Maryland football sees ray of light amid cloudy outlook

"There is a sense of urgency with me. I am tired of losing," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. The Terps travel to N.C. State on Saturday.
"There is a sense of urgency with me. I am tired of losing," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. The Terps travel to N.C. State on Saturday. (By Tracy A Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Never before has a Ralph Friedgen-coached Maryland team entered the final month of the regular season under these circumstances: The Terrapins likely will be underdogs in all four remaining games, and they have to win all of them to become eligible for a bowl game.

An abundance of turnovers, sacks and injuries have sapped much of the drama out of the final third of Maryland's season, but coaches and players returned from a bye week with renewed optimism. They insist that the team has shown gradual improvement -- specifically in pass protection and on defense -- and cling to hope of a strong finish.

"As bad as our season has gone for us, it's funny that we still have a chance," quarterback Chris Turner said. "If we win out, and a few things go our way, we'll be playing in the [ACC] championship. There is still something to play for. We're not just going out trying to spoil people's years."

Winning one game, much less all four, will be a significant challenge for a team that has only beaten one division I-A team -- Clemson on Oct. 3 -- all season. And while Maryland (2-6, 1-3 ACC) has its best chance to win another game Saturday at North Carolina State, the Terrapins have not won a road game in more than 13 months.

Barring an improbable winning streak, the focus of fans and media will continue to center on lingering issues, including the development of young players and the overall direction of the program under Friedgen, the ninth-year coach who is one loss away from ensuring his fourth losing season in the past six years.

Given the opportunity to guarantee that Friedgen would return next season, Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow reiterated in a radio interview Thursday that she would evaluate the program at the end of the season, as she does for all coaches.

"Of course we would like to win more," Yow said on WJFK-FM's 'The Mike Wise Show.' "I don't think you're going to see Ralph or me, either one of us, saying, 'Yeah, we're satisfied.' Of course we are not. So far the season has been a disappointment, but the season is not over."

Even if Maryland wanted to make a head coaching change, a move is considered highly unlikely because Friedgen is owed more than $4 million on a contract that expires after the 2011 season. Offensive coordinator James Franklin, who was named Friedgen's eventual successor in February, is guaranteed $1 million if he is not named head coach after the 2011 season.

Losing has been difficult for Friedgen, who has been successful for the majority of his career as an assistant coach and head coach. The one thing that has made this season tolerable, he said, has been the work ethic of players. But losses gnaw at him, so while he acknowledges that the development of young players is important in the coming weeks, winning remains the priority in his mind.

"There is a sense of urgency with me," Friedgen said. "I am tired of losing. One of the things I talked to players about, [it's] about time we start winning."

Sensing his team was beaten up mentally and physically, Friedgen gave players more time off than usual during the bye week. He conducted two short, efficient practices last week and let players go their separate ways over the weekend, when he and coaches spent a large amount of time recruiting.

Several players said they relished the chance to get a respite from football. Some remained on campus, while others scattered. Turner took his girlfriend to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to relax and play some flag football. Linebacker Alex Wujciak visited family and friends in New Jersey.

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