- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

Let's say it flat out: There are two Ralph Friedgens and I don't mean because he might pack more poundage than any college football coach since Herman Hickman blew his whistle at Yale a half-century ago.

The lovable public Friedgen smiles pleasantly, cracks jokes and acts like, gee whiz, isn't it amazing that his first-year Maryland Terrapins are 7-0 and ranked No. 10 after more than a decade of virtually consistent failure?

The rock-rumped private Friedgen is tough enough to have taken a long-dormant program at his alma mater and whipped it into winning shape faster than you can say, "Who cares about basketball right now?"

Senior center Melvin Fowler described Friedgen's M.O. this way in Sports Illustrated: "Everybody's going to class. They don't want to deal with the wrath of Coach Friedgen. In the past … we didn't have the discipline we do now. … A lot of guys on the team, me included, we're happy. We know this is exactly what we need."

Both Friedgens were on view at his/their Byrd Stadium news conference this week, along with a larger than usual contingent of media types snarfing down the free lunch. This is a very big week for the Terps. If they can beat No. 19 Florida State today in Tallahassee, an undefeated season and a BCS postseason bid are possible, maybe even likely.

Of course, that's not exactly a given. The Terps are 0-11 against the Seminoles; in fact, they've never come closer than 10 points and lost 59-7 last year. "I don't think we'll be overconfident," Friedgen said with a little chuckle. "If they're down, they're pretty good. It will be a tough situation."

That's the gee-whiz Friedgen talking. Now let's listen to the rock-rumped one: "If we want to be with the big boys, we've got to get used to this [kind of big-game pressure]. Intimidation? That's what [Florida State] does they intimidate you, when that horse comes out [before the game] and they throw that spear at you. … You have to be ready to deal with that. … If we're intimidated, we're not going to win a thing. Anybody who's intimidated [on my team] might as well stay home."

Do you get the feeling that Maryland won't be intimidated, simply because Friedgen won't allow it? I do. But it's worth noting that very few coaches can accurately read the mood of their teams immediately before battle. We'll find out this afternoon, probably soon after the kickoff.

Friedgen and his players won't have time until after the season maybe in January to realize what they have wrought. Not since Jim Tatum arrived in 1947 has a new coach at Terptown been so right. If I were athletic director Debbie Yow, one thought would keep rattling around in my fevered brain: Why in the name of Curly Byrd did I hire Ron Vanderlinden (15-29 from 1997-2000) when Friedgen was available, and an alumnus, too?

But what the heck, Debbie nobody's perfect.

There have been three more or less golden eras of Maryland football, those orchestrated by Tatum (74-15-4 from 1947-55), Jerry Claiborne (77-37-3 from 1972-81) and Bobby Ross (39-19-1 from 1982-86). Over the last 14 years under Joe Krivak, Mark Duffner and Vanderlinden, the Terps were an unsnappy 55-98-2 a dismal period that makes Friedgen's instant success remarkable.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's accidental.

As Fowler indicated, discipline is a bigger part of football than perhaps any other sport. Re-establishing it may be Friedgen's biggest contribution.

"He worked with my father and Coach Ross, and I think he saw how big an effect discipline had on the way those teams performed," said Jonathan Claiborne, a Baltimore lawyer who played for his dad's teams in the '70s and now does color on the Maryland radio broadcasts.

"You have to demand that the players be disciplined and discipline themselves. Coach Friedgen has applied a level of mental and physical toughness that perhaps we didn't see last year."

Perhaps? Claiborne is merely being diplomatic toward the unlamented Vanderlinden, who said all the right things and produced none.

As both Friedgens would tell you, though, King Ralph's work of art also is a work in progress. Superb college football seasons do not peak in October, a point he surely is drumming into his troops every day.

"If we finish 7-4, I won't be happy," he said. "We've got a chance to be up there with Florida State [as a perennial power], and when [the opportunity] comes, you gotta go for it."

Today at Doak Campbell Stadium, the Terps indeed will be going for a small slice of gridiron glory. But win or lose, it will not be the final slice. Maryland and its fans will savor that only when Friedgen's program produces top teams year after year, decade after decade.

"We're a long way from where we're gonna be," the miracle worker of College Park agreed. "But if I've got anything to do with it, it's gonna get better."

You know what? I believe him.

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