- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

The question to Debbie Yow was simple: When miracle worker football coach Ralph Friedgen told her Monday morning that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to talk with him, did the thought "my God, we may lose him" panic its way through her mind?

Yow responds to such journalistic invasions of privacy as candidly as any other athletic director and more so than most. "It did more than just go through my mind," she said with a sigh of relief yesterday.

After Friedgen announced during his news conference a short time earlier that he was, indeed, staying in Terptown, one Maryland fan posing as a reporter shook his fist triumphantly, as in "yes!" Such is the effect a coach can have when he dropkicks a long dormant program to a 10-1 record and an Orange Bowl date in his first season.

There is a downside, however, to such success: After each winning season, its architect is going to be chased with various degrees of intensity by pro and college teams that hope coach Wally Whistle or Clarence Clipboard can do for them what he did for his present employer. Both Friedgen and Yow conceded this basic fact yesterday, and Debbie added, "It isn't pleasant, but it beats the alternative [i.e. losing]."

Yet if Maryland's football fortunes continue to ascend, you have to wonder whether Friedgen will put the university, its players and its fans through such annual trauma as that briefly caused this winter by first Georgia Tech and then Tampa Bay expressing interest. Bobby Ross did so in the early '80s, entertaining annual feelers from so many panting pursuers that a lot of folks around Terptown were glad to see him finally depart. (Of course, 15 years of mostly mediocre football ensued under Joe Krivak, Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden, but that's another story.)

Nor is it unprecedented that a coach becomes hot property after just one big season at a school. It happened to Gary Barnett a few years ago after dramatically reviving pigskin activities at Northwestern. Almost before long-suffering fans of the Wildcats had finished pinching themselves, they discovered that their coach was no longer their coach. Lured by a bigger contract and presumably more perks, Barnett had shuffled off to Colorado, where he was safely out of spitting range.

For Maryland alumnus Friedgen, a Terrapin from hairline to shoetops, the danger exists that his credibility could take a direct hit if this sort of scenario manifests itself repeatedly. We shouldn't blame him for allowing the sons of Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer to visit his humble home Monday night and, "talk football," as the Fridge put it. No offer was made, he added, and he had expected none. But what if there had been? What then?

"I felt I had an obligation to my family to listen [to the Bucs]," Friedgen said, meaning that an NFL job might pay $3million or so a year, perhaps triple his take at Maryland. King Ralph is right about that, but he gives the impression of being more honest and straightforward than many of his greedier counterparts, so shouldn't other factors enter into the mix?

How about loyalty and honor, to name two? Should Friedgen so soon abandon all the people who have faith in him and depend on him to lead Maryland football onward and upward? Of course not, not this time. But what about next time and surely there will be a next time if he accomplishes all his goals in College Park?

And what about that 10-year contract he signed recently? Is it just a scrap of paper, or another kind of obligation, one that demands that he stay put and truly restore Maryland to football greatness? This sort of thing can't be accomplished in one season, no matter how magnificent; it requires four or five at an elevated level, plus a few superduper recruiting hauls accomplished in part because the athletes in question know they'll be playing for you a few years down the road.

It's fine that Steve Spurrier decides that he needs a new challenge and succumbs to Dan Snyder's wildly waving checkbook; his departure isn't going to wreck Florida football, simply because he planted the seeds of success so deep. You can do that in 12 seasons.

If Friedgen needs a shining example of what continuity can do, he should visit Cole Field House this Sunday for the latest basketball brouhaha between Maryland and Duke. Does anybody think the Terps and Blue Devils would rank first and third in the current polls if Gary Williams and Mike Krzyzewski hadn't been there for what seems forever?

That's what Maryland wants and needs in football, too. Friedgen waited an obscenely long time to get his chance as a head coach, and his career should end in 10 or 15 years where it started.

"I'm very happy at Maryland, and I want to stay at Maryland," he insisted yesterday. Then he stated his personal credo: "I want to be good, I want to be good quickly and I want to be good all the time."

There's nothing wrong with money, as all of us will attest, but some things are more important. If Ralph Friedgen continues to realize that, he will deserve our respect as a person as well as a football coach.

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