He has been away for 14 years, but yesterday, Ralph Friedgen finally returned to the University of Maryland.
Friedgen, 53, a Maryland graduate and most recently offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, was named the program's 34th football coach yesterday. His task, as stated by athletic director Debbie Yow and university president C.D. Mote Jr., is to return Maryland "to football prominence." Friedgen accepted the challenge.
"I think it's time for the Maryland community to unite. They have a Terrapin now as their head coach," Friedgen said. "I've waited all my life for this opportunity. I'm not going to let anybody down."
Friedgen signed a guaranteed six-year contract with a base salary of $175,000 with built-in provisions that push the total to more than $700,000. After meeting with the university's search committee Tuesday, Friedgen flew back to his Atlanta home Tuesday night and returned to College Park yesterday, where the parties agreed to terms around 11 a.m. Friedgen will assume his duties immediately although the Yellow Jackets play in the Peach Bowl Dec. 29.
Very popular among alumni and his former players, Friedgen was the only candidate with no head coaching experience considered by the Maryland search committee, Yow said. Friedgen's candidacy was bolstered by his familiarity with the Atlantic Coast Conference and its recruiting areas. His status as a Maryland graduate and former Maryland coach was only a secondary factor, but university officials moved quickly to avoid risking losing Friedgen to other schools with coaching openings, Yow said. Friedgen also was contacted by Memphis concerning its vacancy.
"I don't think you can compare coach Friedgen to any other assistant," Yow said. "I know of no other coordinator who has been part of a national collegiate championship team and a Super Bowl team. To me, that sets him apart."
That didn't set Friedgen apart four years ago, when he was considered but not interviewed for the Terps' coaching vacancy. Yow bristled when asked why Friedgen wasn't interviewed then, saying the situation was "complex" and she was not comfortable commenting on it. For his part, Friedgen chose to believe that this was the right place and the right time.
Friedgen did not hide his satisfaction at finally becoming a head coach; he said the fact that he is not a self-promoter and concentrates on his job had probably hurt him in the past. He also dismissed any doubts about becoming a first-time head coach.
"I've been coaching for 31 years. You start to wonder whether you're going to get this opportunity or not," he said, mentioning Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech) and George O'Leary (Georgia Tech) as colleagues who had become head coaches in recent years.
"A better question is to ask is, `How many head coaches have accomplished what I have as an assistant?' " Friedgen said. "I think it's logical that if I've accomplished more than they have as an assistant, then I have the potential to accomplish more than they can as a head coach. …