- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Ralph Friedgen told the standing room-only breakfast crowd yesterday morning what he tells recruits — there are no promises when it comes to a player’s place on the Maryland roster.

“They ask me about playing time, and I say, ‘Do you think I am here to recruit you to sit on the bench?’ he told the sea of red filling the ballroom at the university’s Inn and Conference Center. “And when you get here, I am going to recruit guys to try to beat you out. We try to recruit better every year. There are no promises.”

But that’s not entirely accurate. There is one promise the Fridge makes to these young men facing the biggest decision of their lives

“‘How long will you be at Maryland?’ they ask me,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Now and forever,’” which drew thunderous applause from fans basking in the glow of what is clearly becoming one of the golden eras of Maryland football.

That promise should translate into even better times ahead. If Friedgen could turn around a program in just three years, before he really has had a chance to work his long-term recruiting skills, imagine what he can do this year and next year and forever.

Friedgen has the job he always wanted, and he has been good at it. He has taken the Terps to three straight bowl games, winning two of them, and his 31-8 record is the seventh-best coaching start in Division I-A history. His results on the field — and his Old School personality off it — have made Maryland football relevant again.

When he first started “Breakfast with the Fridge,” about 75 to 100 people showed up. Now there are 400-plus coming at 7:30a.m. on a workday to hear what the coach has to say, and the school is looking for a bigger room.

Friedgen has changed the perception of Maryland football, not just here but throughout the country. The Fridge — a polar opposite of the young, blow-dried coaching genius mold — is becoming a star. He gained national attention for his Under Armour commercials, and then there is the phenomenon that is FridgeTV, an Internet television show devoted to everything Fridge.

But it is substance that gives Friedgen his style. His teams reflect that, playing with an intensity that hadn’t been seen in College Park in quite some time. The Fridge told the crowd how when he first came to Maryland and his team got into a fight, someone told him that they were making progress: “At least they fought back.”

Now the Fridge has come up with a way to keep his players from fighting each other in practice. He told a story about a fight involving so many players he had to step in to try to break it up. “You don’t want to do that, because you don’t want your players seeing a chance to take a shot at you,” he said jokingly. He called a meeting to tell the team he loved their intensity and competitiveness, but that they had to show discipline “or else we won’t have anyone left to play.”

So the Fridge showed them how to channel their emotions, cracking down on personal fouls and taunting in practice without taking away from their intensity. Even though he is bringing a young team into Byrd Stadium for tonight’s opener against Northern Illinois — 30 true freshmen and a total of 38 players with four years of eligibility remaining — the Terps will reflect Maryland’s new football personality.

“I’ve heard that we have been called the Oakland Raiders of the ACC,” Fridge said. “And I’ve had out-of-town writers tell me that coaches say we are the most physical team in the ACC.”

That’s a particularly interesting analogy because the Fridge is sort of the John Madden of college football.

Madden left coaching and wound up becoming the most popular football analyst of his time, as well as a pitchman for a variety of products and the face of one of the best-selling video games of all time. There may be some commercials or video games in the Fridge’s future There have been higher-profile job opportunities for him — and there will be more as his stature grows — but he says he has no intention of being anything more than the head football coach at Maryland.

“I had a team physician ask me how long I would be staying at Maryland,” Fridge said. “I asked him, ‘What are you, a recruit?’ He told me he was thinking of selling his house and moving closer to College Park, and he didn’t want to do it if I was going to leave.

“I told him, ‘Sell your house.’”

Today Fridge and his troops will be defending their house and trying to avenge their opening 20-13 overtime loss to Northern Illinois last year in De Kalb, Ill. He repeated to the breakfast crowd yesterday his line from the Under Armor commercial: “Nobody beats us in our house.”

It is not just their house. It is Ralph Friedgen’s home. After all, home is where the heart is, and the Fridge’s heart is in College Park.

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