Last September, University of Maryland hired the athletics director from West Point to run the athletics department at College Park. It would have been the perfect time to fire the football coach, Ralph Friedgen, after a season record of 2-10. Instead, Kevin Anderson, the new AD, decided now was the time to dump Friedgen, after a 10-year tenure, an 8-3 season, a bowl invitation -- such as bowl games rate these days -- and an award as Coach of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maryland won its bowl game, something called the Military Bowl, played in the Terps' backyard, but the firing stood. "My legacy is what it is," the fired coach said, (a record of 75-50). "I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that's not good enough, and that's what hurts."
He had twice been voted ACC coach of the year, and another time Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year, won two conference titles and this was his seventh bowl game. And as he coached his last Terrapin team -- to a resounding victory over East Carolina this week -- fans raised supportive banners on his behalf, and his was a teary departure.
Now, Ralph Friedgen is not your cuddly type. He's large, seriously overweight -- you'd never believe that he came to Maryland recruited as a quarterback in his student days -- and at times can be rather grumpy.
But, successful -- as an assistant with Bobby Ross at Maryland, then Georgia Tech, and later the San Diego Chargers. Then he returned to Georgia Tech as an assistant to George O'Leary, and it was then that he decided to check the waters.
He was approaching his 40s when he mailed letters to the head football coach at every Division 1 school in the country, about 115 of them at the time. He got one reply -- from Bear Bryant at Alabama.
Bear was kind enough to reply, but he didn't have an opening. So, Ralph coached on, though a hot ticket as an offensive coordinator. Eventually, his alma mater came calling and there he found success as a head coach, until Deborah Yow left for N.C. State, and Kevin Anderson was hired to replace her.
And he wasted little time at the end of the season to let it be known Friedgen was cooked.
Maybe he could lose a few pounds? He went on a crash diet at one time, offering to lose a pound for every $1,000 alumni might donate to the athletics association. It seems he topped out at about 50 pounds, before starvation got the best of him.
He left a deeply wounded and teary victim, highly emotional to the end. He delivered this message to the media surrounding him: "If you need me, call. You all have my cell number."
It was a bitter moment, a kind I've never seen before. Even Bobby Bowden didn't leave his personal cell number.
Furman Bisher, one of the deans of American sports writing, writes occasional columns for the Citizen.