Terps dazzled by Stanford, not Geiger

John Steadman

September 12, 1990|By John Steadman

IT WASN'T so much the man but his calling card, reading "Athletic Director Stanford University," that impressed the University of Maryland. The 14-member search committee isn't saying how much research it conducted but when Andy Geiger expressed an interest it was struck with almost childish glee. Awe, too. All because he came from Stanford.

So it was Geiger who won the golden opportunity to succeed Lew Perkins, who came to Maryland after serving at Wichita State. The automatic question is why would anyone want to leave Stanford, richly endowed and with enormous prestige, for the discontent and ongoing problems at Maryland?

In conversations with an assistant who once worked for Geiger and a Stanford alumnus, who knew him from almost the day he arrived, the picture they paint is of an individual who knows how to project, has outstanding intellect, can sell an idea (also himself), has a good sense of humor, is the ultimate politician, enthusiastic, can get things accomplished, is creative and perceptive . . . except in handling people.

One negative aspect to his 10-year performance is that at Stanford, and previously at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania, he had difficulty keeping a staff -- either the people left or were fired. Also he has difficulty understanding how a football program should be conducted, he has a tendency to avoid problems, is not a good businessman, has difficulty saying "no," can be overbearing, likes to second-guess, depleted the fiscal reserves at Stanford and seemed more interested in getting a booster to make a donation rather than soliciting the help he or she might otherwise be able to offer.

His mental capacities are enormous and can't be underrated, even though a bachelor's degree from Syracuse is the extent of his formal education. He is receptive to appointing minorities to positions of authority, has an "Ivy League aura," usually says all the right things, exudes some of the same characteristics found in network television executives and is a doer.

The addition of Geiger could possibly bring an end to the Maryland slump. But maybe not. Some of the same Maryland administrators, including president William Kirwan, were in accord with the former chancellor, John Slaughter, when he demonstrated how little he knew about sports. Slaughter, after the damage was done, took a hike, going off to be president of Occidental College.

Maryland's search committee, making a recommendation to Kirwan, was no doubt overwhelmed by the mere anticipation it could attract an athletic director from Stanford. Maybe there was a more gifted man or woman at Long Beach State, Kentucky, Alcorn State or Alderson-Broaddus. But being able to draw from Stanford is what Maryland wanted in playing its own game of climbing the academic/athletic/social ladder. The only thing better would have been Harvard or Yale.

Geiger doesn't have much to beat since he's following Perkins, who never clicked with the populace, even though he had some important Maryland graduates endeavoring to help him. There are enormous problems at Maryland, coaches and assistant administrators trying to cover their own territories in a fight for survival, plus recruiting difficulties.

So Geiger is in an enviable position. Anything he does, major or minor, will be applauded and, in time, the conditions can only be improved because they have to get better, even by osmosis. Take a bow, Andy. It's an almost can't-miss opportunity, plus a salary in excess of $120,000 and other benefits.

Geiger, no doubt, had a longer relationship at Stanford than early reaction to his administration would have suggested. A 1983 column by Glenn Dickey in the San Francisco Chronicle offered this conclusion:

"There is no question Geiger has an outstanding mind. Those who have worked with him on innovative ideas in cable-TV programming, for instance, praise his creativity and say he grasps ideas quickly. In my own dealings with Geiger. I found he has a way of cutting through to the essentials of complicated deals.

"Some day, perhaps soon, those qualities will get him a job for which he is better suited, a job in which he works primarily with ideas, not people. And when he leaves, the sigh of relief within the Stanford athletic department will be heard in downtown San Francisco."

Now the reign of Geiger is about to begin. Not wanting to demean him but having the link to Stanford was his most important professional credential. It got him the job.

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