- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

Ralph Friedgen’s postgame remarks last season began not with comments about the game but a greeting to daughter Kelley watching the proceedings from Germany on FridgeTV.com.

“Ralph saying hi to Kelley is vintage Ralph,” said FridgeTV.com founder Jess Atkinson. “He did FridgeTV for two reasons — to reach recruits and to reach Kelley.”

There are days — too many, in fact, as the Maryland Terrapins football team prepares to open camp on Wednesday — that the tired coach struggles to make it back to his two-story brick house in a still-developing neighborhood in Silver Spring. He recites the rosary during his daily commute. Perhaps that helps: He can’t recall his own address or zip code and relies on autopilot to guide him home.

The clan is never too far away, though. Friedgen’s wife, Gloria, is now an alumni affairs coordinator and adjunct professor at Maryland. Middle daughter Kristina, 18, soon will be a freshman at Maryland and live in a dorm overlooking the practice football field. Youngest daughter Katie, 16, is a fixture at tailgate and postgame affairs and often attends press conferences.

Family is so important to Friedgen that he considered spouses when he selected his staff upon his arrival at Maryland in 2001. A coach whose wife waits impatiently through the long days and requisite travel would be a poor choice. The perfect coach’s wife is his own, Gloria, who knows how to be both supportive and independent.

“She’s made a life for herself separate from me,” Friedgen said, “but she’s such a great ambassador of Maryland football. She loves to meet people and loves to entertain. She unites the coaches’ wives. She’s a great coach’s wife.”

The Friedgens met at College Park in 1971 as graduate students. Both were studying physical education while Ralph played his last season as a guard on the football team. Two years later, they married.

Gloria knew sports from her playground days with three brothers on Long Island. The shorter seasons of the 1960s allowed her to play field hockey, volleyball, basketball and softball plus run track against boys. There was even some free time for gymnastics.

Also wanting to coach, Gloria took short-term jobs as Friedgen moved seven times before he landed his first head coach position and came to Maryland. Gloria taught various subjects at all grades and coached volleyball, basketball and softball.

Gloria is a coach’s wife and Friedgen is a coach’s husband. Each knows that the long silences after a loss aren’t personal.

Gloria wasn’t easy to play for. She coached all three daughters in volleyball and sometimes the line blurred between parent and child, coach and player.

“She would be so much harder on me than anyone else,” Kristina said, “but I got to be a much better volleyball player. She’s more inclined to yell at me than someone else’s kid. That settled all the rumors I got treated better.”

Not that Friedgen was always the good cop in the coach/parent rotation.

“I’d come home complaining about a game and he’d say, ‘You’re just not tough enough,’” Kristina said. “My favorite is when he would coach me in volleyball and he said you need to serve that girl better and I aced her five times. Serve better, my butt. I was doing pretty good. But he encourages confidence in yourself.”

It turns out Friedgen doesn’t have different lectures for daughters than for his players. They’re all his children: Gloria quips that they have “three daughters and 120 sons.”

“It’s not something I slip in and out of,” Ralph said. “My kids know what I stand for. I don’t treat my players any different than my kids. I hold them to a high accountability.”

La familia

It is amazing the amount of joy a sweet potato brings Katie. Mountainous squeals, and the cinnamon hasn’t even been sprinkled.

Gloria is a renowned cook for her crab dip and sausage and peppers she serves up at tailgate parties (for as many as 300) and the Italian cuisine that vanishes from the Friedgen dining table.

Maybe it was the mozzarella-and-egg sandwiches that were a staple of Gloria’s school lunches as a child — and like something out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” she jokes — that created her passion for cooking.

“Oh, Gloria can really cook,” said longtime friend and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, licking his lips at the thought.

The dining table is at the center of a home that includes two large televisions, a magnificent stone fireplace and a karaoke machine that his children say Ralph uses to deliver a terrific rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

The dinner topics this night includes Katie getting a driver’s license, movies, instant messaging, school plays, college tuition, digital cameras, which sister has the better tan and the scariest theme park rides. A little football is sprinkled in, but mostly it’s the same conversation heard at dinner tables everywhere.

Katie: “Dad, someone called for you that you know from a long time ago.”

Ralph: “Oh, good, that narrows it down. Did you write it down?”

Katie: “Yes I wrote it down. I just can’t find it. Chill out.”

Some give and take and a lot of laughter. La familia is paramount to Gloria and Ralph.

“It’s amazing and nearly unprecedented in the coaching profession to have a family not only as close as they are, but mean as much to each other as they do,” Atkinson said. “They have this bond that is so necessary for all of them that they can’t do without it.”

Maybe it’s not quite Ozzie and Harriet, but it’s as close as it gets in these days of two-career parents. “Goodnight, Gracie,” Ralph says to Gloria during postgame press conferences when she adds an unsolicited comment, but her points are always well taken.

“I think Gloria lets Ralph think he’s winning,” Beamer said, jokingly, “but he’s probably not.”

The NCAA limits Ralph to having players at his home for dinner once each year. Any player without Thanksgiving plans is automatically invited to the coach’s house. But it doesn’t take a special occasion to make the dinner table overflow.

Players know the family. Gloria and Kelley have tutored underclassmen. Kristina will undoubtedly share the dreaded overflowing 101 classes with freshmen players. For some players who come from broken homes, it’s a first glimpse of a close family.

“[Gloria’s] a big source of support for him,” senior guard C.J. Brooks said. “She’s very involved. It’s not just football and then his family — it’s all together.”

Calling GloTerp

A fan desperate for recruiting news last week put out a public cry to “GloTerp” for an update.

GloTerp? Sounds like a toddler’s toy, but hard-core fans know that is Gloria’s nickname on the Terrapin Times message board. She scans the site regularly but rarely responds. Gloria posted updates on Ralph’s condition after he had hip surgery last year, but she’ll never talk recruiting or football matters.

Katie knows the drill. Plenty of classmates want the inside slant on the program. But she’s the coach’s daughter, not the coach’s assistant.

“People always ask me, ‘What’s going on with this player?’ ” she said. “I don’t know — read the newspaper.”

Or the Internet. Kelley, 27, listens to the games on wbal.com from her home in Berlin, where she’s on a law fellowship, before switching to FridgeTV.com for the postgame comments. She reads three daily newspapers online for Terps stories.

“FridgeTV is obviously great for me because it is a very tangible way for me to stay up to the minute with the team and my family even though I am in Europe,” Kelley said though an instant message interview. “Earlier games are easier for me because they finish before the middle of the night or sunrise.”

Are you related?

Having a well-known name is nice when you’re shopping or dealing with teachers, but fans can be sometimes too intense.

Former Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner stopped driving his daughter to high school on the mornings after games during his last season because students heckled her. Other Redskins assistants tell similar tales.

The Friedgens don’t have that problem. Friedgen has won 31 games, two bowls and one ACC title in three years, creating mostly happy times.

“You hear people criticize them at times,” Katie said, “but there are a lot of Maryland fans.”

The worst moments came when Friedgen was an assistant at Georgia Tech from 1987 to 1991. Classmates who were Georgia Bulldog fans would bark — seriously — at the daughters in hallways in the run-up to games between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets. After one Georgia Tech victory at Georgia, Kristina stuffed a piece of the sacred hedge by the field into her locker in retaliation. Some classmates tried — unsuccessfully — to break into the locker to retrieve it.

His father’s son

A handful of framed articles line the family room, but the only championship story is a high school title won by Friedgen’s father.

The elder Ralph Friedgen was a renowned New York coach whose 1964 team went undefeated and averaged 44 points a game. The quarterback? Ralph Friedgen, the younger. The multiple offense was considered radical during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration but is now a staple in the Terps’ 1,200-page offensive playbook.

Several of the old coach’s assistants still travel to Maryland games 18 years after Ralph’s father died. Maybe they see something of the old man in his son. Certainly, there’s a strong physical resemblance.

“Ralph’s father was a presence — a physical presence as well as a human being,” Gloria said.

Friedgen doesn’t have a son to inherit the legacy. It’s ironic someone who makes his living with men spends his off hours with women. But it provides balance. There’s a gentle side of Ralph that few outsiders ever see.

“When dad was at the [San Diego] Chargers [in 1992-96], he would pick us up after school and those would be the best days because we went to McDonald’s for ice cream,” Katie said, “but he always made time for us so it wasn’t a bad deal.”

A football widow

The Friedgens have been married 31 years, and Gloria jokes that it really is only six or seven years after subtracting the time apart because of football.

There is no bitterness that for five months each year, every weekend is filled with football. Gloria doesn’t feel she is a rival for Friedgen’s attention that is often directed toward opponents, players, administration and alumni.

“Maybe because I was a coach myself,” she said. “I know the boys. I care about them. I want them to be successful. I’m not jealous of it.”

A recent long vacation at the Georgia lake house is past. The schedule now revolves around game days. The dinner table will have an empty chair until January. And everyone is OK with that.

After all, Ralph Friedgen may not remember his address, but he knows the way home.

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