Maryland football's classless courtship of Mike Leach on day of Ralph Friedgen's final game

By Mike Wise
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:19 AM

In this decrepit stadium, they began chanting a college coach's name on Wednesday evening.

Over and over, the words tumbled from the mouths of a throaty crowd at RFK Stadium, until they reached the same crescendo as Maryland's turnaround season had under that coach - until the emotional Terrapins players had blown the doors off their opponents and won one for the big lug who cried with them, won with them and cried some more.

They weren't chanting "Mike Leach."

"Thank you, Friedgen! Thank you, Friedgen!"

Ralph Friedgen choked back more tears as his players embraced him on the last night of his Maryland career, after this 51-20 demolition of East Carolina paved the way for the new young thing to spice up the university's dying marriage with its boosters.

Indeed, at the exact same time a 63-year-old football lifer was coaching his final game at his alma mater, Leach, the former Texas Tech coach who has been accused of ordering a kid complaining of a concussion to be locked in a shed, was touring Maryland's campus.

Let's give the administration and Kevin Anderson, the neophyte Maryland athletic director who fired Friedgen, at least this: They will stop at nothing when it comes to finding their bottom.

People of Terrapin Nation, please: The body wasn't even cold. You couldn't have at least waited until he cleaned out his office at Gossett Team House on Thursday? It was just too much to let the ACC coach of the year have one more day before the mail-order bride from Texas arrived?

"I have three daughters and 120 sons," Friedgen said amid the postgame celebration as his 120-player extended family encircled the patriarch of Maryland football for one more night. "I am going to miss these kids."

Maryland didn't merely fire Friedgen; it took the only job the Class of '70 alum ever wanted. As he spoke forlornly after the game, you didn't feel Friedgen was losing his job as much as his essence, who he is beyond a father and a husband.

His ultra-supportive wife, Gloria, and his daughters sat in the back, but not like the proud family of the man who somehow made the Terrapins count in college football again, 10 years after Maryland was nowhere.

No, they and every one of Friedgen's supporters looked like the losers in a family-court custody case. The state took away all 120 of his adopted children.

To the Fridge-Needs-to-Go folks: You can trot out your stats and your figures forever. You can make persuasive arguments about lapses in recruiting and interest. And even if you were right - and you, like the new red necktie in College Park calling the shots, believe this is a "strategic business decision" - this was no way to bring an end to the most memorable era of Maryland football since Bobby Ross employed a pretty good offensive coordinator named Ralph Friedgen more than two decades ago.

Friedgen knows it's big-time college football with monster money involved and sometimes there is no easy way to usher people who don't want to leave out the door.

But when the athletic director guarantees your job security for 2011, then rescinds that pledge a month later; when university officials can't just flat-out say, "We screwed up in how we handled this"; and finally, when his hoped-for replacement is in College Park the very day he is taking the Terrapins to their seventh bowl game in his 10 years and their fifth postseason victory, well, that's just about as classless as it comes.

He may be gone, but what a nice bookend to Friedgen's redemptive season, no? What a dominating end, the way Maryland's defense stifled East Carolina in the fourth quarter, much like the way it made a fourth-and-goal stand to upset Navy in Baltimore in early September.

Seconds after that stop, Military Bowl MVP Da'Rel Scott took off on a flyer, 91 scintillating yards, to put the game away with less than 12 minutes remaining.

"Thank you, Friedgen! Thank you, Friedgen!"

As the big man lumbered off the podium at about 8 p.m. Wednesday and out the door for the last time, they can say what they want about him and debate how good of a coach he was or not.

They can't debate this: Forty years after his old man swore he would change the locks if his disenchanted kid left College Park - because, as his father said, "quitters don't live in my house" - Ralph Friedgen never quit on Maryland.

It's a damn shame that on the night of his last triumph, in the cold at RFK where they chanted his name and he sang the alma mater as the band played, the university he continues to love can't say the same.

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