Friedgen, Johnson cross paths again


COLLEGE PARK -- It's been about four years since Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and Navy coach Paul Johnson ate dinner together at Famous Dave's restaurant in Annapolis. The two had just left the annual Annapolis Touchdown Club banquet.

"I was trying to tell him we should play each other," Friedgen said. "He didn't want to play. I said, 'You're going to turn this thing around and it's going to be a great series. It's going to be great for both programs.' "

"I had just gotten here," Johnson said. "Ralph said that used to be a really big rivalry. I just laughed. I said, 'I just got here. The program hasn't won a game in two years and you're coming off the Orange Bowl. I don't think that's going to happen.' "

Actually, it will.

Maryland and Navy will meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at M&T; Bank Stadium for the first time in 40 years. With the Midshipmen looking to continue the momentum from last year's 10-2 season that included a win in the Emerald Bowl, and Friedgen trying to pull his 5-6 team back into a bowl, it's been somewhat of a reversal of roles since the two last dined together.

"It's kind of like what I told him would happen," Friedgen said.

Both spent time coaching in Georgia before making moves to Maryland. Although they share the same lawyer, they're not golfing buddies, Friedgen said. It's been a professional relationship that has grown through banquets and barbecues.

In 2001, Friedgen left Georgia Tech to inherit a Maryland program that had one winning season in a decade. A year later, Johnson left Georgia Southern with a 62-10 record over five seasons. He took over at Navy, where the Midshipmen had won one game in two seasons.

Friedgen's turnaround was immediate. The Terps won the Atlantic Coast Conference in his first season, posting a 10-2 record that included an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Johnson wasn't as fortunate. Navy won only two games in 2002.

Over the past two years, though, Johnson has accumulated an 18-7 record -- more wins than the program totaled in the five seasons before his arrival, and more wins than Friedgen during that time span.

"Steve Spurrier told me when we were at the Orange Bowl, 'It's much tougher staying there than getting there,' " Friedgen said. "He's right. Not only is everybody pointing to you, but there's so many other factors you have to deal with within your team."

Friedgen took his first losing season in 17 years to heart. Afterward, the stress of recruiting top talent took its toll on his health. He woke up in Florida one day, and the room was spinning so fast he couldn't find the phone.

"I thought I was having the big one," he said. "I managed to get to all fours, and then it stopped."

Friedgen was later found to have a crystal in his ear that had caused vertigo. Doctors have also told him he has sleep apnea, a disorder marked by the absence of external breathing.

"I'm sure I do" have it, said Friedgen, who fell asleep twice at a red light last year.

Even with all the work and stress in the offseason, though, Friedgen said yesterday that he is still nervous about playing Navy.

"The unknown, as a coach, is always a little nerve-racking," he said.

Johnson had his doubts, too.

"I don't know if we are ready," he said. "We'll play the game and see. It's a game they should be favored in [Maryland is favored by 11 1/2 points]. We recruit different players. Their quarterback is bigger than our defensive linemen."

Johnson said the only difference for him during this offseason was the fans -- their expectations are higher.

"I had the same expectations the first year I coached here as I did last year," he said. "The one thing about coaching is that when you win, you probably don't enjoy that enough."

As Johnson's wins have increased, so has his confidence.

"We've played teams that are just as good or better," Johnson said, noting Notre Dame. "We're not afraid to play them."

NOTES: Jake Brownell, the Mids' backup punter and kicker, has quit the team and will transfer to Temple. His decision means sophomore Joey Bullen will be the Mids' kicker. Senior Marshall Green, a second-team offensive tackle, has been suspended for the Maryland game for violating team rules.

Sun staff writer Kent Baker contributed to this article.


Matchup: Maryland vs. Navy in season opener

Site: M&T; Bank Stadium

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Radio: 1090 AM (will break away for 7:05 p.m. Orioles-Red Sox game), 1300 AM, 97.9 FM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 11 1/2

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