By Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:04 AM
On the same day Maryland players and fans bid goodbye to Coach Ralph Friedgen with a resounding victory in the Military Bowl, one candidate to succeed Friedgen, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, was on the University of Maryland campus, a source close to the athletic department said. Leach will interview with the search committee in charge of finding Friedgen's successor on Thursday, the source said.
The football program's past and possible future collided on an eventful Wednesday that saw Friedgen coach the Terrapins to a 51-20 victory over East Carolina before a Military Bowl-record 38,062 fans at RFK Stadium. Friedgen, who has been fired after 10 seasons at his alma mater, said he will clean out his office Thursday.
Friedgen's voice choked with emotion at times during his final postgame news conference at Maryland, but the 63-year-old refrained from tears because, he said, "maybe I'm all cried out." He talked about his feelings for his assistants, some of whom are now out of jobs; the outpouring of support he has received in recent days and how this season's team ranks with his 2001 team as the most gratifying he has coached. And he spoke of his legacy, which includes graduating most of his players, staying out of trouble with the NCAA and winning five of seven bowl games in 10 seasons.
"My legacy is what it is," Friedgen said. "It is 75-50 [his record], it is how I treat people, who I am as a person, what I represent. I can look in the mirror and have no problem doing that. I gave the best I had for 10 years. Obviously that is not good enough. That is what hurts."
Friedgen's successor will inherit a team that engineered the second-biggest turnaround in the nation during the regular season, a team that brings back the same core of players that finished 9-4. One player who will not be back is junior wide receiver Torrey Smith, who graduated Dec. 19 and announced after the game he will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft in part because of family considerations.
When asked about the quality of the Maryland job, Friedgen - without specifying the issues - said that it is "not an easy job" and that there are a lot of things university officials "need to change to reach its potential. I don't know if they are willing to do that."
It is uncertain whether any other candidates will visit Maryland's campus. Kevin Anderson, Maryland's first-year athletic director, who was on the RFK Stadium sideline late in the game, had said he wanted to name a head coach by Tuesday of next week.
In his 125th game as Maryland's head football coach, Friedgen stood on the sideline of a five-decade-old stadium that is years removed from its glory days, a harsh backdrop for a coach whose administration has concluded the same about him. Maryland's performance offered no evidence that Friedgen has lost his touch.
The defense forced four turnovers, made two fourth-down stops and contained an explosive spread offense. Senior running back Da'Rel Scott scored on two touchdown runs of more than 60 yards and rushed for a career-high 200 yards. D.J. Adams became the first Maryland player in eight years to score four rushing touchdowns in a game. In all, Maryland rushed for a season-high 297 yards.
But the images that will most resonate over time will be of Friedgen, who was given a Gatorade bath by players late in the game. Chants of "Frie-dgen! Frie-dgen!" were heard periodically throughout. In the fourth quarter, fans carried a large banner that read "Thanks Ralph" around the upper deck of the emptying stadium.
Scott said that he felt his coach would get the contract extension he had wanted because of a turnaround season in which Friedgen earned ACC coach of the year honors for the second time. Instead, Anderson announced that Maryland will buy out the final year of Friedgen's contract.
"I feel he is a great coach," Scott said. "I don't feel that [firing] should have been done. But it's a business decision."
Early in the fourth quarter, Scott broke free and raced 91 yards for a touchdown in his final college game. But most of the attention during and after the game focused on Friedgen, who lifted Maryland to national relevance during his first three seasons and who capped his Maryland career with a decisive bowl victory.
In the locker room after the game, linebacker Alex Wujciak said, Friedgen was relatively subdued. He thanked the players for their effort and told them to call him whenever they wanted.
Friedgen told members of the media he will take some time to decompress before he figures out his next venture. But he said if he gets the itch again to coach, "I think someone will hire me."