By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010; D01
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- If the necessary sentiment of all players during the preseason is optimism, then the two players wearing Maryland shirts during the first of the ACC's two media days played their parts. Except for wide receiver Torrey Smith and linebacker Alex Wujciak, the 2010 season will begin with a different tenor for Maryland than the other ACC teams represented Sunday in a posh resort ballroom.
Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen enters his 10th year at his alma mater with a seat as sweltering as the weekend's heat wave. That was acknowledged as much last winter, when then-Athletic Director Debbie Yow announced the coach's return while relaying the expectations for a winning season in 2010. The de facto ultimatum provided those associated with the Maryland program an understanding of the requirements entering the season -- and the consequences if they're not met.
"I don't think you can look at it that way," Wujciak said, when asked if the team is playing for Friedgen's job. "He's our coach. He's under contract. Plus, we've got [head coach-in-waiting James Franklin], who's there now, who has a plan set up for him. So we have Coach Friedgen there, and Coach Franklin waiting in the wings whenever that may be. So, it's not really playing for a coach's job or nothing."
However, Wujciak is aware of the speculation and acknowledged the turbulence toward the end of a miserable 2-10 season in 2009, when questions lingered whether Friedgen would return. He said those concerns were alleviated with the announcement about Friedgen's status.
Friedgen instructs his players not to worry about the speculation -- the coach faces reporters on Monday -- but Wujciak is loyal to the coach who recruited him. He knows Friedgen the man, not just Friedgen the coach. He laughs when recounting Friedgen's sense of humor.
And the players are confident. Youth was the problem, Smith said. If only the team could finish games in 2009, Wujciak wondered. Any pressure, they insist, is coming from the outside.
But no matter how much college football players insist they operate within a bubble, peripheral distractions can affect teams. Throughout the 2009 season, Virginia's football players deflected questions about former coach Al Groh's job security. Even if Groh did his best to quell concerns, mounting losses overrode all the rhetoric.
"It was a tough thing," Virginia quarterback Marc Verica said. "At the time, you don't want to admit to that. You don't want to say, 'We know he's on the hot seat, there's definitely pressure to go out there and perform.' It's hard to admit that. But at the same time, it's definitely something you're aware of, because it's everywhere you go. You see it on TV, you see it in the papers, in magazines and people are asking you about it."
Similarly, Florida State defensive lineman Everett Dawkins admitted the scrutiny surrounding Bobby Bowden's job status in 2009 weighed on the Seminoles during a 7-6 season.
Students at FSU frequently asked Dawkins about the coaching situation, and he turned off ESPN's "SportsCenter" at times to escape the story.
Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston endured the same turmoil the previous year when Tommy Bowden was fired midseason and replaced by Dabo Swinney. He said it remained on the back of players' minds and that he was "not oblivious to any of it."
Hairston's message to players in a similar situation was simple: "If you want to keep your coach off the hot seat, play good football."
That's exactly what the Maryland players emphasized on Sunday. They said fans should be excited about the talent on the roster, and Smith acknowledged that the team has no excuse for struggling in 2010.
Like the other 11 ACC teams, the Terrapins have optimism in the preseason. Now, it's up to them to provide a chance for Friedgen to return to the Greensboro ballroom next season.
"We're playing to win in 2010, so whatever that means, take it as you want it," Smith said. "We want to change our program around to get it how it was. Coach Friedgen has all the credibility in the world. He's not doing anything differently. It's just on us to get it done."