Normally, I couldn’t have cared less who came out on the winning side of a late-December bowl game featuring schools from the ACC and Conference USA. During the course of today’s Military Bowl, though, I found myself actively rooting for Maryland for what was, I believe, the first time in my adult life.
Specifically, I was cheering like hell for the Terps to send Ralph Friedgen off into the football sunset with a win because, simply put, the man deserved to go out like that. Not just for what he’s accomplished in his decade at the school, but for the sketchy backroom machinations used by the university to ungracefully push him out the door.
An emotional last couple of weeks for Friedgen, especially in the run-up to the bowl game, came to an end in a very fitting and deserving final act for the coach as his Terrapins carried him off the field — metaphorically speaking; ya know, the whole laws-of-physics thing and defying it — and into at least a temporary retirement with a 51-20 romp over East Carolina. There was some concern ahead of the Military Bowl as to how Friedgen’s players would react to their coach’s final game, but those fears were allayed early and often as the Terps dominated the Pirates in every aspect of the rout.
At least as far as the Maryland chapter of his career is concerned, it’s over. But, for an institution many apply the label of “basketball school” to, it was one helluva run by just about any measure imaginable. Friedgen finishes with a 5-2 record in bowl games and his final W/L mark will read 75-50, a .600 winning percentage. To put those numbers into their proper perspective, Maryland was 60-103-1 and played in a total of one bowl game in the 15 years prior to Friedgen’s arrival.
It may have been time for him to go — albeit with a little more class and dignity on the part of the administration — but there’s no doubting that Friedgen left the football program he was once a part of as a player in much better shape than when he first took it over. That’s a helluva legacy to leave behind at your alma mater, even as the departure could’ve been a little more palatable for all involved.
Earlier this month, and after receiving a very public vote of confidence from his boss, it appeared this game would serve as a launching pad for the 2011 season. Instead, it closed the book on what was by Maryland standards a wildly successful run in College Park for Friedgen.
At least, though, he goes out with a sliver of happiness written into what was otherwise a bittersweet ending to his 10-year tenure.