedgen came out several weeks earlier, just before Nick Novak attempted one of the biggest kicks in Maryland history at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets called a timeout before the freshman's 46-yard field goal attempt to force overtime.
Icing the kicker made sense; after all, Novak had made just three of 10 field goals to that point. For much of the season, Friedgen's remarks about the kicking game had been critical, and he even tried sarcasm in practice. But as Novak's woes continued, Friedgen decided to stop the threats of demotion, instead guaranteeing Novak that he would remain the kicker. That nurturing approach was in effect when the coach talked to Novak on the sideline. He even told a joke to lighten the mood.
"He just said he thought I could make it," said Novak, who nailed the field goal, then kicked the game-winner in overtime. "I looked at his eyes and knew I had to make it."
Friedgen calls motivating more of an art than a science, saying he has little choice but to heed to his overwhelming emotions. That doesn't mean it's always so spontaneous. During the week of practice before a game, he will build the team's confidence or knock it down if he detects some cockiness.
"There are a lot of ways you can motivate," he said. "You can motivate by fear. You can motivate by encouraging. You can motivate with confidence and setting goals. I think I have used every one of them. The key for me is to try to get them up every week. I try to find some theme and something that is tangible that they can look to and isolate for that one game."
Part of that is the pep talk Friedgen gives the night before each game, challenging players in front of their peers. For instance, before the victory over Virginia a team that had tormented the Terps for the past decade or so he showed game films of several of the losses in the series. And as Maryland's chances for the ACC title became more realistic, he passed around his ACC championship rings.
Friedgen might be at his best when the Terps play the kind of weaker teams that good ones sometimes look past.
"I listed about 10 different reasons why we need to beat Duke," Friedgen said the night before Maryland's 59-17 shellacking of the winless Blue Devils. "I think I ended with 'because they're Duke.'"
The coach uses the media as a tool, too. Through reporters, he challenged Hill to improve his decision-making, and the senior quarterback responded with a season-ending flourish that earned him second-team All-ACC honors. Tailback Bruce Perry felt the coach's ire before the season, when he was deemed soft and undependable.
"I would find myself wanting to go out and play to live up to his expectations," said Perry, who became the conference's offensive player of the year despite playing with nagging injuries. In response, the sophomore rushed for 1,242 yards.
Yes, Maryland's master motivator has pushed all the right buttons. But what motivates Friedgen?
The answer is simple: "I'm a competitor, and I don't like to lose. I like winning more than anything else in life."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide