Sunday, November 25, 2001

After more than three decades as a successful assistant pro and college football coach, the new millennium arrived without any indication that Ralph Friedgen would realize his dream of running his own show. Despite winning the 1999 Frank Broyles Award as top assistant coach in college football, when he oversaw the nation’s most potent offense at Georgia Tech, the rejection slips continued to mount. “I about gave up on it,” Friedgen, 54, recalled to Bob Cohn of The Washington Times. “I figured if it didn’t happen then, it was never gonna happen.”
Unknown to Friedgen in 1999, however, Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow had been burning up the Internet and logging hours on satellite TV for several years studying his work. As Maryland’s football program continued to be mired in mediocrity, Yow was sizing up Friedgen, a big man in his own right, as a prospective head coach. Then, last year, Yow signed Friedgen to a six-year contract.
Friedgen was returning home. A member of the Maryland class of 1969, he was an assistant coach from 1982 to 1986 when Head Coach Bobby Ross led Maryland to Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) titles in 1983, 1984 and 1985 and when Maryland ended the season No. 18 in the country, the last year it was ranked nationally.
Friedgen inherited a mess. Having achieved only two winning records since Friedgen and Ross departed after the 1986 season, Maryland had not won more than six games in a season since 1985 and had not been to a postseason bowl game since 1990. Last November, when his return as head coach was announced, Friedgen, referring to the Maryland community, said, “They have a Terrapin now as their head coach. I’ve waited all my life for this opportunity. I’m not going to let anybody down.”
What an understatement. Capping one of college football’s most remarkable instant turnarounds in years (Maryland was 5-6 last year), the Terps finished their regular season last weekend with a 10-1 record. It was their first winning season since 1995, and the first time in a quarter-century that they won 10 games. Also, the Terps became the first ACC team, other than Florida State, to win the ACC title outright since 1992 positioning Maryland for its first major bowl game since the 1977 Cotton Bowl. Thus, it was hardly surprising that Friedgen in what is likely to be the first of several well-deserved awards was named Tuesday as the national coach of the year.
His boss, Yow, looks like a genius. And the big guy, finally given a chance, managed not only to make his own dream come true but also the dreams of his never-say-die players, who clearly believed in their coach as much as he believed in them.

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