As Maryland prepares to head to Tallahassee with the odds stacked against it on Saturday, there is no sense of defeat from coach Ralph Friedgen, despite the program’s worst record in over a decade.
At 2-8 overall, Maryland is down to its backup quarterback and backup punter, and will be facing a Florida State team desperately clinging to hopes of playing in a bowl game this year. The Terps, who have lost five straight games, will be pitted against an emotional defense playing for longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews in what will be the final home game of his 26-year career.
The one thing these two teams have in common, though, is stubborn coaches who are determined to keep coming back for more. Neither Friedgen nor Bobby Bowden has given any indication that this year’s struggles will keep him from coaching in 2010. For both coaches, much of that has to do with the talent, potential and character they see on their current rosters. While Bowden is on a yearly contract that is renewed each season, a buyout would cost Maryland roughly $4 million dollars -- an amount Friedgen would be foolish to walk away from on his own terms.
Instead, he seems to plan on earning it. Eventually.
Friedgen said he’s had to motivate more this year than in any past seasons, but it hasn’t been that difficult because the players have responded.
“I’m working and I’m praying that we can have some success and gain some confidence and grow from this whole experience,” Friedgen said. “This is different for me. It has not been easy on our fans, our coaches, our players, but to me, you have to sit down and evaluate everything you’re doing. But the biggest thing you have to do, is say, ‘Hey, is everybody working to get better, to strive to win?’ I’m really looking hard and trying to find some cracks, and there’s a play here and there, or a kid here and there, but overall, it’s pretty good.”
Friedgen said he has no problem with what he calls “honest play mistakes,” and he hasn’t seen many of what he calls “effort lack of interest mistakes.” Because he has such a young team, Friedgen said he thinks that once they get over the hump, they’ll have “a foundation to be able to win for a while.”
He said he hasn’t had any recruits back out of their commitments, nor have any of his current players deflected from the team concept.
“Normally it’s human nature not to take accountability, people start getting bad attitudes, start pointing fingers, but I haven’t had any of that,” Friedgen said. “I have a very special bunch of kids. It’s weird. The whole year has been very, very weird. The last two practices we’ve had this week have been very, very good. Normally when you’re in a rut like we are, sometimes you hate going to practice, you hate being around the kids. That’s not the case at all. But I do worry about things continuing because the more you lose, the easier it is for you to lose. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to turn this around.
“I only know one way out of this, and that’s to keep working, keep trying to accentuate the positive. As long as my kids are working, I’m going to be hanging in there with them, and eventually we’ll punch through this thing.”