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Friedgen chews fat, only figuratively

July 28, 2009 12:35 am


His weight down to 301, Ralph Friedgen says he's adjusting to smaller clothes.


--Ralph Friedgen still wears the extra-long belt he received as a gift a few years ago. When he first tried to wrap it around his ample waist, there was a two-inch gap between the buckle and the tip.

Yesterday, Friedgen showed that he now can fasten the belt on the skinniest hole. "I need to get another belt," he said with considerable pride.

Coaches normally can't stomach losing. But when it comes to Friedgen's gut, less is definitely more.

When the University of Maryland begins preseason practice next week, the Terrapins' coach will be far less of a man than he was at this time last year. Roughly 95 pounds, to be exact, thanks to a rigorous diet that may not win him more games, but could extend his life.

"I like the look," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, a longtime friend who worked with Friedgen at The Citadel more than 30 years ago. "I'm proud of him. He looks great. I've got pictures of him when he was about 240."

At 62, Friedgen may never be that slim again. He says he still weighs 306, so he's not exactly a mini-Fridge. Still, he looks--and says he feels--much better than he did a year ago, when his weight ballooned to 401.

Coaching football has never been a job for the anorexic. Long hours, constant travel and intense pressure to win can lead to poor eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle. And as his duties kept expanding--head coach, de facto offensive coordinator and fundraiser at his alma mater--so did Friedgen's waistline.

But you don't see many obese people in their 70s. And Friedgen comes from a diabetic family, so he had plenty of risks.

Said Beamer: "Everyone, including Ralph, knew he needed to lose weight."

Friedgen has always been a master of game plans, but his strategies were usually designed for someone else. He dieted a few years back, with alumni pledging donations for every pound he dropped. But they reneged, and Friedgen's weight came back--and then some.

Finally last fall, he listened to the advice of his doctors and the pleas of his wife, Gloria, and their three daughters.

"They wanted to see me healthy," Friedgen said yesterday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff media festivities. "So I decided to give it a try."

With the help of a diet company called Medifast, Friedgen drastically altered his eating habits. He grudgingly gave up pasta--"I married an Italian, for one, so that was hard," he said with a grin--and alcohol.

His daily regimen now includes 4 ounces of oatmeal for breakfast, soup at lunch and occasional protein bars during the day. He tries to eat small meals every three hours instead of three big ones to trick his body's metabolism into increasing. He also eschews the Terrapins' training table, eating in his office to avoid temptation.

He dropped 16 pounds (mostly water weight) in the first week of his diet, although he admits it altered his blood sugar and left him dizzy on hot days. But he has stuck to it and said his most recent blood-pressure reading was a very normal 128/78.

"The first 50 pounds were easy," he said. "It got tougher after that."

While Friedgen was shedding pounds, he didn't lose his sense of humor. He said that when the Terps traveled to Boise, Idaho's famous blue field for the Humanitarian Bowl last December, the mother of former star receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey paid him a compliment.

"I had lost about 60 pounds by that point, and she said, 'Coach, the blue field makes you look skinny.' I said. 'We've got to get one of these at Maryland.'"

Instead, the Terps are investing in facility upgrades, including corporate suites at Byrd Stadium. So while their home field grows larger, their coach gets smaller.

Friedgen's ultimate but unlikely goal is to drop 150 pounds. He said that if he can dip below 300, he and his friend, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid (who's reportedly 75 pounds lighter), may tape commercials for Medifast.

Regardless, he plans to keep the weight off for good this time. And he doesn't need a scale to tell if he's winning this battle.

"Going on a diet is like keeping score," he said. "I used to weigh myself every day. Now, it's maybe once a week. But I've gotten to the point where I can tell from my clothes whether I'm losing weight."

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

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