After Maryland won its first six football games, athletic director Deborah Yow was so happy with her rookie coach that she boldly predicted the Terrapins would win a national championship before Ralph Friedgen retired.
The Fridge came pretty close in his first try.
Other than a 52-31 loss at Florida State, a game that was tied at 31 in the fourth quarter, the Terps won them all and captured their first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985.
On Thursday, the 54-year-old Friedgen was selected as The Associated Press College Coach of the Year.
Friedgen received 48 votes in balloting by the 72 members of the AP college football poll board, which includes member newspapers, TV and radio stations.
He won easily over another rookie coach, Miami's Larry Coker, who was second with 14 votes. BYU first-year coach Gary Crowton was third with four votes, and Colorado's Gary Barnett had three.
"I'm very proud for the school, our assistant coaches, our players and our administration," Friedgen said. "I really think they all are represented by this award."
Friedgen has been a busy man since the end of the season, accepting honors from nearly every group that picks a top coach and talking up the sixth-ranked Terps' chances against No. 5 Florida (9-2) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.
On Tuesday, Friedgen signed a 10-year contract extension worth a reported $12 million, and Wednesday he was at an Orange Bowl news conference.
The ACC title was great, but beating the Gators is the next hurdle
"It's a game that we can make a statement," Friedgen said. "It's a measuring stick to where we are as a program. If we were to win, we'd be up there very high in the rankings."
What Friedgen did at his alma mater has been hailed as a minor miracle. Using many of the same players from last year's 5-6 team under former coach Ron Vanderlinden, Friedgen turned losers into champions with his no-nonsense approach and ability to instill a winning attitude.
One of his best moves was hiring two former coaches as his coordinators. Charlie Taaffe (The Citadel) runs the offense and Gary Blackney (Bowling Green) handles the defense. He reasoned: "I can't wait around to be making rookie head coaching mistakes at 54."
Linebacker Aaron Thompson recalled the first time Friedgen spoke to the team, just after he resigned as Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator.
"I knew he was the one," Thompson said at midseason. "He had confidence written all over him. The way he talked, the way he looked you in the eye."
Friedgen worked wonders with the offense, which averaged 35.5 points - 13 more than last season. Quarterback Shaun Hill threw for 2,380 yards and 13 TDs and ran for seven more scores, and all-ACC running back Bruce Perry had 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Terps first moved into the AP Top 25 after their fourth straight win and soared from No. 25 to as high as No. 10 in the next month. Their big win was a 20-17 overtime thriller at Georgia Tech, when Nick Novak's 26-yard field goal won it.
The loss to the Seminoles knocked them down, but the Terps closed out with wins over Clemson (37-20) and North Carolina State (23-19) that ended Florida State's nine-year ACC dominance. The Terps clinched the conference crown in dramatic fashion against NC State when Hill threw an 8-yard TD pass to Guilian Gary with 41 seconds left.
"There's still a lot of work to do," he said, "but I think we are capable of doing this in the years to come."
Asked Tuesday if he envisions closing out his coaching career at Maryland, Friedgen said: "I'd like to. I guess from day one, if I can get this program back to being a consistent Top 20 team, I would consider my life's work done."
He's off to a good start.
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