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July 31, 2006

Was Ralph Friedgen a Candidate to Replace Ray Goff?


Image: ESPN.com

I was watching the 1995 Georgia vs. Georgia Tech game on ESPN Classic over the weekend. As you may remember, Georgia won 18-17 on the ugliest FG that I had seen to that point.

You also probably remember that it was Ray Goff's last regular season game at Georgia. It had been announced the week before that Goff wouldn't be returning to UGA as coach. During the game, Keith Jackson and Bob Griese called Vince Dooley up to the booth to talk about the search for a new head coach.

They asked Dooley (paraphrase), "What kind of coach are you looking for? A run offense coach, a passing coach, a young guy? What kind of coach?" Dooley laughed and responded, "Mainly, I want a winning coach."

After Dooley left the booth, Jackson, Griese and Lynn Swann compared notes on who was being rumored on the list. It wasn't pretty. The names they threw out were Dan Reeves, Dick Sheridian and then Keith Jackson said, "According to the LA Times, Bobby Ross might be a candidate; although, all of his ties are to Georgia Tech."

At that point, Swann interjected (paraphrase):
"I spoke with Tech's George O'Leary about Ross. He laughed and said that Ross has spoken to Dooley about the job. However, he wasn't listing himself as a candidate. He was recommending someone else."
Who could Ross have recommended? Well, I'd wager that man was Ralph Friedgen.

The Fridge and Ross had worked together at that point for 19 of the prior 23 years on the staffs of Maryland, The Citadel, Maryland (again), Georgia Tech and the San Diego Chargers. 12 of the past 14 years, Ralph had been his offensive coordinator. Who else would he have recommended?

Did Dooley ever seriously consider Ralph? Who knows. We ended up with Kansas coach Glen Mason for roughly 1 week before turning to Jim Donnan.

My knee jerk reaction to thinking about this was to announce to my living room (which was empty at the time) that Ralph was twice the coach that Donnan was. However, upon further reflection, the past 2 years at Maryland have been no great shakes after the blistering start in 2001 when Ralph won the ACC title and 2002 when Maryland took the Vols to the woodshed in the Peach Bowl. I thought...maybe ol' Ralph is a great play caller but a lousy recruiter. Well, Scout.com lists Maryland's recruiting classes as ranked:
2002 - 29th
2003 - 22nd
2004 - 16th
2005 - 25th
That's not too shabby for Maryland or any ACC team not named FSU or Miami.

Regardless, imagine Ralph's high flying offense with Mike Bobo, Robert Edwards and Hines Ward in 1996 and 1997. It's certainly interesting to think about. That said, I think Ralph working at UGA would've hurt GT more than it would've helped UGA.

Georgia Tech hasn't beaten UGA without Ralph Friedgen on the sidelines since 1985. 20 years. Without Big Ralph pulling the strings on "The Flats," the Little Joe flying Circus at GT wouldn't have been so impressive. It's one move that could've changed both schools direction quite a bit.

Donnan or The Fridge. Who would you have taken first...given what we knew in 1995. Not what we know now. And who would've been the better hire?

pwd


Unrelated -- but check out Kyle King's article on Mark Richt: UGA Coach for Life.

7 comments:

DocDawg said...

Knowing what we knew then, Donnan over Fridge. Donnan had won as a head coach and been a top asst in a big time winner at OK. Remember, we were looking for a proven head coach, not an asst. Hard to think back to those dark days.......

J. Elmo Fogg said...

It really is amazing the level of coach that we were considering back then. We have lots to thank Dooley for, but choosing coaches is not one of them. Although the position was not as attractive as it is now, that list of coaches does not show the greatest level of creativity. It looks like Dooley's offensive philosophy and hiring philosophy were very similar. In the unlikely event that we have to get a new coach anytime soon, we are in a much better position and should have access to pretty much any top prospect that we want. We have proven that we can compete for titles, and we have more money to spend than anyone.

DirkDawggler said...

I watched that game last week as well and my sentiments were exactly as yours: What a dry talent pool at the time! Having said that, I'm glad we opted for Donnan. No particular reason, but in the grand scheme of things, the chain of events that eventually led us to hire Mark Richt may not have happened with Fridge as Georgia's coach. Maybe he would have been more successful...maybe less. Maybe the timing of Richt's eventual employment would have been such that he never was available. Who knows. I'm just glad things have turned out the way they have today.

Anonymous said...

but we could be wearing Under Armour!!

paulwesterdawg said...

J. Elmo - you have to remember that we were entering probation. Most folks were scared to take the job.

And UGA wasn't the job that it is now. Ray went...

6-6
4-7
9-3
10-2
5-6
6-4-1
6-5

We had only gone bowling 4 of the past 7 years, and there was a national perception that the new coach would still be living in Dooley's shadow.

And we still had Jan Kemp hanging over us. The rest of the SEC was loading up on Prop 42 and Prop 48 players. UGA didn't take a partial qualifier like a Prop 42/48 kid until 1998 when we signed Jermaine Phillips.

And even then it was just 1 kid.

It was a different world for more reasons than one.

pwd

Anonymous said...

Few quickies...

1)Friedgen recent struggles at Maryland are generally attributed to the fact that his QB play has not been good. The fact that he was able to make Godsey a high caliber player with few skill players that went on to much success in the NFL (Dez White, kelly campbell, watkins, charlie Rogers) makes it all the more surprising.

2)regarding the Donnan hire in 1995, we also tried to woo Gary Barnett on the strength of the Nortwestern miracle. While it is hard to remember all the viable candidates at the time, Donnan was somewhat of a "off the radar" pick. While he was a div 1-AA coach, I would compare him more to the equivalent of a "lower" mid-major head coach. Mid-majors did not play on TV, have as many conferences, or have as many bowls from 1990-1995 (the five year period that Dooley would have used to evaluate said candidate) as they do now. Thus, in that sense, you have to give Vince credit for not trying to hire a retread like Dan Reeves or a mid-major guy like Jeff Bower or Fisher Deberry (see ken hatfield experiment at clemson)who have never proven to be consistent big time winners. We could have ended up with Mack Brown (YUCK!) Further, the nice thing about Donnan was that he lacked the media savvy and interpersonal skills to have much of a safety net if he stopped winning.

Ironically, the two most succesful coaches (in pro and college) over the past 5 years are essentially retreads that got it right in their second or third act (belichick and pete carroll).

J. Elmo Fogg said...

I agree it was not as attractive, and we are in a better position now. But even then, we could offer a coach a great talent pool, great facilities, deep pockets, a rabid fan base, etc...I do not buy the Dooley shadow argument. Goff had taken that bullet. Plus, his shadow was probably not as big nationwide as people in Athens perceived. He was a good coach made excellent for a few years by HW. Those days had long passed by 1995.....and I agree on Godsey, that was just plain voodoo by Fridge to have created an offense like that around the talent that he had to work with!

 
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