Seven years after Maryland fired him, six years after he half-jokingly said he’d burned his Maryland diploma, three years after beating the Terps in his final game on the sideline and two years after the dismissal of the successor entrusted with taking his “good” program and making it “great,” Ralph Friedgen is coming back to College Park.
The former longtime Maryland coach’s appearance at coach DJ Durkin’s coaches clinic Friday won’t be his first visit to his alma mater since his 2010 ouster, but it will be the most significant. He told PressBox that his diploma-burning comments were in jest, but his long-awaited return to College Park still seems more out of appreciation for Durkin than a matter of reconciliation with the school that let him go for Randy Edsall.
“I really questioned whether I'd ever set foot on Maryland's campus again,” Friedgen, who played at Maryland and led the program to a 75-50 record from 2001 to 2010, told the site. “Maybe after I talk it would be the last time, we'll see."
Durkin has never met Friedgen, who lives in Charleston, S.C., but he told PressBox that he reached out to the coach early in his tenure. Durkin said he “wanted him to know that I want him to be part of our program however he would see fit.”
The two continued to talk, and after the Terps upset No. 23 Texas in their season opener last September, Durkin adopted Friedgen’s tradition of marking big wins with a tombstone near the entrance to Maryland’s practice field. (Friedgen had wondered to Durkin whether the tombstones would even remain, at one point getting “a little bit emotional,” Durkin said, in his explanation of why they mattered to the program.)
After Maryland lost to Wisconsin in October, Friedgen said he texted Durkin to offer any help he could provide. Durkin called to ask for his input, Friedgen obliged, and the Terps went on to beat Indiana the next week. The next time Durkin called, Friedgen recalled, it was to ask about potential hires who had worked under Friedgen.
“So we kind of developed a relationship,” he said.
Which is what Durkin wanted. Friedgen had an open invitation to check in on the program; the only obstacle, Durkin said, “was just his openness to coming back around.” When Durkin called to ask him to be the clinic’s featured speaker at the revamped Cole Field House practice facility, Friedgen said he had reservations but promised to consider it. Durkin called again and promised to keep asking, regardless of his answer. Friedgen’s wife, Gloria, long a fixture in the program, wanted him to go back. “So I told him I would do it,” Friedgen told PressBox.
"Things just happen the way they're supposed to," Durkin said. "Ralph's supposed to be part of this program. He's supposed to be still involved and engaged and whatever happens, however you get to that, I'm just certainly happy that we're moving back in that direction. He should be part of our Hall of Fame; he should [be] part of the University of Maryland and part of University of Maryland football forever. And so if this can somehow be a good first step, maybe a giant first step in that direction, then I'm happy — whatever part I played in it — to be part of it."
It’s also important to Friedgen that Randy Edsall and Kevin Anderson are no longer a part of it. Edsall, who was fired in October 2015 after four-plus disappointing seasons at Maryland, “didn’t want to hear anything” from his predecessor, Friedgen said, despite Friedgen’s attempts to reach out.
Anderson, whose first major move as athletic director was to fire Friedgen, citing a desire to take the program from “good to great,” is near the end of a six-month sabbatical. His presence at Maryland would have been a deal-breaker, Friedgen said. “No, I wouldn’t do it.”
At one point, Friedgen told Durkin he would come to the clinic if Durkin divulged the circumstances of Anderson’s exit. Durkin declined. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.
"If they want my opinion, I've never been shy about giving my opinion," Friedgen said. Durkin “seems like a really nice person. To me, I appreciate the fact that he did reach out, which is kind of refreshing in a way. If I can help him out, I'd be more than happy to help him out. I don't have a problem with that.”