As the Terrapins marched triumphantly off the field in the wake of their 51-20 thrashing of the East Carolina Pirates, Maryland fans were left with conflicted emotions- joy over the bowl win and uncertainly over a program that has yet to find a coach. Ralph Friedgen has been refreshingly honest in his take on the Maryland football program in his absence. But for one day, the Terps showed why Ralph has been so good to this program that for all its recent mediocrity was moribund before his arrival.
Before Maryland fans get all up in arms about becoming a championship program, they would be wise to remember how great of a coach Ralph Friedgen has been. For a school that neither properly funds or concentrates on its football program, taking the Terps to 7 bowls in 10 seasons is quite the accomplishment. But that is the problem with head coaches. When a coach arrives at a school not known for gridiron success, any bowl appearance is great. But after a while, history is forgotten and then bowl appearances aren’t good enough- conference championships are expected. When a team is winning the conference, that isn’t enough- they want to win it all. Ralph reached the first stage, and his meteoric first three seasons was enough to raise expectations. When he couldn’t deliver, the clock was ticking.
Now, I understand why Friedgen is being forced out, it makes sense from a business standpoint. The university needs attendance, they need to sell the boxes, and move merchandise. But anyone who expects Maryland to become a national contender with simply a new coach is sorely mistaken. The university will have to make significant investments into coach salaries, assistant coaches, better facilities, and the like in order to forge an elite football program- investments they are neither willing nor appear able to make at this point. Ralph may have made the point best himself:
“I think there’s a lot of things that really have to change to help [Maryland] reach its potential, and to be honest with you, I don’t know if the university is willing to do that,” Friedgen said without a trace of emotion or anger. “You have to know that going in. I did, and I think that was a benefit to me. I think what happens to a lot of coaches that come to Maryland, they think it’s like any other place and then after their third year they realize it isn’t and then they’re stuck. It’s tough to sustain. Just go back and look at the history.”
But for one day, Ralph capped off a 9 win season with a dominating victory over one of the most explosive offenses in the country- one that runs the same offense Maryland would run over Mike Leach, if he is hired. They throttled the worst defense in the country, as expected, and walked off as winners for the last time under Head Coach Ralph Friedgen. To get past 9 wins on an annual basis for this team will take more than a flashy hire, though that wouldn’t be a bad start.