Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friedgen turned things around at Maryland

So first-year athletic director Kevin Anderson and the University of Maryland have decided to go in a different direction with the football program, asking head coach Ralph Friedgen to retire and accept a buyout. According to a few sources, Maryland is likely pursuing former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach for the head coaching position.

There's no question that Friedgen, 63, will not be leaving Maryland on his terms. Does he deserve better? Yes, definitely. But so do many underappreciated coaches. And yes, Friedgen is one of those.

Before Friedgen was hired as Terps head coach in 2001, Maryland had not been to a bowl game since 1990, when they played Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl (a game that, oddly enough, ended in a tie, 34-34). Under Friedgen's guidance, the Terps will have played in seven bowls (after the Terps face East Carolina in the Military Bowl next week) in the 10 seasons that he's been head coach. Also, considering the three previous coaches to Fridge -- Joe Krivak (20-34-2), Mark Duffner (20-35), and Ron Vanderlinden (15-29) -- all had losing records, Friedgen's (right now) record of 74-50 looks outstanding.

Is Friedgen Maryland's greatest head coach of all time? No. But he injected some new life into his alma mater's football program and made it something that it hadn't been since the mid-80s: relevant. Maryland never got close to a championship; it was very unlikely that Friedgen could have molded the Terps into that kind of team. And, in fact, Friedgen's best overall season was probably his first, when Maryland faced Florida in the Orange Bowl (and got blown out). Some say that the Terps were so good in the early 2000s because of Vanderlinden's recruits. And that may be true or may not be, but who cares? Friedgen was the guy to finally start winning again.

Like the Gilbert Arenas trade yesterday, I'm going to focus on the positive aspects of Friedgen's tenure at Maryland instead of the missed opportunities or disappointments. Having Arenas around made the Wizards better, as did Friedgen's 10 seasons at Maryland. He turned the program around, and he deserves an enormous amount of respect for doing so.

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