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A sweet perk for Maryland coaches: Ice cream made in their honor

University of Maryland executive pastry chef Jeffrey Russo, left, and assistant Nora Garcia prepare a custom ice cream flavor to honor football coach Michael Locksley. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

Down in the basement of a dining hall at the University of Maryland, closer to academic buildings than any athletic facility, Jeffrey Russo readies for his quick, choreographed routine. A cavernous bowl filled with caramelized graham-cracker bits sits on a stainless steel table next to a bucket of caramel; soon, he will distribute those ingredients into a few cups to prepare for the main act.

Russo, the executive pastry chef for the university’s dining services, describes making ice cream as an art and a science. He can rattle on about the importance of each step, from the methods and machines to the precise storage temperatures. But Russo calls the brunt of the labor “very, very low tech.” He and an assistant shake the cups of graham-cracker bits and caramel into a three-gallon tub as the machine dispenses ice cream. They manually rotate the bucket as it fills quickly with the Maryland Dairy’s newest flavor.

“It’s more a dance than anything else,” said Russo, who wore a white apron embroidered with his name and a Maryland logo.

The process takes just a few minutes, and then it’s off to the storage freezer for these buckets labeled FOOTBALL.

While the morning routine of making ice cream begins in a small, windowless room, its origin story has roots in the football facility, where Coach Michael Locksley brainstormed his ideal ice cream flavor this summer and eventually chose the final product after a taste test with five options.

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The dairy, which is housed in the student union and uses milk from local cows, sells ice cream of typical flavors, others that are seasonal or more obscure, and six dedicated to coaches on campus. The coach-inspired variations began in 2004 with Ralph Friedgen’s vanilla that included fudge, brownies and chocolate-covered cashews. More than a decade later, the sweet honor spread to the Maryland men’s and women’s basketball coaches. In recent years, the dairy added flavors dedicated to the leaders of three of the most successful programs on campus: men’s soccer, field hockey and women’s lacrosse.

Mark Turgeon
Men’s basketball
Turge Turtle Crunch
Summer 2015
Brenda Frese
Women’s basketball
Brenda’s Peanut Butter Frese
Summer 2015
Sasho Cirovski
Men’s soccer
Sasho’s Crew Crunch
Fall 2017
Missy Meharg
Field hockey
Fall 2018
Cathy Reese
Women’s lacrosse
Cathy Reese’s Victory Swirl
Spring 2019
Michael Locksley
Pop, #LOCKedIn, Drop It
Summer 2019

Apart from Locksley, who received his flavor before he coached his first game with the team, ice cream is earned through a meritocracy of sorts. There’s no precise rule for who gets one, but success of the program plays a role. Only some of the teams’ venues can sell ice cream at games, which also becomes a factor, according to Lori Dominick, the general manager for the dining services portion of the student union’s food court.

Staff members from either dining services or the athletic department begin the conversation about creating an ice cream flavor. Once the dairy decides to move forward with a new variation, Russo receives the details about the coach’s preferred sweets, flavors or other mix-ins. Frequently, he said, those correspond with their childhood favorites. Locksley much prefers vanilla to chocolate, while Mark Turgeon’s finished product resembles the Jamoca Almond Fudge flavor at Baskin-Robbins.

“But the great thing about it is everyone has a lot of interest in it,” Russo said. “It’s not really just, ‘Make me something.’ They all want to be a part of it because it’s their namesake.”

No coaches have requested a flavor combination that Russo has worried about being able to pull off. (“It’s very hard for ice cream not to work, when you really consider it,” he said.) While developing the options, Russo first considers quality: What will create the best taste? What will please the coach and consumers? Russo also ensures that the ingredients will always be available. For instance, if a supplier stopped making the caramelized graham-cracker bits needed for Locksley’s flavor, Russo could make those himself until he finds a new purchasing option.

For his taste test, Locksley enlisted the help of a handful of staffers, including the director of player development, a team nutritionist and his executive assistant. Locksley said the decision was essentially unanimous in favor of the version sold today. Women’s lacrosse coach Cathy Reese let all her players take part in the tasting before the flavor debuted this past spring. Naturally, her creation includes Reese’s Pieces and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Reese joked the taste tests were the best part, adding how the ice cream that honors women’s lacrosse is “something that we can do that’s fun that can embrace the whole community.”

The tradition is still young, so it hasn’t faced many crossroads despite the turnover rate in the results-oriented business of coaching. Plus, most of the coaches who have an ice cream named for them are fixtures at Maryland.

But when the university last year placed football coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave in the wake of the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and troubling reports about cultural issues within the program, dining services had its own scrambling to do. Dominick said her department quickly realized, “Oh, this is happening, let’s take care of anything on our end that we can.” So the dairy changed the name of Terpin’ Durkin Crunch to Pretzel Logic, which is no longer sold.

If a coach with a popular ice cream flavor leaves the school, Dominick said the dairy “would probably just rename it and keep carrying it, see if people kept ordering it.”

Women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese’s flavor, which is packed with brownie bites and peanut butter cups, is the most popular of the coach creations. Turgeon’s vanilla, which includes crushed almonds and a chocolate swirl, is not far behind. Frese shows visiting recruits the dairy — “kind of a fun little selling point,” she said — and her ice cream appears at events for women’s basketball donors, too. The new Locksley-inspired variation is one of Russo’s personal favorites.

“It’s unbelievable,” Locksley said. “You should try it.”

Coaches usually take part in the flavor’s unveiling; Locksley scooped his concoction for students at an event just before the football season began. Sometimes love for a team or appreciation of a coach might prompt someone to try a flavor. But when they stop by the dairy for more, that’s less so for the name on the label than for the creation itself.

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