- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

It took 33 years for Ralph Friedgen to become an overnight success. It took Maryland just six games under his guidance to wash away more than a decade of painful memories.

The Terrapins have transformed from perennial losers to Cinderella in Friedgen's first season. Maryland is a national sensation with its No. 10 ranking and unblemished record heading into Saturday's ACC showdown at No. 19 Florida State. The Terps are sporting their highest ranking since 1985, and are 7-0 for the first time in 23 seasons.

"It is surprising, but when you watch them play, you can see why they are winning," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, whose once-mighty Seminoles (4-2, 3-1 ACC) are chasing Maryland (5-0 ACC) in the conference. "The previous coach [Ron Vanderlinden] probably recruited better than people realized. And Friedgen is showing his ability as a head coach."

Friedgen's fast-paced practices have helped with late-game conditioning, and the Terps work extensively on turnover drills of stripping the football and making interceptions. The results are a staggering 25 takeaways (17 interceptions, eight fumble recoveries), while giving the ball away just nine times.

"They are playing with the confidence that winning brings," said Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary, whose team had six turnovers in a 20-17 overtime loss to Maryland. "They are not turning the ball over and getting turnovers. That's been the difference."

The 54-year-old Friedgen began his first head coaching stint by instilling strong discipline as he began rebuilding a program low on morale. He has started nightly bed checks and breakfast is mandatory. It is part of his plan to defeat the culture of losing.

Though his self-confidence is contagious, Friedgen admits being 7-0 was more of a dream than a realistic thought before the season. The Terps are feeding off Friedgen's air, despite some apprehensions during demanding offseason workouts, complete with early morning conditioning.

"They really didn't know where I was coming from," the coach said. "There is an art to winning, just like there is an art to losing."

Maryland had become the Picasso of losing. The Terps had just one winning season in a decade, and hadn't been to a bowl since 1990. The bad karma may finally be gone after a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win at nationally ranked Georgia Tech before a national television audience.

The victory over the Yellow Jackets legitimized Maryland's season. The program ended a 34-game losing streak to ranked opponents, a run dating back to 1990. It also marked the first winning season in six years.

"The goal for the season was six wins," said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, referring to a detailed five-year plan done by Friedgen when he got hired. "We kind of joked about it and I said, 'Congratulations.'"

The goal proved only the beginning. Last Saturday, the Terps won their seventh game in a season for the first time in 16 years with a 59-17 thrashing of Duke. It was the latest step created by the momentum set in motion on opening day when the Terps showed resilience in a win over North Carolina.

After allowing the Tar Heels a 77-yard touchdown run on their first play, the Terps clamped down on their way to a 23-7 victory. The defense, led by dominating linebacker E.J. Henderson, shut down North Carolina and made three interceptions. Maryland used two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away and gain a new sense of worth.

"The biggest ingredient to turning this around is our ability to hang in there when things aren't going good and fight through adversity," Friedgen said. "Because that's when you become successful."

Said senior center Melvin Fowler of the Terps' current state of mind: "When things aren't going well, we know it's going to turn for the better. Somehow it's going to get done."

A favorable schedule also helped the winning run as the Terps played four of their first five games at home, and didn't face a ranked team over the span. Maryland had already re-entered the Top 25 for the first time in six seasons when it brought a 5-0 record to play then-No. 15 Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The Terps jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but were on the verge of losing with the Yellow Jackets up 17-14 late in the fourth quarter with the ball. However, the Jackets made a critical mistake when tailback Joe Burns ran out of bounds to stop the clock and allow Maryland to get the ball back with 1:18 remaining.

"We practice the two-minute drill in practice every day," wide receiver Jafar Williams said of the now-famous drive that started on Maryland's 20-yard line. "I tell you right now, we hate it. But what can you say about Friedgen? He knows what he's doing. He knows how to put his players in position to win."

Quarterback Shaun Hill efficiently drove Maryland to Tech's 29-yard line, before freshman Nick Novak hit a miraculous 46-yard field goal as time expired. The Terps took a 20-17 lead overtime on a 26-yard field goal, and won when Randall Jones recovered a fumble by Burns, Georgia Tech's sixth turnover of the night.

"They came back," Georgia Tech's O'Leary said. "It's hard to do that when you're down 17-14 on the road. They got the field goal. They've learned to win, which usually doesn't happen in a coach's first year."

It appears the program's turnaround hasn't completely affected the turnstiles. Although the students have established a bond with the team and created a raucous environment in Byrd Stadium, some 5,000 seats were empty in the 48,000-seat stadium on Homecoming Day last Saturday. However, crowds are up from the last few seasons and have been over 40,000 for the five home games.

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