For most of the past decade, the presence of Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen and West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez, two blue-collar men who bled the school colors of their respective alma maters, served as a prime ingredient for a fierce rivalry between the two schools.
But Rodriguez left Morgantown, W.Va., at the close of the 2007 season, Maryland fired Friedgen after last season and the schools now employ Randy Edsall and Dana Holgorsen, relative outsiders who have never met.
And yet the rivalry is hotter than ever.
“They understand what the feeling is like,” Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis said of the new coaches. “Anytime you put that Maryland across your chest, it’s just a given that you don’t like West Virginia, you don’t like Duke and you don’t like Virginia. That’s how it is, and that’s how it’s always going to be whether you are a new coach, old coach, freshman or redshirt senior. . . . No matter what, you know it’s a rivalry not to be taken lightly.”
In fact, on the day Edsall was introduced as Maryland’s head coach in January, several people reminded him of the importance of beating one team: West Virginia. During practice this week, players said Edsall did not blare John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on loudspeakers in practice, as Friedgen did, but Edsall did send a clear message to his team after practice: It is time to put an end to West Virginia’s five-game winning streak in the series.
“It’s something that is very important,” Edsall said of the series. “Even though they are not in the ACC, it’s still a bordering state that has developed a great rivalry.”
While Pittsburgh will always be the Mountaineers’ biggest rival, Tavon Austin, West Virginia’s best playmaker and a Baltimore native, said that Maryland-West Virginia matchups are akin to games between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The animosity is almost palpable.
Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield recalled a few West Virginia fans dressed as Friedgen during last season’s game. Others remember blunt messages on posters and vitriol. Francis recalled running onto the field when he heard someone in the crowd yell, “Hey!”
Francis turned around, only to see a gray-haired woman make an obscene gesture and spit on Francis.
“I was amazed,” said Francis, who has family roots in West Virginia. “I couldn’t believe someone’s great-grandmother just spit on me. I’ve been to West Virginia numerous times. They love their football. Anytime we can make them feel bad by beating their team, that always feels good.”
And now two new head coaches enter the rivalry. One connection between Edsall and Holgorsen is that both were the end results of aborted head coach-in-waiting plans.
Holgorsen, who had been West Virginia’s head coach-in-waiting, was given the head coaching job in June after Bill Stewart resigned in the wake of accusations that he encouraged a local reporter to dig up dirt on Holgorsen. And Edsall was named Maryland’s head coach following a dizzying December that saw head coach-in-waiting James Franklin take the Vanderbilt head coaching job and Maryland fire Friedgen.
During his 12 seasons at Connecticut, Edsall had a 1-6 record against West Virginia, the lone victory coming in a 16-13 overtime triumph last season. Edsall will have a chance to improve that record in the coming years, including in a 2013 matchup with the Mountaineers at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for” Edsall, Holgorsen said. “I don’t know him. Looking at the bio and what he has done, it’s all about being very disciplined. It doesn’t matter what your schemes are about, it’s about being disciplined. They preach about playing smart. They are going to be real good at turnover margin and not being penalized.”
And players are hoping that the new chapter of the rivalry begins with the Terrapins ending a dubious streak. Maryland has not beaten West Virginia since the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2004.
“There are a lot of guys here who were not in high school,” Francis said. “It’s only a rivalry game if it’s a rivalry. It’s not a rivalry if one team keeps getting their [butt] kicked all the time.”