- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is growling, grumpy and exhausted. Maybe a little peeved, too.

It’s not the season Friedgen wanted despite the No.24 Terrapins (9-3) seeking their third straight 10-win year against No.21 West Virginia (8-4) in the Gator Bowl on Thursday. However, it’s the one he worried might come.

Rebuilding the program wasn’t the hardest part for Friedgen, it’s remaining among the elite.

“I’ve learned there’s problems every year,” he said. “It’s how you solve them. This might have been the hardest coaching year I’ve had.”

Friedgen preached the program’s continued turnaround wasn’t assured even after a 21-3 mark over the first two seasons that included an ACC title and Peach Bowl victory. Unfortunately, players didn’t listen. They thought success was a given. Instead, it was fragile.

Maryland won nine of 10 games since an 0-2 start, but two nationally televised losses kept the Terps out of the polls until the final week. A win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl may not even be greatly appreciated given the Terps already downed the Mountaineers 34-7 on Sept.20.

So Friedgen is back to his mantra of playing for respect. The 30-6 run over three seasons is a grand achievement, but winning a New Year’s bowl game would help ongoing recruiting and continue the resurgence.

“In the past, we were always out to prove something,” Friedgen said. “It was a motivating force the first couple years. The first year was respect. The second year was we’re just one-hit wonders. That was kind of a rallying call. We were still overachievers. This year after a win in the [2003] Peach Bowl, all of the alumni thought we had arrived. We’re still a young program that’s growing.”

The Terps have landed top recruits who were unreachable in past years. A win over West Virginia would continue the momentum. That’s why Friedgen’s workouts are anything but a reward for making a prominent bowl. The scout team recently stayed afterward for extra drills after it practiced poorly.

“We’re talking to kids now that we’re competing against top 10 teams [to sign],” he said. “I always ask kids why they chose Maryland and what I’m hearing is ‘We know you win, and we know we have a chance to graduate.’ We put three very good seasons together, and the recruits come in and see our kids, and our kids are very genuine. They make them feel comfortable, because we have good kids. It sells our program. I emphasize how hard you’re going to have to work in order to get a degree, and that’s very important to me — that we’ve done it on and off the field.”

Said quarterback Scott McBrien: “We’re right where we need to be and right where we want to be. Coach Friedgen has done such a tremendous job on and off the field with recruiting. This program is on the rise and will continue to win.”

But only if the Terps remain unselfish. Maryland clearly doesn’t have the talent of many marquee programs so the system requires individual sacrifice for the overall good. That may mean fewer carries or catches for players as a diverse offense confuses defenses.

“You’re usually successful because everybody is looking at a common goal and winning and not worrying about the other things,” Friedgen said, “but once they get there it’s human nature to say ‘What’s in it for me? Am I getting enough playing time? Am I going to make all-conference or all-league or whatever.’ I’ve seen it on all levels. This team right now has forgotten about all that and all they want to do is win. That’s where I want them.

“I look at these kids like my children. Sometimes they wear you out like your children do. Sometimes you can be proud of them, sometimes you have to reprimand them. It’s an ongoing thing every single day, but they’ll tell you I care about them not just as football players but students and I want them to be a success in life.”

With Miami and Virginia Tech joining the ACC next year, Maryland’s continued growth will be even tougher to maintain. Still, Friedgen endorsed expansion despite the two nationally ranked newcomers threatening to impede Maryland’s rise.

“I don’t think about failing,” he said. “When I got the job I told you I wouldn’t let you down. I like to keep working and keep winning. That’s what makes life fun.”

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