GREENSBORO, N.C. --- Ralph Friedgen held court at today's ACC Kickoff, an annual rite he seems to enjoy more every year.
Maybe because he receives a large media audience. Perhaps it's the generally genial crowd awaiting a coach (well, one other than Butch Davis).
Whatever it was, there were moments he seemed downright nostalgic about his program and where it was --- and is.
"I think we're kind of back to where we were when I got there," Friedgen said.
It's true of results, to an exaggerated degree. It's true of realistic expectations as well.
Conventional wisdom suggests Friedgen might not be long for his job. His contract, financially onerous for Maryland and lucrative for him as it was for a few years, is down to two seasons. The Terrapins are coming off a 10-win season. A new campus president and athletic director will be hired within months.
It would seem the perfect storm for potential drudgery. Lose a couple games in September, and the only storyline swirling around the Terps would be Friedgen's job security.
After all, former athletic director Debbie Yow said in December that seven wins would be the standard for a good season in 2010. Yow's gone to N.C. State, and who knows? Maybe those expectations get transferred to Tom O'Brien.
But Friedgen seemed surprisingly at ease for a man who both defiantly spoke about how well-respected he was in his profession after a victory last October and choked up at times in the final week of last season.
Friedgen, as he so often admits, is an emotional guy. Yet for the most part, he was fully in control today.
"It is what it is," Friedgen said. "I don't really think about that one way or the other. I'm going to do the best I can do. Whatever happens, happens. I don't know if that's what the new AD is going to expect. I don't know. Like I said, I plan on winning seven games or more because that's what I want to do. I want to go back to winning 10 and 11 again."
Easier said than done, naturally, what with the whole 2-10 thing. And Friedgen, while calm in the face of job security discussions, isn't living in a bubble.
He knows his players have something to prove. He realizes a turnaround is needed. He understands as well as anyone winning --- and nothing else --- can fill the empty seats at Byrd Stadium.
That's fun, sort of. So too, he said, is the pressure to pull it off.
"I think our coaching staff feels it," Friedgen said. "I don't think it's something we talk about daily, but they know the score. I kind of like it like that myself. I kind of enjoy that type of motivation."
Perhaps the most notable issue for Friedgen is the impossibility of truly gauging how severe scrutiny will be until other areas are sorted out.
C.D. Mote Jr. retires at the end of August. Until his replacement is found (and Maryland knew Mote would be departing in February, so it's not as though the school was given little time to ensure an orderly transition), little real progress is to be expected on the athletic director front.
And until that job is filled, there's not much Friedgen can fret about off the field.
"I think a lot of that depends on who the president is, and that's why I think that's really the critical issue," Friedgen said. "I think we need to get a president who understands the importance of revenue sports and what they can do for the university as far as enrollment and as far as getting the exposure."
For now, interim AD Randy Eaton is running the athletic department, and he was nominated earlier this month as a permanent candidate. The president's office remains bereft of a leader unlikely to meddle in athletic affairs.
So for now, Friedgen has returned to some of his positions before last season, when the succession plan set up for James Franklin was still fresh. Franklin can take $1 million if he is not named the head coach by January 2012, or remain on as offensive coordinator.
"If I'm enjoying myself and we're doing well, I'm planning on being at Maryland," Friedgen said. "We'll have to see what the new AD and the new president want. My feeling is, and maybe I'm wrong on this, but I think if we do well the next two years, regardless of who it is, I feel like I have pretty good support from our alumni that they'll want me as coach. If they don't, then I'll go somewhere else. But I don't think that will happen."
His certainty was solidified after an offseason of receiving e-mails, letters and texts of support from fans. It comes from the return of many of the players who slogged through last year's nightmare, as well as the reality just a dozen scholarship seniors must be replaced next fall.
And it stems from a belief that what he managed before --- restoring Maryland to relevance almost overnight --- can be done again.
"I like the team last year when they're 2-10, so I'm going to like them even more this year because I know what this team can turn into," Friedgen said. "I'm hoping we can do it this year because I think the following year we have a chance to be a very, very good team."
That, far more than a friendly meeting with the conference media, is what Friedgen would most enjoy.