November 8, 2005
COLLEGE PARK -- Give Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen credit for acting swiftly and decisively after members of his football team were involved in a Halloween night ruckus at a College Park bar.
Friedgen suspended three players he determined were involved with a brawl at the Cornerstone Grill and Loft, a popular nightspot on Route 1. A fourth player was suspended for underage drinking at a different establishment. All will miss one game, although it may not be the same game. Six other players will be punished for breaking team rules, including underage drinking and breaking curfew.
"My whole purpose in making this decision -- and it was a hard decision -- but I have to send a message that this can't happen again," Friedgen said. "That's my only concern. To me, it had to be strong enough so our players know this is not going to be tolerated. They can't put themselves in this situation."
Friedgen said a total of nine football players were present at the Cornerstone when a physical altercation occurred just after 1 a.m. on Nov. 1. Reportedly, the fight began after a female patron complained to bouncers that she was groped by one of the players.
An unnamed bouncer told The Diamondback, Maryland's school newspaper, there was "chaos" and an "all-out brawl" after bouncers approached the player allegedly involved. Mike McDonald, an off-duty bouncer, had to be hospitalized with a broken nose and later filed an assault report with police.
Two of the suspended Maryland football players also were sent to the hospital. Both told Friedgen they acted in self-defense and are planning to press charges.
Maryland athletic department officials refused to name the suspended players, citing federal privacy rules. However, sources said that wide receivers Derrick Fenner and Andrew Weatherly and safety Marcus Wimbush were the ones involved with the fight. Fenner arrived at practice on Thursday afternoon wearing a bandage on his head. Weatherly missed practice.
One of the more interesting details to emerge from the incident was the fact that Friedgen arrived on the scene shortly after the Cornerstone was cleared out at 1:15 a.m. Sources said Friedgen was contacted at his home in Olney and quickly made the roughly half-hour drive to College Park.
A member of the Maryland football staff said Friedgen previously had asked Cornerstone owner Mark Srour and Bentley's owner John Brown to call him immediately at any hour if football players were involved with something untoward at their establishments. Prince George's County and College Park police also were aware that Friedgen wanted to be kept abreast of misconduct involving his players, the staff member said.
If true, that's a wise move on the part of a responsible coach who wants to get out in front of such bad situations, rather than stick his head in the sand and wait for others to sort out the details.
Friedgen conducted his own investigation of the incident, reportedly threatening to revoke players' scholarships if they were not forthcoming. It should be noted that Friedgen meted out punishment even though no players had been arrested or charged with a crime. At some schools, even those arrested for felonies don't automatically miss games.
Equally rare is the fact that Friedgen was determined to uphold team rules. Maryland players are not allowed to consume alcohol during the season, even if they are 21 years of age. They also must abide by an 11:30 p.m. curfew. Players who violated the alcohol and curfew rules received letters of reprimand and will be required to perform 10 hours of community service. They also lost their complimentary tickets for two games.
It also was notable that Friedgen was not afraid to come down hard on his players, despite the fact that Maryland (4-4, 2-3 ACC) needed to win two of its last three games to become bowl-eligible. Fenner is a starter, while Weatherly and Wimbush are both second-stringers. It was unclear whether the fourth suspended player was a key contributor.
Friedgen refused to specify what games the four players will miss, and he indicated that the suspensions could be staggered. At the time, Maryland still had to play North Carolina, Boston College and N.C. State.
If Friedgen really wants to send a strong message, he will make all four sit out at UNC, since that is the first game Maryland will play since the incident. A smarter move may be to hold the suspensions until the season finale versus N.C. State, since the next two games will go a long way toward determining whether the Terps reach the postseason.
"That makes me very proud that Ralph was willing to make the tough decision for all the right reasons," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said. "That shouts integrity as far as I'm concerned."
MCPHEARSON: MR. BAD PENALTIES
Every season there are players who, rightly or wrongly, are singled out by fans for repeated criticism. This year senior cornerback Gerrick McPhearson has become the whipping boy of the Maryland faithful, mainly for committing a steady stream of penalties that have dramatically impacted multiple games.
McPhearson's latest slip-ups came against Florida State, as he was charged with a pair of pass-interference penalties that fueled the home team's game-winning drive. McPhearson clearly fouled freshman receiver Greg Carr twice in one-on-on coverage, handing the Seminoles 15-yard gains and first downs on each occasion. Carr then added insult to injury by beating McPhearson for a 37-yard touchdown that proved decisive in FSU's 35-27 victory.
It may have been forgivable if those had been McPhearson's first silly penalties this season. However, the 5-10, 194-pounder also was one of the culprits in a 28-24 loss to Clemson on Sept. 10. He was charged with a late hit out of bounds on third down that kept alive a touchdown drive. McPhearson repeated that mistake against Virginia Tech, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that proved the key play in a third-quarter touchdown march that officially turned the game into a rout.
McPhearson is the fastest player on the Maryland team and among the fastest in the league. He finished third in the 60-yard dash at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships, with a school-record time of 6.73 seconds. He also boasts a 42-inch vertical leap and is an "Iron Terp" who can bench press 365 pounds and squat 515.
Yet McPhearson's tremendous physical ability often is trumped by poor field sense and instincts. He routinely has been caught out of position or beaten as a result of a poor read.
BASKETBALL: JONES AGAIN IMPRESSING
There have been numerous indications during the preseason that highly regarded swingman Mike Jones finally is ready to emerge as an impact player.
Jones, who has yet to live up to his billing as a McDonald's All-American, has consistently led the team in scoring during intrasquad scrimmages while displaying new-found court sense, ball skills and stamina.
Jones was far and away the most impressive performer during Maryland's exhibition opener against St. Francis Xavier, netting a team-high 19 points on 7-for-9 field goal shooting. He was 3-for-4 from beyond the three-point arc, which was nine inches deeper than the NCAA distance because of experimental rules used in the preseason.
"Mike Jones worked very hard in the offseason to improve his game. He's gotten much stronger and is in much better shape this year," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It's taken time for Mike to develop, but he's steadily become a much better all-around basketball player."
It would be premature to peg Jones for a break-out season, especially since he's teased Terps fans before with his obvious athleticism and smooth shooting stroke. However, the 6-5 guard-forward does seem to have improved his overall awareness and understanding of the game, while working on his two greatest weaknesses -- ball-handling and defense.
Jones came off the bench against St. Francis Xavier and likely will remain in the role of sixth-man sparkplug throughout the season. He has shown an ability to provide instant offense and seems comfortable with a reserve role.
Maryland's starting lineup remains in flux, with Williams trying numerous combinations and refusing to commit to a particular five. It appears more and more likely that D.J. Strawberry will replace John Gilchrist as the starting point guard, while seniors Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray figure to remain starters.
It's anyone's guess which way Williams will go up front, as Travis Garrison, James Gist, Ekene Ibekwe and Will Bowers all are in the mix to start at power forward and center. Gist and Ibekwe got the call in the exhibition opener, but they were outplayed statistically by Garrison and Bowers. Gist is battling Garrison at power forward, while Ibekwe is competing with Bowers at center.