Originally created 11/04/99

Offensive mastermind overlooked for head coaching jobs



ATLANTA -- Ralph Friedgen can't figure it out.

Certainly, the man behind Georgia Tech's innovative and productive offense has all the credentials to be a head coach. There's a national title and a Super Bowl on his resume. He's transformed Joe Hamilton from a too-short, weak-armed quarterback into a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Certainly, Friedgen has the desire to be a head coach -- "very badly," he said, those two words tinged with sadness and overwhelmed with frustration.

Still, the phone never rings.

"I don't know why," he said.

Some programs might have overlooked Friedgen because he doesn't fit the mold of the smooth, sophisticated, made-for-television head coach who is as comfortable in front of the microphone as he is on the field.

In appearance, he's Rick Majerus with a mustache. Reserved and a bit gruff, Friedgen spends hours locked away in his office, dissecting videotapes from every game he has coached. He doesn't care at all about polishing his image.

"I think you need somebody who can win," he said.

No. 7 Georgia Tech has been doing just that and much of the credit goes to Friedgen, whose Yellow Jackets lead the nation with 41.6 points and 516 yards per game.

His system is complex but revolves around the basic principal of having balance between running and throwing. Nationally, the Yellow Jackets rank 11th in rushing (238.9 yards) and 20th in passing (277.1 yards).

"The secret is putting in something that's simple to learn but complicated to defend," Friedgen said.

The blocking schemes are rather plain, but Tech confuses defenses with a wide array of formations. It's not unusual to find a receiver in the backfield or a running back lined up on the outside.

"The running backs have to know what the receivers are doing, the receivers have to know what the backs are doing," Friedgen said. "I want to be able to put anybody in those positions."

In last week's 48-21 victory over North Carolina State, receiver Kelly Campbell went in motion along the line of scrimmage and wound up taking a handoff from Hamilton in full stride, resulting in a 17-yard touchdown run around right end.

"I looked up and saw Kelly running down the field and said, `Man, it actually worked,' " guard Brent Key said. "I've learned not to question coach Friedgen."

Then there's Hamilton, generously listed at 5-foot-10 and plagued by a slight hitch in his throwing motion when he arrived at Tech. Friedgen smoothed out his quarterback's delivery and geared the play-calling to take advantage of his running and throwing skills.

"He's a mastermind," Hamilton said. "He understands everything the other team is trying to do. He knows what they might do and how they might change. Also, he constantly studies our team's tendencies. He's prepared for all situations at all times."

Friedgen was offensive coordinator under Bobby Ross when the Yellow Jackets went undefeated in 1990, claiming a share of the national title. He followed Ross to the San Diego Chargers and called plays in the 1995 Super Bowl.

Still, no one calls with a head coaching offer.

Friedgen sees people he once worked with -- Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech, Mike O'Cain of North Carolina State, Jimmye Laycock of William & Mary -- now running their own programs. The seeming unfairness of the situation gnaws at him.

"I don't resent those guys," he said. "They're all great coaches. But I also want an opportunity."

During 28 years as an assistant, Friedgen has received only one formal interview for a head coaching job, and even that was more a courtesy than a real chance.

After Ross left Georgia Tech in 1992, the school interviewed both coordinators, Friedgen and George O'Leary. When the job went to Bill Lewis, Friedgen joined Ross in the NFL.

Friedgen wasn't even granted an interview by his alma mater, Maryland, during their 1997 coaching search, so he returned to Tech to work for O'Leary.

Last season, the Yellow Jackets went 10-2, shared the Atlantic Coast Conference title and averaged more than 35 points per game -- the most at the school since 1918.

Figuring that would be enough to get noticed, Friedgen inquired about head coaching vacancies at Clemson and Duke. Neither school even called back. South Carolina did, but only to say it was looking for someone with head coaching experience.

At 52, Friedgen's window of head coaching opportunity will soon be closing.