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Off-the-record Events Give Maryland Fans Unique Insight Into Friedgen, Terps

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

By Dave Glenn, ACCSports.com
Oct. 1, 2003

COLLEGE PARK – Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has found a unique way to connect with die-hard fans and potential contributors. His "Breakfast With The Fridge" events, held on Friday mornings before home games, quickly are becoming known as an excellent opportunity to get exclusive information on the Terps and a more friendly look at the program's sometimes-surly leader.

Friedgen opens up and is quite engaging during the casual breakfasts, which are co-sponsored by the Maryland Gridiron Network and the Terrapin Club, the university's booster-club organization. Members of those supportive groups make up a large portion of the coach's audience, and they regularly are instructed that all comments made by Friedgen during the session are not to be publicized. Members of the media are not allowed to attend the events unless they are approved well in advance by the school's sports information department, and such exceptions are extremely rare.

Kevin Cowherd, a Lifestyle section features writer for the Baltimore Sun, was permitted to attend one of the breakfasts last season, when he was working on a lengthy, positive article on the "Fridge Fever" that has taken hold of so many Maryland fans over the last two-plus seasons. Cowherd was seeking anecdotes and comments about Friedgen from loyal fans who had gotten to know him during his brief tenure in College Park. The writer's article was not going to run until several weeks after the fact, and he had no interest in reporting any inside information the coach might reveal.

Because of the casual, off-the-record, friendly nature of the audience, Friedgen often divulges details about the program that he would not mention in any other forum. The Fridge is comfortable in this setting, sources said, because he knows he's talking to many of the team's most ardent, loyal supporters. Some of them, of course, also happen to donate large amounts of money as an outward display of their devotion.

"Breakfast With The Fridge" is held at the University Inn and Conference Center, a Marriott-operated facility located on campus. It has become the team's home base under Friedgen, with most Terrapin Club and MGN-related functions held there. It also is where the football team stays on the Friday nights prior to home games.

Friedgen tends to be relaxed and relatively jovial during the functions, sources said, firing off one-liners and routinely engaging in self-deprecating humor. During the initial breakfast, held prior to The Citadel contest and with the Terrapins off to an 0-2 start, Friedgen started by saying how surprised he was by the turnout of nearly 200 fans.

"I was worried we wouldn't be able to fill two tables," Friedgen joked, "considering how the season's gone so far."

Friedgen also had a lot of fun bringing the faithful up to speed on his health situation, going into great detail about his hip surgery this past summer, the blood clot that caused complications and his subsequent rehabilitation.

The coach even related two funny stories that occurred during an examination that took place shortly after the surgery. In one, the operating surgeon congratulated the coach on the fact that he found only a half-inch of excess flesh on his behind, prompting Friedgen to remark that "no one can get away with calling me fat ass anymore." In the other, a female physician asked to see the incision on the coach's posterior, because the surgeon was noted for his clean cutting work. When Friedgen rolled over, the doctor took one look and declared "magnificent." That drew a hearty laugh from the coach, who said it had "been a long time since a woman said that after seeing my rear end."

Friedgen noted that he was feeling much better but still was using a golf cart to get around the practice field. He then talked about the difficulty of standing on the sideline for two hours during games and revealed that he even had experimented with garter belts for men. He said he eventually discovered a glue he could use instead of the garter belts.

"That will save me the embarrassment," Friedgen said, "of having a player walk into my office and see garter belts lying around."

Friedgen then mentioned he had a female therapist who was quite nice until she put him through rehab. He started calling the therapist my "dominatrix" and said she forced him to do exercises over if they were not done properly.

"She kind of reminded me of myself and how I work the players," Friedgen said. "I might have to find a spot for her on the coaching staff."

It's exactly this type of banter that shows the lighter side of Friedgen, who can be quite gruff in some settings, and leads fans to look at him as the regular guy that's often described by his friends and associates. It's hard not to like a coach who reveals such private information and cracks jokes about his own appearance.

While members of the media might enjoy seeing the lighter, fun-loving side of Friedgen more often, they probably would find the information about the program divulged by the coach even more valuable.

During the Sept. 12 event, for instance, Friedgen talked in-depth about recruiting. He said the team needed to land more linemen and likely would sign just one quarterback this year. He said the staff was "thrilled" with its early haul of Maryland-D.C. talent and felt the Terps also were doing well with highly regarded prospects from Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Pennsylvania. However, the coach admitted, "we've got to start winning" in order to land blue-chippers from out of state.

Friedgen also went into great detail about the impact the NFL suddenly has made on the program. He said the team's 21 victories over the last two seasons served notice that there is professional-caliber talent at Maryland, a fact that automatically attracted more agents to College Park. The coach revealed that agents called six of his juniors on their cell phones the day after the Peach Bowl victory and expressed disdain for how many members of that business choose to operate.

"They hire students who are friends of the players," Friedgen said, "and have them get in their ear."

Friedgen told the audience he was concerned about the problem and asked some fellow members of the coaching fraternity how they handle agents. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said the best method was through education, so Friedgen had former Maryland standout Kevin Glover speak to his team. Glover, who played 10 years in the NFL and briefly worked as an agent, now works with the NFL Players Association.

To assess whether the players were paying attention to Glover, Friedgen later gave attendees a quiz on 25 key issues, such as the rookie salary cap, restricted free agency and power of attorney. He said he was disappointed that the main point the players picked up from the presentation was how much to pay an agent.

Friedgen also talked about the fact that Maryland players steadily were getting better grades and noted that the academic center installed as part of the Gossett Team House renovations was going to "make a major impact." He revealed that only six members of the team had under a 2.0 GPA.

Usually, the breakfasts end with Friedgen engaging in a lengthy and candid question-and-answer session. He answers most questions, meek and bold, in a forthright manner. Many of the questions are about individual players, and Friedgen routinely reveals more about individual situations than he does with the media.

During the Sept. 12 event, he mentioned that Ohio State transfer Sam Maldonado almost failed out of school and hinted that quarterback Scott McBrien was having trouble transferring advanced sections of the playbook from practice to games.

Friedgen also told a story about true freshman offensive lineman Andrew Crummey, a strong student who takes high-level courses and wants to be a politician. Friedgen called Crummey to his office to discuss the possibility of the youngster playing this season. Crummey, who was excited about being allowed to join the debate team at Maryland, argued that playing this season would mess up his five-year plan.

"The kid loves to debate, but I'm afraid he'll lose this argument," Friedgen said, smiling. "If we need him to play, he'll have to play."

Numerous other juicy topics were discussed during the nearly two-hour affair, and Friedgen ultimately offered up far more interesting tidbits about Maryland football than he does at his weekly Tuesday luncheon with the media. Those folks, of course, won't be making any financial contributions to the coach's program any time soon.

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Coles Wrong (Again) About FSU TALLAHASSEE — You know Laveranues Coles. Washington Redskin. Former New York Jets. And didn't he first flash that phenomenal speed and big-play potential for Florida State? Sure. That was Coles, who as a junior snared five catches against North Carolina for 120 yards and scored via kickoff return, catch and carry that season, right? And didn't Coles raise eyebrows nationally when he was hand-timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.18? Well, no. Not according to Coles, at least. The way he sees it, Florida State never really happened at all. Just like his new boss, former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, Coles finds it difficult to bring himself to say those two painful words: Florida State. At his specific request, Coles was introduced to a national television audience before the New York Jets-Washington Redskins game earlier this season as being from Jacksonville (Fla.) Ribault, where he was a tailback. Nearly every other player in the NFL game, of course, listed his college rather than his high school with his preferred description. “It's not that I hate Florida State, I feel like they abandoned me,” Coles said. “When you abandon me, it's not that I don't want you to do well, or that I have a problem with the organization. I just don't have any ties to them. They cut me loose when I needed them most. I thought I would be able to use their helmet to play in the (college) all-star games. They told me I couldn't.” It's not easy to believe Coles is right on much of anything. He was wrong so many times during his FSU career. Wrong behavior. Wrong decisions. Wrong responses. FSU beat writers often came away from Coles interviews with the impression that he always believed it was everybody else who didn't get it. He did no wrong. He was simply wronged. Every time. In his mind, at least. Four years after he and Peter Warrick went into a Dillard's department store and accepted discounted designer clothes worth $421.38 for only $21.70, Coles remains bitter. Warrick, whose clothes were worth $253.38, was suspended for two games. Coles, who like Warrick later pleaded guilty to petty theft, was given the boot. One FSU player arrested later that season for possession of marijuana was suspended for one game. Another player was banned from the Sugar Bowl after a DUI arrest. For both, it was first strikes. For Coles, it was not, and he was banished. Athletic department officials later prohibited Coles from using the team's strength room, and he said FSU athletic director Dave Hart told him to stay away from the team. Coles soon moved to the New Orleans area, where he prepared for a pro career while his teammates pursued the school's second national title. Coles did participate in “Pro Day” at FSU prior to the 2000 draft, and he definitely impressed NFL scouts at the event. (Because of lingering character questions, he dropped to the third round, where the Jets selected him.) Nevertheless, he vowed never to return to Tallahassee. Coles later broke that promise in a public manner, participating in a spring charity event held by former FSU receiver Ron Dugans. Coles also has visited Tallahassee on other occasions to see his son, who was born out of wedlock. All of his pouting, which Coles took national with his recent snub of FSU, is because he believes he was singled out. He insists he was not given the same second chance as Warrick, FSU's best player during its 1999 national championship season. FSU still argues that Coles ran out of second chances long before he and Warrick were caught by the department store's security cameras. Coles became the focus of an in-house FSU investigation into possible connections with Houston-based sports agent Carl Poston after he accepted a free airline ticket to Houston. Coles insisted at the time that a girlfriend bought the ticket, and he also said he did not attend a party held by Poston in Houston. Later, Coles' eventual agent confirmed his client had attended the party. And, as it turned out, the alleged “girlfriend” once worked for Poston. The NCAA somehow cleared Coles of any wrongdoing in the case. But he certainly had other strikes, including a skipped final exam before his senior season that cost him a chance to play in the season opener. He also repeatedly clashed with wide receivers coach Jeff Bowden, over class scheduling and other matters. A high school honors student, Coles arrived at FSU with aspirations of pursuing a medical career, but academically he struggled to maintain the standards necessary for that to happen. Before he left, he changed his major to criminology. Coles, who was nicknamed “Trouble” because his mother went through four days of labor before his delivery, was charged in 1988 with misdemeanor battery following a family spat in which he was accused of having an altercation with his stepmother. Some FSU officials also contended privately that Coles was not forthcoming about his involvement at Dillard's. It's never been clear if Warrick was any moreso than Coles. “They based their decision on an image of (Coles) as a bad guy,” attorney Henry Hunter, who represented Coles in the case, said at the time. “And that's not true at all.” Coles eventually apologized for his involvement in the Dillard's incident, and he later sent letters of contrition to Hart and then-president Sandy D'Alemberte. From FSU's standpoint, however, that was not enough. Coles' request to return for the remainder of his senior season was denied. Later, as FSU prepared for the 2000 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Coles made a promise: “I want to go out and shock the world.” In his brief NFL career, Coles has done just that. Now it appears he would like something else: forgiveness. It would seem he has come to the right place, and the right coach, for that. Bobby Bowden is the king of second chances. It has made him a target of great criticism and the subject of deep respect. Stars, and players so far into the lineup they couldn't play for Duke, are allowed another day after most off-field mistakes. “Eventually, I probably need to go back there and talk to coach (Bobby) Bowden and try and settle things,” Coles said recently. “When it's laid upon my heart to do that, I'll do it. But right now there's so many unanswered questions about why they handled things the way they did. Maybe after I get some closure on that, then maybe I'll consider myself a Seminole.” A Florida State official said last week “it's on him,” meaning Coles, to return to the FSU family. The same official said there is no ban on Coles from being around current players or dropping back into the team's new digs when his NFL season ends. It's not likely that Coles will return to campus without an invitation, but Coles probably is right to expect one. Not because he deserves it, or because he is owed it. Clearly, neither is the case. The expectation of another chance is there instead because it is the Bowden way to forgive. Especially now that Coles' eligibility is long gone, there can't be anything wrong about that. Krzyzewski Stays Ahead Of Curve DURHAM — Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski already has earned points over the years for signing a “class of the decade” (the one in 1997 with Brand, Battier, Avery and Burgess) and then proving that a decade is entirely too long by following it up with another (Boozer, Dunleavy, Williams, Sanders in 1999) and another (Redick, Dockery, Randolph, Williams, Thompson, Melchionni in 2002). That's good work. Krzyzewski also has earned points for being the first — and, so far, only — coach to promise the most gifted recruits in the country the chance at an education and early entry into the NBA draft by graduating from Duke after three years, with lots of summer school. Most recently, the coach has been staying ahead of the curve by recruiting not only replacements for the potentially NBA-bound underclassmen on his roster but also replacements (high school junior Greg Paulus) for the replacements (high school senior DeMarcus Nelson). Now, this. It's hard enough for most coaches to put together a huge recruiting class in one year, but degree of difficulty is a relative term for Krzyzewski, who is on the verge this fall of putting together two huge recruiting classes, one for 2004 and another for 2005. Krzyzewski already has commitments from two players in both high school classes, and he's not finished with either group. From the Class of 2004, meaning seniors who will be college freshmen for the 2004-05 season, Duke has commitments from Nelson, a 6-3 scorer from California, and David McClure, a 6-6 role player from Connecticut. From the Class of 2005, meaning juniors who will be college freshmen in 2005-06, the Devils have commitments lined up from Paulus and 6-9 Josh McRoberts of Indiana. Stop right there, and Duke's future looks very good, considering that the heart of this year's squad will be six sophomores and a freshman. But you know Krzyzewski. He never stops right there. The coach has honed in on two of the best available players from the Class of 2004, including possibly the best player in the country in 6-7 point guard Shaun Livingston of Illinois. The other is
6-11 center Alexander Kaun of Florida. Both had visits to Duke in September. Meanwhile, Krzyzewski has his staff are continuing their search for a fifth-grade point guard and a third-grade power forward. Just kidding … we think. Brought to you by: