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
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
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.
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