DMA 7-22 Sports

November 12, 2009 9:41 AM

Anxiety over The Fridge Unnecessary

Ralph AP.jpgMaryland Terps football fans are in a 2009 funk. But for all the misery that a 2-7, sans-bowl season can bring - including a rare loss to Duke (you lose to Duke in basketball, not football) - fans need not throw The Fridge under the bus.

Your head guy could be Charlie Weis, loser of two straight to Navy and out of the BCS because of the seeming fascination with turning Jimmy Clausen into the next Tom Brady when, in fact, the great Irish teams of the past three decades ran the ball hard and wide with the likes of Vagas Ferguson, Allen Pinkett, Autry Denson, Jerome Bettis and Julius Jones.

But for Terps fans -- before pivoting to Gary Williams, Greivis Vasquez and basketball -- let's not forsake the coach, Ralph Friedgen (photo).

Despite the sorry and dismal season, The Fridge is as big time a coach as there is out there. And he's a Terps company man, a lineman, circa Class of 1970 who put his alma mater back on the national football map.

One tough season shouldn't do in a coach with the stature of The Fridge.

Look at the track record over nine years at Maryland: Six bowl appearances, including two on New Year's Day; the fourth best career winning percentage when stacked up against 32 previous Terps head coaches; winner of 64 games after eight season, when coaches during the previous 14 years could only rack up 55 victories; and enough excitement about the program to attract 20 of the top 25 crowds Terrapin football history.

The offensive-minded, pro-style disciple of noted college and pro coach Bobby Ross actually is doing just fine, despite the 2-7. That Friedgen plowed his trade under Ross over 20 seasons at The Citadel, Maryland, Georgia Tech and the San Diego Chargers in the NFL still puts the Terps in a good place - despite recruiting limitations that come with college football being played in the cosmopolitan state of Maryland and between the two metro centers of Washington and Baltimore.

For those who want to stack Maryland's program up against the likes of Florida, Florida State, Penn State or Alabama, or even some others like Ohio State, Southern Cal, Texas and the aforementioned Notre Dame, go ahead with the wishful thinking.

It's a different world in College Park where football never will be king. Here, there are the pros every major sport, and government, culture, tourism, history and sophistication. Even LA, home to Southern Cal with its big-city, West Coast glory, doesn't have pro football.

College Park, Maryland, is just miles from the seat of the greatest government in the world, the nation's capital. Recruits coming to Maryland have to confront the distractions that life here brings.

If a recruit's only goal is football, you go to sunny Florida, rural Tuscaloosa in Alabama, college-town Columbus in Ohio or the winding hills of State College in Pennsylvania and focus exclusively on your craft. The benefits to that are obvious. It also means Maryland loses many of the state's A-list recruits to the far away campuses because they simply choose to get away from the stimulation of the area.

In 2009, five-star linebacker Jelani Jenkins, the state's top recruit, according to a ranking from January, took the bait of Florida instead of traveling a few miles from his Our Lady Of Good Counsel high school in Olney, MD to College Park.

While Maryland did get the No. 2 and No. 5 state recruits, Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8, joined Jenkins on the first train out of town, choosing Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, Penn State and West Virginia, respectively. The losses were even worse for Maryland in slots 10 through 20, particularly multiple defections to Penn State.

Certainly, the state of Florida seldom loses a Top 10 recruit to another state.

The West Virginia recruit is the scatback Tavon Austin, arguably Baltimore's best player in perhaps a generation. Austin finished his high school career at Baltimore Dunbar as the state of Maryland's all-time leading rusher, propelling his teams to an unprecedented three straight Maryland schoolboy football titles. Had Austin gone to College Park, he might as well stayed in Baltimore. It's all the same. But in Morgantown, he gets away from the streets.

Yet give Friedgen some credit. The coach has perservered despite not getting all the top recruits out of his state. ( rates Maryland sixth among the 12 ACC teams in 2010 recruiting rankings so far.)

His track record of developing top players for the NFL, especially at the skill positions, ranks with many of the big-time coaches in the country today. The likes of Vernon Davis, Shawne Merriman, Darrius Heyward-Bey, E.J. Henderson, D'Qwell Jackson, Kris Jenkins, Moise Fokou, Josh Wilson, Jared Gaither, Madieu Williams, Lamont Jordan and Domonique Foxworth are among those in the pros who have worn the red Terrapin turtle uniform during Friedgen's tenure.

And don't forget that as offensive coordinator under Ross in the 1980s it Friedgen who guided the development of Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh as pro quarterbacks.

JAMES-FRANKLIN.jpgYet amid this season's faltering campaign, the questions about the coach's future at Maryland are persisting. Much of it has to do with Athletic Director Debbie Yow's naming of Terps' offensive coordinator James Franklin, 37, (photo, right) as Friedgen's successor in waiting.

Friedgen is 62 and his contract expires after the 2011 season, so the move to tap Franklin is wise. Franklin, while not having proven himself as a big-time head coach, is a hot commodity in the college and pro coaching circles, and Yow obligated the university to the tune of $1 million to Franklin if he does not take over after the 2011 season.

We can agree that Franklin, brought in by Friedgen, by the way, is the future. He seems an impressive young man who will represent the university well. Under any scenario, Friedgen won't be coaching in College Park another 10 years, especially at his age. That Penn State and Florida State thing with Paterno and Bowden is the exception, not the rule.

So let's not write off The Fridge yet. Let him call his own shots. He has earned that opportunity.

Photos: Ralph Friedgen, James Franklin, AP

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