Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has the Terps on the winning track again this season. The team is riding a five-game winning streak into tomorrow's game with the North Carolina Tar Heels. I love Coach Friedgen. Not because he led Maryland to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and an Orange Bowl appearance last year. No, I love Coach Friedgen because he doesn't look like your regular football coach.
Most big-time college football coaches are hard-nosed, broad-shouldered, square-jawed guys who look like they could put on the pads and play a few downs for the team. Coach Friedgen is well . . . he's a little rounder than that. Coach Friedgen looks more like a favorite uncle who falls asleep in an easy chair after a big Thanksgiving dinner.
That's cool, because Coach Friedgen reminds everyone that, in sports, it isn't how you look that counts. It's whether you can get the job done. And Coach Friedgen gets the job done. The Maryland Terrapins are 16-4 since he arrived in College Park last year.
Sports is dotted with examples of folks who don't look the part but who sure can play the part. It is true for coaches and it's true for players. Think about these stars:
Before Cal Ripken Jr. started playing shortstop, people thought that he was too big -- at 6 feet 4, 225 pounds -- to play the position. Before Ripken, most shortstops were smaller, quicker players. Boy, did the Iron Man prove everybody wrong. He showed that a big guy can play big-league shortstop for more than 2,200 games.
Or how about the Redskins' Darrell Green? Listed at 5 feet 9, but probably smaller, Green doesn't look like a typical football player. But he has been a star in the rock-'em, sock-'em world of the National Football League for 20 seasons.
And Lindsay Davenport looks too big and awkward to win women's tennis tournaments against more graceful athletes. Well, she's won 37 tournaments, including three Grand Slam events.
Allen Iverson looks so skinny that he might fall over in a stiff breeze. But nobody challenges the big men of the NBA better than The Answer.
This stuff about looks is important to remember in kids' sports too. Sometimes coaches put kids at positions because of the way kids look instead of the way kids play. You know how it is: The big kids play first base, center in basketball, or defense in soccer and hockey. Hefty kids get stuck on the line in football. And little kids play shortstop or second base and handle the ball in hoops.
But maybe, just maybe, the short kid would make a better first baseman than shortstop. Or the tall kid might turn out to be the best dribbler on the team. And maybe that big lineman would like to carry the ball every once in a while.
Maybe everyone should remember my favorite football coach -- Ralph Friedgen. He doesn't look like a football coach, he just coaches like one.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids. Write to him at KidsPost, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Or e-mail (with "The Score" in the subject field): email@example.com.
His team is in good shape.