Friedgen emphasizing togetherness as West Virginia game nears
Flipping through my crinkled notebook this morning, I was struck by how many times Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen has used the word "togetherness" recently in reference to this team. Look, lots of coaches talk about togetherness and boast about improved team chemistry. Lots of times it's all hogwash. But Friedgen is nothing if not blunt, and if there were issues, he would likely mention them in vague terms. This team has been through a lot, and a 2-10 season will deflate the biggest egos. These players seem intent on getting the program back on course together. Even an intriguing public quarterback debate has done little to divide the squad so far.
“There’s a closeness,” Friedgen said. “Not a lot of cliques on this team.”
It hasn’t always been like this. I remember two years ago when some players liked quarterback Jordan Steffy and others preferred Chris Turner (and there was Josh Portis fighting for playing time, as well). Thirty-one seniors played on that team, and Friedgen entrusted those seniors with a lot of freedom and leadership responsibilities. It didn’t quite work out. The team earned a doctorate in inconsistency, beating ranked teams then falling flat against Middle Tennessee, shutting out Wake Forest then getting shut out at Virginia. The team went belly-up at home against Florida State late in the season and settled for a trip to Boise for the Humanitarian Bowl. A postseason berth is never a bad thing, but even Friedgen has since admitted that the team underachieved. And players have said there were too many voices, too many players trying to be leaders on a team that needed a collective voice.
Last season was an on-field debacle from its unsightly start in Berkeley, Calif., to its merciful ending in a partially filled Byrd Stadium against Boston College. But this much should be said: The team never lacked effort. Friedgen always knew how hard they would work, even though the execution was never guaranteed. That's why he was left nearly speechless in the locker rooms following one heart-wrenching defeat after another. Young players learned on the fly, and some needed what he refers to as “remedial” football work after practice. Some players had some issues with playing time or were confused about roles. (Friedgen made clear in the offseason what each player’s responsibility was in each game this season.) I also felt some players had far-fetched expectations in 2009 before that season. Players talked about BCS games, talk that made you want to say, "Huh?"
“There are no issues like there were last year,” Friedgen said.
This team strikes me as humble and hungry. Friedgen applauds the commitment the players have shown since the beginning of winter workouts. After a fortunate and important victory against Navy and a suspense-free rout of Morgan State, players are starting to build confidence. Coordinator Don Brown is confident in his defense.
“You have to be confident to win in Morgantown,” Friedgen said.
I’ve heard all the stories and seen some things myself: West Virginia fans feasting on kegs and eggs before howling at Maryland's players as they step off the team bus, Terrapins fans getting harassed on their way to their seats, etc. However unified this team appears now, they will be tested in the most hostile environment they play in all season. And if the Terrapins can emerge from Saturday with a win – a giant if -- the quality of this so-called rebuilding team will need to be re-evaluated.
September 15, 2010; 2:02 PM ET
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