- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

MIAMI — At the risk of being presumptuous, let's try this morning to read the expansive mind and body of the most successful first-year football coach ever at Maryland and pretty much anywhere else. Ready? Here we go …

Hi there, folks do you know me, even without my American Express card? You should if you follow football at all, because my name is Ralph Harry Friedgen and I have just wrought a minor miracle at the University of Maryland.

For sure, this has been a rough week for us in Miami. As you probably know, Florida tattooed our royal rumps pretty good in the Orange Bowl the other night, and I sort of apologized afterward to all those Terrapin fans 23,000 of them who spent good money to come and watch us let them down.

But a day or so later, I don't feel so bad after all. One of those dopey newspaper people asked me after the game when I was going to start thinking about Notre Dame you know, we open the season against them in the Kickoff Classic next summer and I said, "Tomorrow." That's not strictly true, though. First, I'm going to kick back a bit and think about everything we've accomplished. It might take a while, too.

Somebody asked E.J. Henderson, our super linebacker, whether the Florida game had spoiled our 10-1 regular season, and he said no way. He also said the loss could affect his decision whether to come back for his senior season "because nobody wants to go out this way." So maybe there was a ray or two of sunshine in the licking we took. As I said after the game, you grow from experiences like that and you get better playing real good football teams.

This columnist from The Washington Times asked me if our long-term objective was to have a program like Florida's, and I told him, "That's exactly what we want to do" in other words, produce nationally ranked and respected teams year after year. It's gonna be tough, but I think we can do it. And we will.

It's funny. I was an assistant coach for so long was it really 100 years, or does it just seem that long? that I began to doubt whether I'd ever get a chance to run my own program. Then Debbie Yow called and invited me to come home to Maryland, my alma mater. Of course, that's the job I always wanted. Now I have a new 10-year contract, so there won't be a lot of rumors about my leaving for this or that job every year. You can't imagine how good that kind of stability makes you feel in coaching.

When I got the job, and later when we began fall practice, I didn't know how we would do you may think you know, but you never really do. I knew we were small and thin at some positions, and all those bad seasons had created a losing mentality that we had to get rid of. I tried to be positive all the time, and it wasn't easy. But you have to remember, these are young men we're dealing with almost kids in some respect. A lot of them need a father figure who supports and disciplines them. If you want to call it tough love, I won't object.

When we beat North Carolina in our opener, that was a big help. Later on, we upset Georgia Tech on national TV when a freshman, Nick Novak, kicked a field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation and another one in overtime to win it. Right then, he looked more beautiful to me than Kim Novak, that sexy actress in the '50s.

I thought we played pretty badly in the first half of our last regular-season game when we were trying to clinch the ACC title we were losing 9-0 so I decided to shake 'em up. In the locker room, I threw a chair, but nobody noticed. So I threw another one, and that did it: We went back out and won the game 23-19. Sometimes you have to go for shock effect.

I know some people say that our schedule wasn't that tough, that the ACC is a basketball league where football is only an afterthought, but I don't buy that. How can anybody take 10-1 away from us. What you see is what you get.

Now my coaches and I will hit the recruiting trail, trying to find some of those 6-foot-8 tackles like Florida has. It's never easy recruiting, but it's going to be easier because of the season we had. Certainly, it would have helped if we had beaten the Gators, or at least stayed with them all the way, but they just had too many super players. The state of Florida has an awful lot of football talent but so does Maryland.

Before I start knocking on doors, though, I'm going to sit back with a milkshake, or maybe something a tad stronger, and think about how much fun this season has been. Sometimes coaches look too quickly for the next challenge without appreciating what's gone before. It will be tough trying to top 10-1, but it will be fun trying. And sooner or later, we will get better. The next time we play in a New Year's bowl, we might be the ones doing all the celebrating.

I know football coaches aren't supposed to let their emotions show, but it has been fun letting you read my mind. We all like to share positive thoughts, right? Well, this has been the most positive year I can remember.

(Coach Friedgen's mind has come to you without official approval from the NCAA, the University of Maryland or its athletic department and the state of Maryland. Tune in again next season for more of the same.)

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