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Legacy's end?

The Baltimore Sun

It's a minor illustrative point, perhaps, but I think it's telling. Just two years ago, in the Maryland football media guide - recruiting propaganda as much as reporter resource - there were two full pages under the heading "Terps quarterback legacy."

In this year's media guide, it's down to one page. And by next year? Half a page? A paragraph? A footnote?

It's not that the great achievements of past Terps are diminishing before our very eyes; it's just that highlighting their respective accomplishments forces you to look at recent Maryland quarterbacks and wonder what exactly has been going on in College Park.

Before we go any further, please wait one second before you fire off that letter to the editor. We all saw the venom flung at an Oklahoma columnist who criticized the Oklahoma State quarterback, and we're not here today, one day before Maryland takes on No. 10 Rutgers, to embarrass, ridicule or even criticize the play of the Terps' current quarterback, Jordan Steffy.

But it is long past time that we cast a critical eye toward coach Ralph Friedgen, a former quarterback, a Maryland alumnus, an offensive mastermind and the guy who became coach nearly seven years ago and had fans thinking that the last thing they needed to worry about was the quarterback position.

Don't judge Friedgen on what happens in tomorrow's game. Or even what's happened in the Terps' first four games this year. When you take a couple of steps back and look at his entire tenure, you see that his record in an area that was supposed to be his specialty has, in fact, been his biggest failing.

By my count, since Friedgen arrived, 13 guys have stepped on campus with plans to one day start behind center for Maryland - one junior college transfer, three Division I transfers and nine high school recruits (Bobby Sheahin was a walk-on transfer). Of that group, four left the team early and two changed positions. None has garnered All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a quarterback or found steady work in the NFL.

Friedgen's most successful quarterbacks were Shaun Hill (recruited by the coach's predecessor, Ron Vanderlinden) and Scott McBrien (a West Virginia transfer who showed up on campus two weeks before Friedgen coached his first game). For the most part, the others have resulted in varying degrees of disappointment.

It doesn't entirely make sense. As an assistant coach and offensive coordinator, Friedgen's record with quarterbacks was second to none, from the string of Terps who went on to play pro ball in the 1980s to developing a 5-foot-10 signal caller at Georgia Tech, Joe Hamilton, into a Heisman runner-up in 1999.

At Maryland, though, not only has Friedgen struggled to find great talent on the recruiting trail, but he has also failed to develop any on the practice field. Working next door to Pennsylvania - official state crop: talented quarterbacks - and with such a pristine offensive pedigree, Friedgen really has no excuse for his growing list of quarterback failures.

Friedgen's initial Terps recruiting class in 2001 didn't include a quarterback, but McBrien showed up and provided Friedgen with a couple of years of breathing room. His next two classes included five quarterbacks, and, of the bunch, only Sam Hollenbach panned out (though Dan Gronkowski quickly switched to tight end, where he has been more than formidable).

Steffy, now four games into his tenure as Terps starter, is by far the most heralded of Friedgen's quarterbacks, ranked No. 8 by when he committed to Maryland in December 2003. He rewrote the record books at Conestoga Valley High (Leola, Pa.) and had some Maryland fans dreaming of a three- or four-year starter.

Entering tomorrow's game at Rutgers, he's averaging 150 yards and has thrown just one touchdown pass.

While Steffy hasn't played nearly as well as he's capable of, he has also had to deal with very little protection (15 sacks in the past three games), a playbook criticized as unreasonably complex and a No. 1 option who can't seem to get open (wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had one reception in last week's loss at Wake Forest). But the early signs seem clear: Even at his very best, Steffy might be a bottom-of-the-pack quarterback in the ACC.

Two quarterbacks transferred before the current season, and after Josh Portis, who was expected to challenge for the starting job, was ruled academically ineligible this month, Steffy was left as Friedgen's only real option.

But that's not even the scary part. What about the future?

Portis will have two years of eligibility remaining, but Friedgen just might be realizing that recruiting a quarterback is a lot tougher when your success stories have shrunk into tiny dots in the rearview mirror.

How do you sell a high school quarterback on a legacy that predates his birth? How do you convince him that the names Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh are more indicative of a career at Maryland than those of Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach and Jordan Steffy?

In the what-have-you-done-lately world of recruiting, failure on the field begets failure on the recruiting trail, especially when it concerns young quarterbacks and parents who gauge the future by studying a coach's recent history.

In his seventh season holding the reins of the Maryland program, Friedgen has worked near-miracles in just about every single area - except in the one most expected him to.

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