CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- In the end, Joe Krivak walked alone -- which figured. The players lifted their embattled coach on their shoulders and carried him maybe 10 feet. He had a radio show to do. And they had their celebrating. Besides, Krivak isn't the kind of guy who gets carried away. And so he walked to the locker room, a nearly anonymous figure for someone who is supposed to be in the center of a storm.
All week, Krivak had told his players to win this game for themselves, not for him. It's the kind of thing he would say. It's safe to suggest that Krivak, unfamiliar with either fire or brimstone, never asked anyone to run through a wall for him.
So, maybe the Maryland players knocked off No. 8 Virginia for themselves. Got that winning season -- for themselves. Made the implausible happen -- for themselves. It's the players' win, Krivak kept saying. But it's his, too.
In fact, with that win yesterday, Krivak either saved his job or got the best going-away present a man could ever want. As for the post-game celebration, it was hard to tell which, but here's my guess: Krivak gets another two years.
Sometime tomorrow, Krivak, whose contract ends with this season, will walk into the office of athletic director Andy Geiger and begin the process of figuring out his future. As of yesterday, Krivak, even in victory, talked like a man who didn't think he had one.
"I didn't sleep a lot this week," said Krivak, who was soaking in all the excitement of the win. "There were a lot of distractions, for the coaches and myself. I'm not going to lie to you. We think about these things because you don't live in a vacuum.
"Last night, my wife and I took a walk and kicked around a lot of things."
He thought, just for a moment.
"This win," he said, "takes care of a lot of them."
This win, he seemed to say, at least he had that much. He said it through a smile that fairly shone, a smile that spoke of a deep and abiding satisfaction -- no matter what may come.
Geiger, who will decide Krivak's fate, was also caught up in the emotion of the day. "This was a big win," he said. "A big win." But that was yesterday. What of tomorrow? One thing is sure: That win made Geiger's life a lot more complicated.
The players, the ones who won it for themselves, seemed certain they had saved Krivak's job.
"There's no way," Scott Whittier said. "Come on. A top-10 schedule. A winning season. Beating a top-10 team. They can't fire him."
But they might. With the win over Virginia, Maryland is 6-5, its best record since 1985. That's winning, but not exactly overwhelmingly, although better than 3-7-1 of a year ago. Still, there isn't much excitement about the program. Crowds don't gather at the games. At a time of economic crisis at Maryland, the need to make money on the football field has never been more important.
That said, nobody seems to be after Krivak's head, despite a career record of 18-25-1. His detractors typically say, "Gosh, I like Joe a lot, but . . . " He is likable. He has been an anchor in an athletic program where the anchors usually are wrapped around a coach's neck. People talk about his integrity, a word not exactly bandied about in the big-time sections of Maryland athletics.
But should one game matter? What if Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore had broken loose on fourth-and-two late in the game, scored the touchdown, converted the two-pointer, beaten Maryland and broken Krivak's heart? Would that have meant the program was a failure? Did the win mean it isn't?
For his part, Krivak coached the game as if it were a spring scrimmage. In the second quarter, trailing, 14-0, Maryland went for a first down on a fourth-and-inches from its own 29. It was the first of three fourth-down plays the Terps converted, including a fake punt. And then there was the bomb thrown against the wind, an interception waiting to happen. He was wild and crazy Joe.
"What the hell?" Krivak said. "We had nothing to lose. We're playing the No. 8 team in the country. Why play it cozy?"
The Terps played it nice and easy when they weren't in the business of knocking Virginia around the field. This is a devastating loss for the Cavaliers, who lost a game and also their quarterback. You wonder whether the Sugar Bowl people are considering changing their minds.
Krivak didn't try to change anyone's mind yesterday. When told that Geiger had said he didn't know for sure whether Krivak even wanted to return, Krivak wouldn't say. He didn't defend himself, except maybe a little.
"I'm not a flowery guy," he said. "People say I'm low-key. But I've been around that place for a lot of years. If people don't know who I am by now, they never will."
We know what Krivak is -- a good, honest man who coaches football. Is that enough? Maybe there's a good, honest man available who can make the Maryland football program come alive. This is not the easiest call anyone has ever had to make. But consider this: If Maryland, which had the 10th-toughest schedule in the country, had dropped Michigan and added Vanderbilt and gone 7-4 and was headed for a minor bowl while playing with kids who belong in school, wouldn't everyone say that was enough?
I'm figuring Geiger will think it's good enough to give Krivak a few more years to see whether he can make 7-4 seasons possible. But Krivak, on his greatest day, seemed to think it would be his last game day at Maryland. There was nothing else to infer from what amounted to Krivak's summation of the day's work.
"These kids will have this game for the rest of their lives," he said. "And so will Joe Krivak. So will Joe Krivak. It won't buy us a cup of coffee, but they can't take it away from us."