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At Maryland, the adults in charge need to act like it

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When Ralph Friedgen says “I could care less about Maryland,” what he really means is “I couldn’t care less about Maryland,” which means that he cares very deeply about Maryland. When someone uses that particular phrasing — correctly or otherwise — he usually means the opposite is true. The more you care, the bigger the hurt. And I believe that is the case with Friedgen, a Maryland alum and, yes, fired football coach.

None of that means he should have said it, though.

Friedgen was asked by a Baltimore radio station whether it was painful to watch the Terps struggle this season. His response: “Well, it’s not painful because I watch it for the kids. I could care less about Maryland. I’ve burned my diploma; I’m flying a Georgia Tech flag right now.”

Of course, this makes no sense (and Friedgen has since admitted he has not, in fact, burned his diploma). If you cared about the kids you recruited — as I’m sure Friedgen does — it would be very painful to watch them struggle in a 38-7 loss at home to Temple, no matter how mad you are at the athletic department administration. Friedgen sounds like the wronged half of a divorced couple, which is in essence what he is.

And I’m sure his mood hasn’t been helped by some of the remarks made by new Coach Randy Edsall. After the Temple loss, Edsall indicated he considered the Terps in a rebuilding stage, then three days later denied the program is rebuilding. But then came the criticism of the program he inherited. There’s no need to read between the lines of this Edsall quote:

“When you come in with the type of program you are going to run, it takes time. Most especially if young people aren’t used to being held accountable or they are not used to doing things correctly all the time.”

That’s an insult to both Friedgen and the kids he recruited, the ones Edsall inherited when he took this job. And that’s a tremendous mistake on both counts. You don’t criticize the ACC coach of the year, who was fired despite a 9-4 record, and then throw your players under the bus.

So Friedgen didn’t run as tight a ship as Edsall? Hardly surprising, given that Edsall is a strict disciplinarian. But Edsall has complained about losing a few scholarships and some practice time as if it’s a sign of endemic corruption in the program. The Great Santini needs to look around the country a bit; on a sliding scale of NCAA violations, Maryland is doing just fine.

No one in the history of jobs has come into a new position and found everything running perfectly, especially if the person he is replacing has been fired. There’s a reason you were brought in: Fix it. But it’s a mistake to throw your predecessor under the bus. It makes you look small. It makes you look like you’re searching for excuses for your own failures. (And the Temple game, no matter how you look at it, was a failure.) Complain privately to your boss, your wife, your assistants. Heck, journal it if you must. But publicly, dial it down.

And that certainly applies to your players. Those aren’t Friedgen’s players. They are Terrapins. They committed to play for the University of Maryland, first and foremost. You didn’t find things the way you wanted them when you arrived in College Park? They didn’t expect to find you in the head coach’s office. Life is full of surprises. You can use that to bring everyone together, or you can insult and alienate the only players you have.

But right now, Maryland is making headlines because its former coach is unhappy and its current coach is unhappy and it has a plethora of uniform choices. Edsall can’t help what Friedgen says, but the rest is under his control. Time to start exercising some of that famous discipline on himself.

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