Krivak sidelines feelings for alma mater Syracuse

September 11, 1991|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- This time, it's just not another game. This time, it's Syracuse, home of the Orangemen and alma mater of University of Maryland head football coach Joe Krivak.

"Our preparation will be the same," said Krivak, whose team will meet No. 22 Syracuse on Saturday (7 p.m.) at Byrd Stadium. "I can't get caught up in the emotional aspects of this game.

"But I had some great memories there," said Krivak, who lost to Syracuse by 25-11 in 1987 and by 20-9 in 1988. "The best were being fortunate enough to win three letters in football, get the exposure and experience of playing in a major bowl and playing with teammates with whom I still communicate through letters, telephones calls and visits. And yeah, I would like to beat my alma mater. Anybody would. I have already lost to them twice. If I lose to them again,maybe they'll give me a distinguished alumni award."

Even though Krivak, 56, has tempered his emotions, one still can see the spark in his eyes when he talks about his alma mater. He was an undersized offensive lineman and linebacker for Syracuse from 1954 through 1956.

He played on the 1956 team that went 7-2 and lost to Texas Christian University, 28-27, in the Cotton Bowl. Playing center and guard, he blocked for possibly the greatest running back ever, Jim Brown. Once, as a sophomore in 1954, Krivak was ordered by coach Floyd "Ben" Schwartzwalder to pit his 5-foot-11, 175-pound body against that of Roosevelt Grier and Jesse Anzell, two Penn State players who exceeded 260 pounds.

"I had just gotten into the game, but thank goodness they had guys over top of them," said Krivak, smiling. "There wasn't much room in the gap. They were just two huge masses. I don't think I could play with today's players. They are so much bigger and faster. I'm glad I played during my era."

According to teammates, that was the norm for Krivak. He was always outweighed by 20 to 30 pounds, but that didn't stop him from being successful.

"He wasn't big, but he was intense and a pretty good athlete," said Jim Ridlon, a former Orangemen halfback and defensive back who lettered the same years as Krivak. "Back then, you had to play two positions, and we had a platooning system. Offensively, Joe was very quick and able to pull and get out on plays. Defensively, Joe was a smart ballplayer. That's why they had him in there. He never made mistakes and was never out of position. He could finesse a double-team. Joe was cute with what he did."

Besides being a technician, Krivak was a strategist. He seemed to ask questions all the time, not always to the pleasure of position coach Ted Daily.

"He just wanted to know everything about a defense," said Daily. "He wanted to know about schemes, how they worked and why people used them. Joe was a real smart player, dedicated to the game. Joe always worked hard, and he expects everybody else to. He wanted to absorb knowledge all the time."

Krivak, though, wasn't the rah-rah type. Even when he was elected captain, Ridlon didn't remember any Krivak pre-game speeches filled with flowery rhetoric. At times, he may have even wanted to take Krivak's pulse.

"Joe was always real serious," said Ridlon. "Neither he or Jim Brown was very excitable. They barely smiled even after we won.

Now, don't think Joe wasn't intense, because he was as hard-nosed as they come. But he was the bookworm type. He always had his nose in a book, even between football meetings."

Krivak really didn't want to attend Syracuse. He preferred Penn State or Pittsburgh, but neither school made him a scholarship offer even though Krivak visited Pittsburgh. Dailey remembers Krivak's first day at Syracuse as one of dejection.

Krivak had a good reason.

"To be honest, I was dating a girl in Cleveland and wanted to stay close to home," said Krivak. "But my father said I had to go to Syracuse, and in those days, you did what your father told you. So off I went to Syracuse."

For the most part, it has turned out to be a pretty good decision. After playing at Syracuse, he coached eight years at Madonna High School in Weirton, W.Va. compiling a 50-23-2 record. He then was offered an assistant's job by Schwartzwalder at Syracuse coaching wide receivers from 1969 until 1973.

The decision to go into coaching surprised a couple of Krivak's former playing buddies. John Pannucci, a former quarterback and roommate of Krivak's at Syracuse, envisioned Krivak as an insurance broker because they had taken a couple of business and insurance classes together.

Because Krivak was always on the dean's list, Ridlon thought Krivak would become an aeronautical engineer or a top executive with a large firm. But once Krivak became an Orangemen assistant, Joe Szombathy, who coached with Krivak at Syracuse and is now an associate director of athletics, knew he was in the profession to stay.

"He was hooked, especially on the kids," said Szombathy. "He communicated well with the players and he put in many hours. Joe has a great mind, and his forte was passing. He implemented some things into our passing game and he's had similar success at Maryland."

When Schwartzwalder left after the 1973 season, new coach Frank Maloney chose not to retain any of the former staff.

Krivak then spent the next 13 years at Maryland and Navy before taking the head position at Maryland in 1987.

The Maryland-Syracuse games have left a number of his friends split between loyalty and friendship.

"It's a shame we have to play them," said Dailey.

Pannucci said: "I was elated and happy when Joe got a contract extension. You can see he's starting to turn things around at Maryland. I'm coming down for the game, and I'm going to root for Maryland. I've got to put on my red shirt for old Joe."

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