"I'd almost resigned myself to it. No one knew who I was," Friedgen said Wednesday after he was hired as head coach at Maryland. "You kind of wonder whether you're going to get this opportunity or not."
His patience was rewarded. Friedgen has the job of his dreams, ending a 29-year run as a second fiddle after signing a guaranteed six-year, $1.05 million contract at his alma mater.
"I waited all my life for this opportunity, and I'm not going to let anybody down," said Friedgen, who immediately resigned as offensive coordinator of Peach Bowl-bound Georgia Tech.
"I'm taking over today and I'm not looking back. Full speed ahead. It's hard for me to leave, but this is my opportunity. I feel bad for those young men, but they've got to understand that this is what I have to do."
The 53-year-old coach takes over a long-suffering program that hasn't produced a winning record since 1995 or earned a bowl bid since 1990. He replaces Ron Vanderlinden, who was fired Nov. 19 after a lopsided loss to Georgia Tech concluded his fourth straight losing season.
Friedgen is the architect of a Georgia Tech attack that last year led the nation in total offense with a school-record 509 yards per game. Despite losing star quarterback Joe Hamilton, the Yellow Jackets went 9-2 this season and will be playing in a bowl for the fourth consecutive year.
Friedgen expects similar success at Maryland.
"I think the football experience should be fun, but fun to me is winning. Our goal is to be a Top 20 team, year in and year out," he said.
Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow contacted Friedgen's agent on the night she fired Vanderlinden. Over the next few days, several players asked her to pursue the coach whose offense rolled up 35 points against the Terrapins this month.
"They said, `Could you interview the guy from Georgia Tech, the one who coaches offense?'" Yow related, hammering home Friedgen's reputation as an anonymous coach.
She then introduced the burly Friedgen as "the man who will return our program to national prominence."
Yow figured she couldn't find a coach with better credentials than Friedgen, who helped Georgia Tech claim a national championship and worked with Bobby Ross to get the San Diego Chargers into the Super Bowl.
"To me, that sets him apart," Yow said.
The last time Maryland experienced a run of success was when Friedgen served under Ross as offensive coordinator and quartrbacks coach from 1982 to 1986. The Terrapins went 39-19-1 over that span, winning three Atlantic Coast Conference titles.
Since 1986, however, Maryland has finished over .500 in the ACC only twice, going 4-3 both times.
After his playing days were over, Friedgen started his coaching career in College Park as a graduate assistant under Jerry Clairborne.
Assistant jobs at The Citadel, William & Mary and Murray State followed before he returned to Maryland, where he tutored future NFL quarterbacks Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh during his five-year run.
Friedgen left with Ross for Georgia Tech in 1987, and three years later the Yellow Jackets beat Nebraska in the Florida Citrus Bowl to claim a share of the national championship.
Ross and Friedgen both went to the Chargers after the 1991 season. Friedgen was offensive coordinator of the 1994 San Diego team that went to the Super Bowl.
When Ross moved to the Detroit Lions in 1997, Friedgen returned to Georgia Tech as offensive coordinator under George O'Leary.
O'Leary was happy for Friedgen, saying Wednesday, "Obviously he's done a masterful job here. I think it's great for the ACC to get another coach who is going to keep the programs moving in the right direction."
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