Maryland Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen keeping his emotions in check despite losing job

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who will lose his job next week, sits with his players at a welcoming ceremony put on by the Military Bowl at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington.
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who will lose his job next week, sits with his players at a welcoming ceremony put on by the Military Bowl at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 12:03 AM

In his first public comments since learning that his alma mater will fire him as football coach after next week's Military Bowl, Maryland's Ralph Friedgen proved he hadn't lost his sense of humor.

"You know, I told you I was going to bring a lot of attention to this bowl," Friedgen said Wednesday at the Military Bowl's welcome reception for the Terrapins at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington. "I didn't realize it was going to be in quite this manner. But the TV ratings will be up, and we certainly got a lot of publicity."

Indeed, Friedgen's firing drew national media attention over the past week, fueled by speculation that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is his most likely successor.

The Terrapins, who went from 2-10 in 2009 to 8-4 this season, will face East Carolina next Wednesday at RFK Stadium. Friedgen said he would prefer not to address his firing until after the game in an attempt to better control his emotions and focus, even as he acknowledged such a task has proved difficult in recent days.

On Monday, running backs coach John Donovan, who was chosen to take over play-calling duties from former offensive coordinator James Franklin after Franklin became Vanderbilt's head coach Friday, informed Friedgen he would not be able to participate in the bowl game, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Donovan, the source said, is expected to become Vanderbilt's offensive coordinator.

Donovan and special teams coach Charles Bankins, who also is expected to join the Vanderbilt staff, traveled to Nashville on Tuesday to meet with Franklin. It was then, the source said, that Franklin consented to both assistants' coaching the Terrapins in the Military Bowl. Donovan and Bankins returned to Maryland on Wednesday.

Uncertain of whether he would be short two assistants for the final game of his tenure at Maryland, Friedgen said he showed up at the team's headquarters at 4 a.m. Tuesday to study the game plan. He worked through lunch and did not leave until 7:30 p.m.

Friedgen said it has not yet been decided who will call Maryland's plays against East Carolina. He said the responsibility either would fall to him, Donovan or wide receivers coach Lee Hull.

Or, Friedgen said half-jokingly, he may just leave the play-calling to redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC rookie of the year. O'Brien said Wednesday he had no plans to transfer from Maryland, despite the coaching change.

"For the most part, I've been holding in my emotions pretty good," Friedgen said. "And you all know I'm emotional. It'll be tough. You know, the kids have been great. To be with them last year and see them grow. We're right to a point now where I think we're really ready to take off.

"That's the toughest thing is I really think this team has a chance to be champions. That's kind of what I was looking forward to. But, you know, the powers that be probably don't think I'm good enough to do that. But the kids have been great. . . . It's kind of a warm feeling."

When the team gathered at Gossett House shortly after noon Wednesday, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson addressed the players for roughly 10 minutes. Players said Anderson explained his decision and told them to trust in him to find the right man to guide the program forward.

"It was real surprising," senior linebacker Alex Wujciak said of learning Friedgen had been fired. "Obviously I thought we had a good year, so I didn't think this was going to happen. That's kind of the way it goes. It's a business. There's not much we can really do about it now."

Wujciak said the players asked Anderson questions, such as what his plan was and when a decision on their next coach would be made. And then Friedgen, the ACC coach of the year this past season, addressed the team for about 10 minutes. As is his tendency, Friedgen became emotional as he implored the players not to let his situation distract them from their game preparations.

"I came here to play for him," junior wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "I didn't come here to play for anyone else. It's definitely tough. And that's the case for a lot of players. You come here to play for a coach and play for a program. At the same time, you have to represent the school. They make the executive decisions, and you have to kind of live with it.

"It's definitely tough when you come in to play for a certain group of coaches, and the next day, they're not there. But it's a business, so I understand it."

It's been a hectic week for all the players, who were left uncertain whether Friedgen would coach them in the bowl game throughout most of the weekend. O'Brien said the best part of the past two weeks was getting back on the field for practice Wednesday. Other players said the game now takes on a greater significance.

"I'm happy [Friedgen] is" coaching Maryland in the Military Bowl, senior linebacker Adrian Moten said. "At least we have a way of sending him off to where we have a great season at 9-4."

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