COLLEGE PARK — IF JOE KRIVAK isn't rehired as football coach, Maryland will be making a very large mistake.
Krivak is a thoroughly decent person who for four years has directed a clean program, doing nothing to arouse NCAA suspicion. The university will have an opportunity to make a statement in the next week or two that will speak volumes.
This is the kind of highly principled man, Maryland officials should say, that we want to run our football team.
It's my feeling that Andy Geiger, Maryland's new athletic director, is looking beyond Krivak's four-year record of 17-25-1. Maryland will finish with a 6-5 record and its first winning season since 1985 if it upsets No. 8 Virginia in its season finale Saturday, but that should not be a factor in Geiger's equation.
Next Monday, Geiger says, he will begin to confer with Krivak, triggering an exploration that could take as long as a few weeks.
"I'm not looking just at the coach and his staff," Geiger said. "I need to know what the university's plan is for a quality Division I-A program. I'll explore all aspects -- recruiting, players, academics.
"I want the coach's input on things. I want to hear his game plan. He has invested his time and should be heard. There's no timetable for this; we won't necessarily do it in a few days."
Geiger and Krivak go way back together. Both are Syracuse graduates; Geiger, class of 1961, is younger than Krivak, who is 55. They were there at the same time in 1969-70, Geiger as an assistant athletic director and Krivak as an assistant football coach.
This association won't necessarily work in Krivak's favor. But it won't hurt, for Geiger isn't just now discovering Krivak's qualities.
Krivak is a victim of circumstances. When Maryland gave him his first head coaching job at the age of 51 in December 1986, he knew he would be playing on an uneven field. But that knowledge didn't make it any easier.
The university had just raised its admission and eligibility standards for athletes in the aftermath of Len Bias' death. It was a classic case of overreaction.
Maryland's admissions standards were higher than the NCAA's. Krivak had fewer exemptions than many schools do. He couldn't get some of the high school blue chippers through the admissions office, and they went elsewhere, some to other Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Krivak has been cursed by a schedule arranged by athletic directors long gone, one being Carl James, now commissioner of the Big Eight Conference.
"Our schedule is rated the 10th toughest in the country," Krivak said yesterday. "The team in the ACC with the next toughest is 39th."
Maryland hasn't had a breather. The schedules show poor planning, such as four straight road games to end this season.
"You've got to have the players and the schedule," Krivak said. "I don't care who's the coach. These things have to come into balance."
Krivak has dropped subtle hints that continuing to coach the Terps is not all there is to his life.
"I've got my health, a great wife and three kids who are out of college," he said. "I've had a great experience. When I look at the staff, and myself, I think we've done a pretty good job."
When Geiger was asked if Krivak wants to return, the AD said, "I don't know, but I assume so. I think he likes being a football coach."
Last Friday night in University Park, Pa., before his game the next day against Maryland, Penn State coach Joe Paterno was talking over a drink about Krivak. He pointed out that he had once tried to lure Krivak from Maryland for his staff.
"He turned me down," Paterno said. "Know what he said? He said, 'Maryland has been good to me.' "
Joe Krivak has been good to Maryland, too.