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Friedgen has brought results to Terps

December 02, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

There are many thin lines in sports.

Draw one in the sand and lay out the challenge.

Just when do you go from straddling that line between good and bad?

Fulfilling reality and chasing a dream?

Confident and cocky?

Consistent and lucky?

The University of Maryland football program has taken first things first in every one of those line items. Good, real, confident and consistent are main descriptive words when discussing the Terps over the last three short years.

Those are four words that are rapidly becoming catch phrases for the Terps and that's probably because they are also the same terms that describe their coach.

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Ralph Friedgen wasn't exactly a household name to hero-worshiping football fans when he came to College Park three years ago. He wasn't a quarterback, running back or star linebacker when he played the game. He was an offensive lineman who had cultivated himself into one of the finest offensive coordinators in the country, the backroom henchman for all the head coaches he worked for.

Still, when he came to Maryland and took the chance to coach at his alma mater, Friedgen was a breath of fresh air. He made all the promises every coach since Jerry Claiborne and Bobby Ross had made about expectations for Terrapins football.

When Friedgen talked, it sounded like fact over fiction. Back then, he was believeable.

Now he has the results to prove it.

"I told you when I got hired I won't let you down," Friedgen said last Tuesday at his weekly media conference. "I'm thankful for the opportunity and I don't think about failure. We have just scratched the surface here. There is so much the university can offer. I want to keep working and improving. That's what's fun to me."

It's been fun - and profitable - for Maryland.

It was 16 years before Friedgen returned to the scene when the Terps last won an Atlantic Coast Conference football title. They were the college game's improbable story in 2001, shocking everyone down to the guy who had engraved Florida State's name on the championship trophy for all those years.

Out of the muck that Maryland was mired in from the post-Len Bias years came this shining light, an idea that Terps' major sports can win again. The basketball team under Gary Williams showed the way. Now the football team has followed and jumped into the passing lane.

Maryland is 30-8 in those three years under Friedgen, and it is as much about attitude as ability when it comes to defining the Terps' success. Each year, Maryland has crossed the thin line, erased it and drawn a new one for the next year.

"In the past, we were out to prove something," Friedgen said. "In the first year, it was respect. We needed confidence to do well and we had to believe we could.

"In the second year, they had to prove that we weren't one-hit wonders. That was our motto last year.

"In this third year, everyone thought we arrived, especially after we beat Tennessee in the Peach Bowl."

In Friedgen's three years, the Terps went from annual bowl spectator to prime participant. They have earned berths in the Orange Bowl in the Bowl Championship Series, the Peach Bowl and now the Gator Bowl - all games earmarked for one of the elite teams in the ACC.

While the first two trips were huge milestones in Maryland history, the impending one to the Gator Bowl against rival West Virginia might be the one that says the most and most demonstrates the moxie and will of Friedgen that seems to be the fuel that makes the Terps go.

Maryland was written off after losing its first two games - it's opener against little-known Northern Illinois and the team against which all in the ACC are compared, Florida State. Gone was the season-opening No. 15 ranking in the polls, and leaving were a number of fickle rats who chose to leap off of Good Ship Terrapins before it was time to dogpaddle.

Friedgen preached patience - like he has from his first day on the job.

He demanded the attention of his team - like he has from his first day on the job.

He promised results - like he has from his first day on the job.

He got it all - like he has from his first day on the job - as Maryland won eight of its next nine games to get this bowl bid. And the Terps did it descriptively, by being good, real, confident and consistent, and did it in the style that is vintage Friedgen.

"I thought this would be a good football team," Friedgen said. "We had some problems that were different than those we had in the past. I learned that there are always going to be problems. You just have to find different ways to solve them.

"I look at these kids as my children. Sometimes you have to reprimand them. They'll tell you that I care for them and want them to be a success, not only on the field but in life. I'm happy for the kids because they are starting to see the fruits of their labor. I told them the North Carolina State game was the one that defined them. Fifty-five thousand (people) wanted us to lose. We didn't cooperate."

No matter what happens to Maryland in the Gator Bowl, the line is already being drawn to cross in 2004. Miami and Virginia Tech, two football powers, will join the ACC. The Terps have to contend with them while finding a new quarterback and defensive secondary.

Be patient, pay attention and wait for the results.

"Now we have expectations," Friedgen said. "Before, we would go to any bowl. Now we want to go to the bowl that we want."

Under the plan of being good, real, confident and consistent, you have to wonder if it's only a matter of time before Ralph Friedgen has Maryland football standing in front of another line - the one which separates national contenders and the national champion.

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