WASHINGTON — Ralph Friedgen soaked in the chants and fought back a few more tears. He gave a parting gift to his alma mater — the highest point total Maryland has ever posted in a bowl game — then followed it with a parting shot at the administration that fired him.
Already the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year, already the engineer of the second-biggest regular season turnaround in the country, Friedgen ended his 10-year run with the Terrapins on Wednesday with a 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the Military Bowl.
“It’s been real surreal,” Friedgen said. “To be honest with you, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it. I really had no idea that people even thought that much of me.”
Patrolling the Maryland sideline one last time, holding his customary playsheet and wearing a white cap with the word “Terps” in red, Friedgen wound up a 9-4 season and a 75-50 Maryland decade that includes a 5-2 record in bowl games. Fans held up signs and banners proclaiming “Thanks Ralph” and chanted his name through much of the second half. He got the customary ice-bucket bath from his players with 2½ minutes left in the game.
“If you have to go out,” Friedgen said, “this is the best way to do it.”
New Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson announced last week that Friedgen was being dismissed, effective after the bowl game, with the school buying out the final year of the 63-year-old coach’s contract for $2 million. Friedgen said preparing for the game was like “a slow death.” He found it hard to hold back his emotions and was concerned that his players wouldn’t be focused.
He needn’t have worried. Running back Da’Rel Scott (13 carries, 200 yards) spoke for his teammates when he said they were determined to “make sure coach Friedgen went out with a bang.”
Then, his eyes dry for a moment, Friedgen fired a cannon himself near the end of his news conference when asked: “How good is the Maryland coaching job?”
“I can tell you this — it’s not an easy job,” he answered. “There’s a lot of things that really have to change to help it reach its potential. And, to be honest with you, I don’t know if the university is willing to do that. You’ve kind of got to know that going in. … What happens to a lot of coaches who come to Maryland, they think it’s like every other place, and after their third year they realize it isn’t, and they’re stuck.
“People are concerned about my legacy, and my legacy is what it is — 75-50 … I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that’s not good enough right now, and that’s what hurts. … I leave the job a lot better than when I got it, so if someone else can come in and do better, my hat’s off to them.”
Much of the game was more ceremony than competition. The Terrapins piled up 478 yards against the nation’s worst defense and forced four turnovers. Scott had second-half touchdown runs of 61 and 91 yards on back-to-back Maryland offensive plays, and D.J. Adams had four short touchdown runs.
Dominique Davis completed 35 of 57 passes for 268 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for East Carolina (6-7), which committed 15 penalties and never got its high-octane offense in rhythm.
“There’s no beating around the bush,” Davis said. “They whooped us from the first play all the way to the end.”
Added East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill: “They had some incentive. They wanted to play well for Ralph, and they did.”
The temperatures were in the mid-40s, a tolerable break from a mostly frozen December but nothing like from the balmier destinations Maryland expected after tying for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bowl after bowl bypassed the Terrapins until they were chosen by the Military Bowl with the No. 8 ACC selection, a disappointment caused mainly by concerns about the waning fan base in College Park.
There were even rumblings that Terrapins fans would be vastly outnumbered at RFK Stadium, only a few miles from campus, but red and purple appeared just about even among the 38,062, a record turnout for the three-year-old bowl.
The first half included 12 penalties, four turnovers, a blocked extra point and a missed 25-yard field goal. The Terrapins scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass from ACC rookie of the year Danny O’Brien to Kevin Dorsey, a 1-yard run by Adams and a 23-yard field goal by Travis Baltz to take a 16-3 lead at the break.
East Carolina finally got on the board with a field goal with 6:08 left in the first half — the longest the Pirates had gone into a game without scoring this season.
Hours before kickoff, Maryland declared four players academically ineligible for the game. Sitting out were defensive lineman Drew Gloster, offensive lineman Pete White and receivers Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler. Afterward Maryland receiver Torrey Smith said he will declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
But such news was mere housecleaning. Friedgen was the star of the day.
“I haven’t been sleeping very well,” Friedgen said. “I’ve been in a pattern where I can’t keep my eyes open at 10 o’clock and they’re wide open at 2 o’clock in the morning. It kind of got to the point where I wanted to get this game over with and kind of get on with the rest of my life.”
And what’s in store for the rest of his life? He’ll clean out his office Thursday. After that, he’s not sure what he’s going to do. Might he coach somewhere else?
“If I get the itch again,” he said, “I think somebody will hire me.”