By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 9:13 PM
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen was named the ACC coach of the year on Tuesday after orchestrating his team's six-win improvement from last season, the second-biggest turnaround in the country. Another reason for the turnaround: redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien, who was named ACC rookie of the year.
It is a significant achievement for a coach whose job was saved after a disastrous 2009 season in part because of a poor economy and whose return in 2011 was not guaranteed until 12 days ago.
"A year ago I was about to be fired," Friedgen said.
He praised fans and alumni for their support, adding "because of their support, this is possible."
Friedgen also won the award in 2001. Because of the turn of events in the past year, he said, "this one is special, really."
He said some people wanted him to make staff changes.
"I stuck to my guns. This is kind of vindication that I was right," Friedgen said. "I knew this team would be successful. It was a matter of teaching them how to believe in themselves."
Though the Terrapins were predicted to finish last in the Atlantic Division, the same core of players who won just two games last season - just one in the ACC - finished with an 8-4 overall record and a 5-3 ACC mark, good for a three-way tie for third in the league with North Carolina State and Miami. Only Miami (Ohio), whose record has improved by seven victories, has seen a more dramatic turnaround this season.
Friedgen, 63, entered this season with tenuous job security after, sources said, school officials explored using university funds to fire him after the 2-10 season in 2009. But on Nov. 18, five days after Maryland beat Virginia to ensure a winning regular season, Kevin Anderson, Maryland's first-year athletic director, announced that Friedgen would return for an 11th season, the final year of his current contract. Friedgen and Anderson are expected to review the state of the program after the season.
Friedgen reached the seventh bowl game in his 10-year Maryland career with a patchwork offensive line that lost three starters - left tackle Justin Gilbert (knee), right tackle Pete DeSouza (leg fractures suffered in a scooter accident) and right guard Justin Lewis (knee) - to injury during the season. Lewis is expected back for the bowl game.
Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin have developed a rising star in O'Brien, a five-time winner of the ACC rookie of the week award. In Saturday's 38-31 win over N.C. State, O'Brien became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for 400 yards in 17 seasons.
O'Brien, No. 3 among division I-A freshmen in quarterback rating (135.20), has completed 179 of 315 passes for 2,257 yards, the sixth-highest total for a freshman in ACC history, with 21 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
This figured to be the most critical and pressure-filled season of Friedgen's head coaching career. But the Terrapins achieved an early breakthrough, beating Navy in dramatic fashion on Labor Day. Throughout the season, they never lost to an inferior opponent - West Virginia, Clemson, Miami and Florida State all are bowl eligible - and never came out emotionally flat as an entire team.
Friedgen exhibited a deft motivational touch with a relatively young team that, he said, entered the season still searching for confidence to win at the division I-A level. Whether it was providing extra post-practice help to young offensive linemen in his office or making a habit to visit players in the locker room after practice, Friedgen displayed a patient hand with players, enabling him to strengthen the bond with them.