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Maryland's Friedgen Unanimous Selection

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Ralph Friedgen received quite a nicepresent on his one-year anniversary as Maryland's head footballcoach.

Friedgen, 54, was named The Associated Press coach of the yearin the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday, leading the Terrapinsto a 10-1 regular season and the league's berth in the BowlChampionship Series.

Friedgen was a unanimous pick in voting by the Atlantic CoastSports Writers Association as he took a team predicted to finishseventh in the league to the school's first ACC title since 1985.

"Eventually I thought about this," Friedgen said. "I think itwas on the fifth year of my five-year plan."

Friedgen is the first Maryland coach to win the honor sinceBobby Ross in 1982 and just the fourth Terrapin to be honored. Inaddition to Ross, Jerry Claiborne won it three times in the 1970sand Jim Tatum twice in the 1950s.

Friedgen was passed over for numerous jobs the last few seasons.But he returned to his alma mater and produced an improbableturnaround with a program that had been 37-73 the last decade.

"It's amazing what you can accomplish when everybody is workingtogether for a common goal," Friedgen said. "It's more `we' than`I.' You become very strong and very efficient when you do thosethings."

Friedgen was a well-respected assistant coach and was at GeorgiaTech when the Yellow Jackets shared the 1990 national title andwhen the San Diego Chargers went to the Super Bowl several yearslater.

Still, Friedgen had to wait 27 years of college coaching beforegetting his break.

"I felt like if I was fortunate enough to get an interview Icould get the job, but I never got an interview," Friedgen said."That was always the troubling thing to me. I never even got acall back or an acknowledgment that I applied for the job."

Friedgen was a finalist for the North Carolina State positiontwo seasons ago, but the Wolfpack hired Chuck Amato.

Frustrated, Friedgen started building a retirement home along alake in Georgia, residing himself to the fact that he would neverbecome a head coach.

"I thought that if I hit 55 it probably wouldn't happen," hesaid. "I had been holding off on this home for a couple of yearsfiguring if I got a head coaching job I wouldn't have any time toenjoy it.

"Then I got to thinking that if I make it to 70 that's only 17years from now and what am I waiting for. So, I said, `Let's buildthe house.' I remember at closing when I was signing for the loan Isaid, `Watch, I'll get a head coaching job now.' Sure enough, threemonths later it happened."

Friedgen thanked Georgia Tech coach and former boss GeorgeO'Leary for promoting his skills as an offensive genesis who knewtons of football.

"Until I went back to Georgia Tech (in 1997) I was pretty muchan unknown," Friedgen said. "I had coached in the nationalchampionship and went to a Super Bowl but I don't think a lot ofpeople really knew who I was.

"I wasn't the type of guy who was on the phone all the timetrying to advance myself. I was a guy who was just doing my job."

What a job he did with the Terrapins this season, becoming thefirst rookie coach in ACC history to lead his team to theconference championship.

"He's been around football a long time and he has a good graspof offense and defense," O'Leary said. "And you knew he was goingto make the kids work. He was going to get more out of theirpotential than they probably wanted to give.

"Him becoming a head coach was a no-brainer. It should havehappened long before last year."

You can't miss Friedgen on the sideline. He refuses to releasehis exact weight, but he's well over 300 pounds.

Maryland's 7-0 start made the rotund coach an instant folk herowith the fans and students as he sang the school fight song afterevery game as Fridge Fever caught on in College Park, Md.

The team's only loss was Oct. 27 against Florida State, but theTerrapins were tied 31-31 heading into the fourth quarter beforefalling 52-31.

Maryland clinched the ACC crown three weeks later in Raleighwith a last-second win against North Carolina State.

"When Maryland was talking about doing a marketing campaignthey were very concerned about using Fridge Fever," Friedgen said."They called me in and asked me if I would be offended by that andI said, `Do what you have to do to sell tickets and promote ourprogram." My father was called Icebox, so the Fridge is natural. Idon't take offense to it. I don't worry about those things."

Friedgen vowed to get in better shape in the off-season. Butfirst, he's excited about coaching in the school's first major bowlbid since the 1977 Cotton Bowl.

"These kids are floating on cloud nine," he said. "Here's ateam that have would have been happy to go to any bowl and now herewe are in the BCS. It's really like a storybook for them."

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