Friedgen Becomes the Singing Coach
Posted October 10, 2001 7:30 a.m. EDT
ATLANTA — Ralph Friedgen didn't think he'd be singing so much.
After his first victory, the coach hoisted himself atop a podium to lead the Maryland band in a rendition of the school's fight song. Although comparable to a bad lounge act, Friedgen's performance became tradition with the No. 22 Terrapins, who are off to a surprising 5-0 start.
"It's really out of character for me," said Friedgen, whose team meets 15th-ranked Georgia Tech on Thursday night. "I feel like an idiot. But if that's what turns the fans on, I'll do just about anything to get people excited in this program."
Make no mistake, they're excited. The Terrapins are off to their best start since 1978, when a Jerry Claiborne-coached team won its first eight games before finishing 9-3. The program fell on hard times over the past 15 seasons, managing just two winning seasons and one bowl trip while going through three coaches.
Enter Friedgen, who can clinch a winning season and make his team eligible for a bowl with a victory over the Yellow Jackets. More important, the Terrapins can maintain their hold on first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having won their first three league games.
"I have an opportunity to unite this place, to get some spirit back at this place," he said. "And I'm having one hell of a time doing it. I feel so fulfilled right now, I wouldn't want to be at any other place."
Friedgen spent the past four seasons as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech (4-1, 1-1 ACC), which has remained one of the top offensive teams in the country, with Bill O'Brien calling the plays.
The Yellow Jackets are averaging 39.8 points and 460 yards per game, their only loss coming in a game in which they scored 44 points.
"Billy is very, very quick on the draw, which is the sign of a good coordinator," coach George O'Leary said. "Billy is doing as good a job as I expected from him when it comes to putting points on the board. That's the bottom line."
After losing to Clemson at home, Georgia Tech can't afford another defeat if it hopes to remain a serious contender in the ACC - especially with a road trip to Florida State at the end of the season.
"Maryland has a little room for error," quarterback George Godsey said. "We don't."
In a 37-10 victory over hapless Duke, the Yellow Jackets defense bounced back from its dreadful performance against Clemson's Woody Dantzler.
"It didn't completely get rid of the taste, but it did a little bit," safety Jeremy Muyres said. "We decided to go out, fly around, have some fun. Hopefully, it will carry over to this week."
Maryland, however, is a much more potent team than Duke, averaging 34.6 points and 419 yards even though Friedgen hasn't installed all elements of his complex offense. Sophomore Bruce Perry leads the nation with an average of 164.2 yards per game rushing.
"It's really going to be a weird," Muyres said. "This is the same offense I've been looking at the last two years in practice, with all the shifts and motion. I always wondered how the other team prepared for our offense. Now, we're the ones having to get ready for it."
Perry could find plenty of running room up the middle. Linebacker Daryl Smith is out for at least a couple of more weeks with an elbow injury. His replacement, Ather Brown, is doubtful because of a sore foot.
If Brown can't play, Nigerian-born Tabugbo Anyansi - only 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds - will start at middle linebacker. The Yellow Jackets have tried to bolster their depth by shifting No. 1 fullback Ross Mitchell - a former linebacker - back to his original position.
Friedgen's appearance as Maryland's lead singer had its origins during two-a-day practices, when he stopped to chat with the band.
"They asked me if I could sing the fight song. They didn't think I knew it," he recalled. "Well, I'm a graduate of this school. Of course I knew it. I told them, 'The next time I'll sing it is at 4 o'clock after our first victory."'
They didn't have to wait long. Maryland defeated North Carolina 23-7 in the opener, and Friedgen kept his word. Now, he's expected to give an encore every week.
"I try to stand in the background, but they keep egging me to come up," he said. "I can't see anybody getting excited about me singing on top of a platform, but they do."