COLLEGE PARK — College Park--The athletic director talks of jump shots and jazz standards, and, suddenly, it all makes sense, this spring filled with hope and anticipation at the University of Maryland.
If you can follow the musical feints and timeless beauty of jazz, you can appreciate Andy Geiger's first seven months as Maryland's athletic director. He is a jazz buff and saxophone player by inclination, a jock administrator by profession. He improvises and follows rules, delegates authority and establishes goals, yearns to create a timeless standard and accumulate national championships.
It works in music. It can work in sports.
When Geiger became the Maryland athletic director last October, he inherited a department that endured nearly five years of unsettling news and unfavorable publicity. Devastated by the 1986 death of basketball star Len Bias, Maryland's program had been in a free fall ever since.
From his perch as athletic director at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., Geiger followed Maryland's athletic descent. And yet, he was willing to come east to solve Maryland's festering problems.
"There was a siege mentality here," Geiger said. "Everything was focused inward, not outward. People felt besieged by the campus. There was a we-they attitude. The campus still feels athletics have caused damage to the university. There is still a feeling of, 'When will those people stop hurting us?' "
Under Geiger's careful guidance, Maryland's long athletic nightmare may be ending. During his reign, he has crafted a new image for a department that was viewed as a campus pariah.
Geiger moved swiftly to defuse some of the issues that bedeviled his predecessor, Lew Perkins. The jazz buff improvised. The athletic director played by the rules.
During his first week at Maryland, Geiger resolved a minor rules infraction that was threatening to paralyze the men's basketball program. Three months on the job, and he re-signed head football coach Joe Krivak to a four-year contract, and maneuvered the football team into its first bowl appearance in five years.
"Andy has come in here and created an atmosphere of trust that was not here before," men's basketball coach Gary Williams said.
Even more important, Geiger reopened communication between the athletic department and the academic community.
"Andy can be thought of as a colleague, rather than someone who has been brought in to run a sideshow," said Bruce Fretz, a psychology professor and chair of the Faculty Senate.
Praise for Geiger is nearly unanimous. Although he is a man in the midst of a honeymoon, it may be instructive to recall that Perkins, too, enjoyed favorable early reviews before getting bogged down in the day-to-day struggle of operating the athletic department.
"Andy's first few months here have been remarkable," Maryland President William E. Kirwan said. "He has restored confidence and elevated the image of the athletic department. By the dint of his personality, he has pulled people together."
But where is the program headed? The territory is uncharted. Rules are there to be followed. But this athletic jam session is running on instinct.
Geiger is one of those people who lumber when they walk. He takes over a room, a 6-foot-1 1/2 , 230-pound man with thinning brown hair, a slightly jowly, jovial face that could be described as boyish for a 52-year-old and a perfectly modulated voice. He mixes easily with crowds, speaking at a Rotary Club meeting with authority, presiding at a student gathering with understanding.
He appears to be the definition of smooth. He is complex, intellectual even, a man who will raise questions without knowing answers. That is an uncommon trait among men who are trained to become gym teachers.
He wanders into the study of his Silver Spring home late at night and plays the alto saxophone for pleasure. The standards. "Poor Butterfly." "There Will Never Be Another You."
"I started playing about 10 years ago," he said. "I got tired of saying, 'Gee, I wish I had done that.' "
Ever hear an athletic director compare jazz to sports, or talk wistfully about the ability to improvise on the piano or on the run?
But, at heart, Geiger is a jock.
"Really, all I've ever wanted to be is an athletic director," he said. "I was always the guy hanging around the athletic department."
It was at Stanford where Geiger cemented his reputation as one of the ablest athletic administrators in the country. When he arrived on campus in January 1979, the athletic program was unfocused and in debt.
Young, brash, often volatile, Geiger dragged Stanford into the 1980s. He reorganized the department and emphasized the importance of each of the school's 29 sports. In many ways, Geiger assembled the nation's most successful program: His teams won 27 national championships while the athletes matched and, in many cases, exceeded the graduation rate of the general student population.