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Gloria Friedgen plays many roles for Maryland

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Maryland had just dropped its last game of the regular season to Boston College, and Gloria Friedgen looked stricken.

She stood, pale and silent, with her daughter Kelley in a media briefing room inside Alumni Stadium, waiting for her husband, coach Ralph Friedgen, to deliver somber post-game remarks. She clasped her daughter's hand so tightly that their knuckles were mottled white.

Nine months later, she shakes her head and tries to explain why losses are so wrenching.

A football coach's family, she suggests, is either all in emotionally - or not at all.

"I think that if the wife doesn't buy into it early and understand, then that might lead to a problem," said Gloria Friedgen, 58, who married her husband in 1973 after meeting him when they were Maryland graduate students.

"Do losses eat you up? Of course they do," she said. "We're very emotional. Ralph is, too. We are an intense family. I don't want to say we live and die with football, but certainly we go up and down with it."

She wears Terrapins clothing and accessories, including turtle necklaces and tiny turtle earrings. She hosts game-day tailgates. She stops by the practice field to deliver fruit or other snacks.

She photographs each member of the team's entering freshman class, uploads the pictures on her computer and memorizes their names.

Heading out for road games, says senior quarterback Chris Turner, "we will come out of the cafeteria and up the steps to the bus, and she will be there every time and will give you a hug and a kiss. She's like our permanent team mom."

She grieves after defeats and exults after victories. When Maryland won at Clemson last season, she got a male cheerleader to help lift her from the stands so she could hug giddy Terps and their coaches on the field.

Like other couples, the Friedgens had to initially learn how to navigate the demands - the psychic toll - that football exacts. His first job after Maryland was as an assistant at The Citadel under head coach Bobby Ross in the 1970s. The Friedgens, who didn't yet have children, lived in an apartment on campus. After losses, she said, "we would close the shades and go to bed, lights out. No speaking."

Of four newly married assistant coaches on The Citadel staff, two marriages survived and two didn't. The survivors were Ralph and Gloria Friedgen and Frank and Cheryl Beamer. Beamer is the head coach at Virginia Tech.

So she knew football marriages could be tricky. But she also knew she was well suited for a football life. "I'm an only daughter with three brothers. I was a tomboy," said Friedgen, originally from Bethpage, N.Y. Animated and chatty, she is popular with boosters and fans.

Sitting in her cramped office at Maryland's School of Public Health - where she is coordinator of alumni affairs and outreach - Friedgen points to a wooden placard above her computer. "We interrupt this family ... for football season," it says.

"I have three of these that people have given me - the same exact sign," she says.

But the placard doesn't seem entirely accurate. It's not that football interrupts the rest of the Friedgens' lives. Rather, they are intermingled. While the Friedgens do take vacations, it's sometimes hard to tell where football leaves off and life begins.

One of the family's annual offseason events is a Fourth of July pig roast at its Georgia retreat regularly attended by, among others, Beamer and University of Central Florida coach George O'Leary. The three coaches and their families all have lake homes on or near Georgia's Lake Oconee.

Having friends and family has helped cushion football losses. The first daughter, Kelley, an attorney, was born in 1977. The Friedgens had two more daughters, Kristina and Katie, ages 23 and 21.

Said Gloria: "Kelley would get old enough to run on the field, and then Ralph would see her and a light would go off. He's still intense but he has more perspective on life."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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