Friedgen Vindicated, Wins ACC COY

From 2-10, Terps coach leads team to 8 wins and bowl

At this time last year, many questioned whether or not Ralph Friedgen was the right man for the job as the head coach of the Maryland football team. It seemed as if all he could do was piece together mediocre seasons one after the either before he completed a 2-10 season, the worst since he took over the team.

One year later, the Terps community is singing his praises as the team quadrupled their win total from a year ago. Suddenly, 2009 was a thing of the past, and the future of Maryland football is looking brighter than ever.

There was no secret formula Friedgen crafted to suddenly fix the problems plaguing his team. There was no major change he enacted that changed the culture among his players and coaches. In fact, it was quite the contrary – as Frank Sinatra once sang, “I did it my way.”

“A year ago at this time, people wanted me to make changes. I refused to do that because I felt I had the right people around me. I felt like what we were doing was the correct thing to do. I stuck with my guns, and this is vindication that I was right,” Friedgen said during a Tuesday press conference.

It was the second time that Friedgen earned the ACC Coach of the Year award. The first time came at the conclusion of the 2001 season when he led the Terps to a 10-2 record, a top 10 ranking and an ACC title.

When he won nearly a decade ago, Friedgen said he was in awe. But because of the rough patch he has faced over the past two years, and the success his team had experienced in 2010, he admitted he “maybe even appreciated [the award] a little bit more.”

Above all, Friedgen granted credit to his players for the team’s turnaround. The team had just 16 seniors, but majority of the players had been a part of the tumultuous 2009 campaign that had left such a grotesque taste in their mouths.

Players like redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien, who earned a reputation for being a film-nerd because of his hunger for knowledge, or senior linebacker Alex Wujciak, who left it all on the film every Saturday – those types of players embody winning in the eyes of their head coach.

“I like winning. I like being around people who want to win, too,” Friedgen said, calling it the factor that continues to motivate him to coach. “When you have a bunch of kids who want to learn, and are willing to work and can accept being motivated, then it is pretty enjoyable.”

One adjustment Friedgen made this season was putting more faith into his players. He said he had a lot more communication with them, mostly regarding practices. Friedgen said he learned that a lot of the time, players were too tired and banged up, and he had to distinguish between fatigue and excuses to get out of practicing.

In October, Friedgen began limiting the hitting in practice because of the flood of injuries on the team. He started using a “quick whistle” and easing up practices towards the end of the week.

The trust Friedgen invested in his players, however, was truly a testament to the care he had for his players. It certainly did not go unnoticed in the clubhouse.

“We all love coach Friedgen. He deserves that [award]. [He is] a great coach, a great leader and role model for it. He deserves every bit of the accolades he is going to get this season,” O’Brien said, adding that everyone on the team is smiling at the fact they happen to get this week off as well.

The opportunity to rest up is not because there season is over. In fact, they are at least a month from finishing their season.

Last year, if you asked a Maryland fan if they team would be in the postseason right now they make have laughed without bothering to even give a response. If you asked Friedgen, on the other hand, he would have told you “yes’ without hesitation.

“I never thought we were as bad as everyone said we were. I knew what we had as far as our talent level and as far as our character,” he said. The team lost a lot of close contests, including six which were decided by four points or less, and were due in part to the various injuries and inexperience of the team.

“I never felt that we wouldn’t be successful this year. Call me cocky but I just believed that we would and so did our players,” Friedgen said. “Maybe this is another example of perseverance.”

The Terps are now preparing for this weekend’s announcement of which bowl game they will play in and which opponent they will face. Possibilities are endless, as invitations to the Champs Sport Bowl, Hyundai Sun Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, Music City Bowl, Independence Bowl and Military Bowl are still up for grabs.

And for any bowl committee who still needed convincing, Friedgen made the case for his team. Aside from all of the accolades he and his coaches have earned in the past week, he said, “We are a heck of a story.”

“A team that was 2-10 is 8-4. We’ve got really some great skill people both on offense and defense. We’ve got a young quarterback who is exciting. We’ve now got the ACC Coach of the Year,” he said, ending his message with a final plea. “Come on guys. Come get us.”

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