- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

“When you’ve been though a Lamaze class with a guy, what’s a football game?”

Ralph Friedgen

The Lamaze classes were a lot tougher than two assistant football coaches at The Citadel could have imagined back in March 1977.

Ralph Friedgen charted times. Frank Beamer covered aerobics. Both delivered pep talks to their wives over a true life-and-death situation that sometimes required a stiff drink to approach.

“I worked with Frank on his breathing,” Friedgen recalled. “He got it down at the end.”

Twenty-seven years later, Friedgen and Beamer will meet for the first time as head coaches. Friedgen brings Maryland (4-5, 2-4 ACC) to No. 15 Virginia Tech (7-2, 4-1) tonight, trying to keep the Terrapins bowl eligible while Beamer’s Hokies seek to retain the ACC lead.

The two are best friends; in fact, Friedgen jokes that the Terps’ 4-5 season may leave Beamer as his only friend. There are joint family vacations at adjoining lake houses in Georgia and a pig roast each Independence Day. The two men usually play golf when coaches meetings bring them together.

Friedgen, Beamer and fellow Citadel assistant coach Charlie Rizzo became inseparable comrades during nightly get-togethers in April 1977. The three members of coach Bobby Ross’ staff went straight from spring drills to their wives waiting in cars to attend Lamaze classes in Charleston, S.C. Had they known what was coming, they might not have left the field.

“My first response was, ‘Heck no, I don’t want any part of that,’ ” said Rizzo, now an assistant at Rice. “The wives were good friends, so it made an uncomfortable situation pretty neat.”

Natural childbirth was still a radical concept in the late 1970s. Husbands were supposed to stay in the waiting room and get ready to pass out cigars upon word of a new son or daughter.

But Cheryl Beamer said Gloria Friedgen convinced her and Paula Rizzo to swap traditional drugs for their husbands urging them on. In fact, that part excited the men after they discovered childbirth coaching wasn’t all that different from football coaching.

No wonder they sometimes wore football gear to childbirth class.

“The concepts are all the same,” Rizzo said. “You have to say what you have to say to get through it. Most of the bad language was from the women.”

Yet going from the locker room to the delivery room wasn’t easy for men normally surrounded by testosterone instead of estrogen.

“They cut jokes all the time,” Gloria Friedgen said. “I really didn’t worry about them, because I was so focused. Ralph was really good with the breathing. He even gave a talk to the next class.”

Said Frank Beamer: “The teacher was a lot more serious, but we had a pretty good time.”

In hindsight, both Beamers conceded it was too wild for them. While Ralph Friedgen and Charlie Rizzo made it into the delivery room, Frank Beamer waited outside. His wife didn’t want to worry about him, too.

“I thought Frank would pass out and they would have to attend to him before me,” Cheryl Beamer said.

Frank Beamer put it this way: “That was a lot of fourth quarters ago. When it came time for the game. I sat on the bench. She told me to stay out of the room.”

Shane Beamer was born March 31, 1977, with Kelley Friedgen coming April 10 and Brian Rizzo arriving June 25. By fall practice, the wives were bringing the infants to practices in strollers to steal moments with fathers consumed by football once more.

“It was weird for all of us to be pregnant together,” Cheryl Beamer said. “People said there must have been something in the water.”

All these years later, as the two head coaches prepare to meet for the first time, the kids are on their own. Shane Beamer is an assistant football coach at Mississippi State and Kelley Friedgen is a lawyer.

Friedgen and Beamer, meanwhile, know the downside of losing and would rather not inflict it upon each other.

“This part is no fun,” Beamer said. “The losses are so cruel.”

Friedgen was an assistant at Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets beat Beamer’s Hokies 6-3 in 1990 en route to a national championship. They have never discussed the game.

“When we’re friends, we don’t talk business,” Friedgen said, “especially when we have to go against each other. It’s not like some guys say, ‘Hey, I gotcha here.’ We don’t talk about it.”

But Rizzo expects there to be excitement on both ends despite neither coach admitting it. He remembers the five years at The Citadel when Beamer and Friedgen shared a small office.

“I think they’ll enjoy playing each other,” Rizzo said. “There’s a tremendous respect for each other. It’s a little rivalry because of the days when we’d horse around.”

Cheryl Beamer and Gloria Friedgen don’t expect to meet before the game. Better to leave their friendship at the lake house than to strain it at the stadium. But can their husbands survive the high-stakes encounter? It won’t be easy for the loser to shake off an important late-season loss.

“Ralph has said, ‘If my mother was on the other side, I’d want to beat her, too,’ ” Gloria Friedgen said. “He can love you hard and not love you hard. He’s pretty clear how he feels about people.”

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