Maryland's Friedgen Unanimous Selection
Posted November 28, 2001 6:45 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Ralph Friedgen received quite a nice present on his one-year anniversary as Maryland's head football coach.
Friedgen, 54, was named The Associated Press coach of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday, leading the Terrapins to a 10-1 regular season and the league's berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
Friedgen was a unanimous pick in voting by the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association as he took a team predicted to finish seventh in the league to the school's first ACC title since 1985.
"Eventually I thought about this," Friedgen said. "I think it was on the fifth year of my five-year plan."
Friedgen is the first Maryland coach to win the honor since Bobby Ross in 1982 and just the fourth Terrapin to be honored. In addition to Ross, Jerry Claiborne won it three times in the 1970s and 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 improbable turnaround with a program that had been 37-73 the last decade.
"It's amazing what you can accomplish when everybody is working together for a common goal," Friedgen said. "It's more `we' than `I.' You become very strong and very efficient when you do those things."
Friedgen was a well-respected assistant coach and was at Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets shared the 1990 national title and when the San Diego Chargers went to the Super Bowl several years later.
Still, Friedgen had to wait 27 years of college coaching before getting his break.
"I felt like if I was fortunate enough to get an interview I could get the job, but I never got an interview," Friedgen said. "That was always the troubling thing to me. I never even got a call back or an acknowledgment that I applied for the job."
Friedgen was a finalist for the North Carolina State position two seasons ago, but the Wolfpack hired Chuck Amato.
Frustrated, Friedgen started building a retirement home along a lake in Georgia, residing himself to the fact that he would never become a head coach.
"I thought that if I hit 55 it probably wouldn't happen," he said. "I had been holding off on this home for a couple of years figuring if I got a head coaching job I wouldn't have any time to enjoy it.
"Then I got to thinking that if I make it to 70 that's only 17 years from now and what am I waiting for. So, I said, `Let's build the house.' I remember at closing when I was signing for the loan I said, `Watch, I'll get a head coaching job now.' Sure enough, three months later it happened."
Friedgen thanked Georgia Tech coach and former boss George O'Leary for promoting his skills as an offensive genesis who knew tons of football.
"Until I went back to Georgia Tech (in 1997) I was pretty much an unknown," Friedgen said. "I had coached in the national championship and went to a Super Bowl but I don't think a lot of people really knew who I was.
"I wasn't the type of guy who was on the phone all the time trying to advance myself. I was a guy who was just doing my job."
What a job he did with the Terrapins this season, becoming the first rookie coach in ACC history to lead his team to the conference championship.
"He's been around football a long time and he has a good grasp of offense and defense," O'Leary said. "And you knew he was going to make the kids work. He was going to get more out of their potential than they probably wanted to give.
"Him becoming a head coach was a no-brainer. It should have happened long before last year."
You can't miss Friedgen on the sideline. He refuses to release his exact weight, but he's well over 300 pounds.
Maryland's 7-0 start made the rotund coach an instant folk hero with the fans and students as he sang the school fight song after every game as Fridge Fever caught on in College Park, Md.
The team's only loss was Oct. 27 against Florida State, but the Terrapins were tied 31-31 heading into the fourth quarter before falling 52-31.
Maryland clinched the ACC crown three weeks later in Raleigh with a last-second win against North Carolina State.
"When Maryland was talking about doing a marketing campaign they were very concerned about using Fridge Fever," Friedgen said. "They called me in and asked me if I would be offended by that and I said, `Do what you have to do to sell tickets and promote our program." My father was called Icebox, so the Fridge is natural. I don't take offense to it. I don't worry about those things."
Friedgen vowed to get in better shape in the off-season. But first, he's excited about coaching in the school's first major bowl bid since the 1977 Cotton Bowl.
"These kids are floating on cloud nine," he said. "Here's a team that have would have been happy to go to any bowl and now here we are in the BCS. It's really like a storybook for them."