When I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Maryland in 2001, I wasn't going there for the sports. I couldn't have predicted how much athletic success my school was about to have.
And yet I clearly remember attending an event on the Mall in College Park to kick off the school year in August of 2001. Newly hired football coach Ralph Friedgen was the featured speaker and I had no idea who he was. I just knew there was some big dude on the stage yelling. "Are you in or are you out?" the coach asked. Then he was in. And so were we. Now he is out.
Friedgen led his team to an ACC Championship that year. It was the school's first since 1985.
The Maryland Terrapins football program has been good before. Three 10-win seasons under Jeff Tatum in the 1950s. A Cotton Bowl victory under Jerry Claiborne in 1976. Three straight ACC titles under Bobby Ross in the early '80s.
But this is different. This is the BCS-era, man! Athletics programs are driven by the cash brought in by college football more now than ever.
And Maryland sports teams have prosperred since Friedgen has been at the helm of the football program. One championship each for men's and women's basketball. Two championships for men's soccer. Four for women's field hockey. How much of that would have happened without a strong football program? We'll never know.
There’s a piece of me that thinks that we may have just lived through the greatest period in the history of Maryland sports. I was there when Friedgen asked "Are you in?" I was there for the men’s basketball championship, sitting on the floor of Cole Field House, watching on a projector screen with a few thousand of my closest friends as the Terrapins slowly pulled away from the Indiana Hoosiers. I was there afterwards too; on Frat Row, dodging a group of students who were running full speed carrying a couch towards one of the bonfires. (I jumped out of the way at the last second. The dude behind me didn’t. Don’t worry though, he wasn’t burned. Badly.)
Will Maryland be the same in the post-Friedgen era? I sure hope so. One might argue that it could even be better. Several experienced high-profile coaches have been named as potential replacements, including Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach. Outside of the recently consistent Virginia Tech Hokies, the ACC is wide open, and there's no reason to think that Maryland couldn't become a football school just as Tech has.
Although, I do worry about the direction that Kevin Anderson is taking the athletic department. If Friedgen isn’t good enough for the University anymore despite his mostly solid track record, who will be the next coach to be dismissed? Brenda Frese? Sasho Cirovski? Gary Williams?
Today's Military Bowl will be the last game that Ralph Friedgen coaches at the University of Maryland. He told Patrick Stevens of CSNwashington.com that "it will probably be the last time I'm on the field, ever." He deserves better. And so do all the alumni who were with him from the beginning.
This is the end of a great run for Friedgen. Let's just hope it's not also the end of a great run for Maryland sports.