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From Rude Awakening, Focused Group Arose

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


September 22, 2003 COLLEGE PARK — Ralph Friedgen probably never imagined that coaching the Maryland football program would require his expertise as an amateur psychologist so often. For the second straight season, Friedgen had to figure out a way to heal the Terrapins' wounded psyche in order to recover from a slow start. Last year, early losses to Notre Dame and Florida State left Maryland 1-2 and wondering if it really was a one-hit wonder. The Terps came into this fall riding high after reading several preseason publications that had them winning the ACC and earning a BCS bid. A stunning upset loss to Northern Illinois, followed by the annual smackdown from Florida State, left Maryland 0-2 and caused some players to question whether the program truly had turned the corner. “It reminds me of the year we went 5-6 and just missed making a bowl,” said senior linebacker Leroy Ambush, one of the few players who remembers the disappointment of that 1999 campaign under former coach Ron Vanderlinden. “We've got to get our confidence back and get things turned around before it's too late.” To appreciate Ambush's comments, it's important to understand the mentality that surrounded the Maryland football program prior to Friedgen's arrival and still rears its ugly head at times to this day. Fans who endured more than a decade of losing teams are quick to question, criticize and generally jump off the bandwagon. Players who read message boards filled with angry posts from disgruntled fans are sure to be negatively affected. In short, the recent history of Maryland football hangs over the program like a dark cloud, with fans and players alike hoping it doesn't turn too stormy. Even two outstanding seasons under Friedgen were not enough to erase the bad vibes built up from 1987-2000. Give Friedgen credit for recognizing the emotional instability of his squad and stepping in quickly to promote a more positive mindset. After his staff reviewed the Florida State film and saw a team that was playing not to lose, the season reached an early turning point. McBrien Needed Confidence Boost There was quarterback Scott McBrien hesitating in the pocket against the Seminoles and taking a sack. When Friedgen asked McBrien why he didn't throw to the primary receiver, he got a bothersome response. “Scott had the same pass intercepted on the previous series, and he told me he was worried that was going to happen again,” Friedgen said. “As a team, we're pressing, we're trying too hard. Scott is one of the guys doing that, playing not to lose rather than trying to win.” There was cornerback Domonique Foxworth, laying off Florida State wideout P.K. Sam and basically conceding a completion. “I think Domonique was worried about getting beat deep,” Friedgen said. “Florida State has some dangerous receivers, but you still have to challenge them.” Coming out of the FSU game, Friedgen felt the entire team was not approaching games with an aggressive, let-it-all-hang-out mentality. “We're thinking about bad things instead of good things,” Friedgen said. “We've got to expect good things to happen. Right now, I think our confidence is a little down. If you're going to be successful, you've got to believe in your ability to be successful.” Friedgen blamed some of Maryland's early struggles on the team as a whole believing its preseason press clippings and some players in particular looking ahead to the NFL. The key to Maryland's success over the previous two seasons involved working as a team, playing to earn respect and always feeling like the underdog. The coach said his biggest concern going into 2003 was that Maryland would allow the “I to creep in.” In other words, players would begin thinking of themselves as indispensable individual components instead of replaceable parts of the overall unit. “Our guys have never had to play with expectations before,” Friedgen said. “I don't think they knew how to react to being ranked high in preseason and touted for this and that.” Friedgen said he saw signs of decreased effort during the preseason and told the Terps he didn't think they were practicing as hard as they should. Those concerns were shrugged off by players, who apparently were convinced that Maryland was a dominant team, and the coach later said he didn't do enough in August to halt that attitude. Said Friedgen: “Early on, it was like, ëHey Coach, we're pretty good. We don't have to do this. You're working us too hard. I've got 9,000 agents telling me how good I am and you're telling me I'm not. Who are you kidding?'” That attitude changed quickly after the 0-2 start. Suddenly, Friedgen found himself having to rebuild his team's shaken confidence. “It's a bit different message,” Friedgen said. “First off, I was telling them they weren't as good as what they thought they were. Now, I've got to tell them they're better than what they think they are.” No patient was more important than McBrien, who clearly has a fragile psyche. Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe were appalled by McBrien's comments following the FSU loss, when he took sole blame for the team's offensive struggles and suggested he should be benched. “I'm not getting the job done,” McBrien said, “so maybe the team would be better off with someone else leading the way.” While backup Orlando Evans showed some positive signs against FSU, Friedgen moved quickly to dispel any thoughts of a quarterback controversy. “There's a guy that won 11 games for us last year,” Friedgen said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Scott. I think obviously he's not playing as well as he can play. He's not playing as well as what he has in practice. I think he's a little frustrated by it, and I don't know what the reasons for it are.” In addition to publicly supporting his players, Friedgen took some steps to loosen them up. He allowed for rap, hip-hop, rock and other music popular with players to blare over the loud speakers during practice. Every day during West Virginia week, Friedgen played the John Denver tune “Country Road.” Apparently, Friedgen's various psychological ploys worked, reducing team-wide tension and creating some much-needed excitement. Maryland's confidence was restored with dominating back-to-back home wins over The Citadel (61-0) and West Virginia (34-7). Meanwhile, players seemed to understand again that they need to maintain a blue-collar type of attitude in order for the Terps to be successful. “I guess it's kind of back to reality, back to the basics of where we were two years ago, when nobody thought nothing of us,” center Kyle Schmitt said. “For a while, we were floating on air, thinking how great we were. We found out the hard way that last season's success doesn't automatically carry over.”   Brought to you by: