Ralph Friedgen and Frank Beamer shared an office for five years as well as a one-engine plane on a recruiting trip. They've staged countless family barbecues, purchased property together and even attended Lamaze class with their wives when the couples were expecting their first child. Said Friedgen, "We can breathe with the best of them."
Beamer, now Virginia Tech's coach, got his first head coaching job in 1981, 20 years before Maryland hired Friedgen for his first head coaching position. Yet their career paths had the same starting point and will intersect tonight, when the two meet for the first time, albeit reluctantly, as head coaches.
During typical recent autumn weekends, Beamer roots for Friedgen, and Friedgen roots for Beamer. Neither, however, is looking forward to tonight.
"Going against him is tough, but it's part of the profession," said Beamer, whose No. 15 Virginia Tech team is in first place in the ACC. "The more meetings you go on, the more you become friends with a lot of people. But Ralph and I certainly go back a long time."
Their connection extends nearly four decades. Friedgen was on the Maryland freshman team that played Beamer's Virginia Tech freshman team in the first game at Lane Stadium in 1965. Tonight's meeting, which will be televised on ESPN, comes 32 years after the two began their coaching careers as graduate assistants on Jerry Claiborne's Maryland staff. At around 11:30 p.m., the two coaches will shake hands in the middle of the field and likely never broach the subject of the game again, ever.
In 2001, Maryland beat Georgia Tech, coached by Friedgen's close friend George O'Leary, 20-17 in overtime. The two have never spoken of the game. In 1990, Friedgen was offensive coordinator for the Georgia Tech team that beat Beamer's Virginia Tech team, 6-3. The two have never spoken of the game.
"It's not something we'd kid each other about," Friedgen said. "We take it seriously, it's our job, it's something we do. . . . When it's over, we'll go back to being friends."
Friedgen believes the friendship likely will spark a rivalry, but Maryland players aren't so sure.
"I think [the relationship] probably factors in more between them than anyone else," Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "Their relationship doesn't mean anything to our team, and I'm sure it doesn't mean anything to Virginia Tech."
Friedgen hasn't broached the subject with his team this week and hasn't detailed the long, sometimes parallel, paths the two coaches took. Both worked as assistants at the Citadel from 1973 to 1978, sharing an office and attending Lamaze classes in 1977. Beamer's son and the first of Friedgen's three daughters were born 10 days apart.
From the Citadel, Beamer joined the staff at Murray State and Friedgen did the same at William & Mary. They reunited again in 1981, when Beamer, then Murray State's head coach, hired Friedgen as assistant head coach.
There, at the small western Kentucky school, came more memories that either coach can reference in an instant. During one Christmas break, Beamer asked if Friedgen wanted to join him for a daylong recruiting trip to Chicago. Friedgen agreed, thinking they would fly out of nearby Paducah, Ky. Instead, Beamer opted to depart from Murray and on a one-engine plane.
Beamer and the pilot sat in the front wearing headsets; Friedgen sat in the back without one. Suddenly, Beamer and the pilot started looking around while in the air, and Friedgen tapped them on the shoulder, saying, "What are we looking for?"
"There is supposed to be a big plane in the area," they said.
"Oh, no!" Friedgen hollered.
On the way back that night, Beamer and the pilot again start looking toward the ground, and Friedgen again asked, "What are we looking for?"
"Trees," they said.
"Oh!" Friedgen said. "Don't tell me that."
In the late 1980s, Beamer and Friedgen purchased a golf cottage together on Georgia's Lake Oconee and shared it for more than a decade. Currently, they own summer homes less than a quarter-mile apart on the lake, an area that hosts numerous Friedgen-Beamer golf and family outings. During a golf event there this summer, Friedgen twice nearly hit Beamer with shanks that just missed the coach's earlobe.
Each Fourth of July, Friedgen has a large party at his house, where he serves barbecue pig and invites neighbors. Friedgen's daughters have been hounding him for some time to buy a type of Jet Ski like the neighbors have.
"I won't buy it for them," Friedgen said. "But they'll go over to Uncle George's and Uncle Frank's and they'll let them use theirs."
In 2001, when Friedgen was hired at Maryland, he flew down to the lake for 10 days. Beamer had been there for nearly a month. "How the hell do you do this and stay here for a month?" Friedgen asked. "I can't find time to get away. You've been a head coach for 15 years; you've kind of got things in line."
This season, Beamer stayed less than three weeks. "Wow," Friedgen told him, "you get in the ACC and now it's two weeks and not a month, huh?"
When Friedgen underwent hip surgery in 2003, Beamer called Friedgen's wife, Gloria, at the hospital and asked, "Is there anything Ralph can do to help us get into the ACC?"
At that moment, Friedgen was still on anesthetics and was occasionally throwing up. "Uh," Gloria said, "I think he has other things on his mind right now."
During a recent gathering at the lake, the two performed karaoke. The song selections symbolized both their friendship and rise in the coaching profession. Said Friedgen: "My song was 'I Did It My Way' and his song was 'Stand by Your Man.' "
And somehow tonight, the two will coach a football game.