Decision to go, or, yes, to stay, must be Krivak's

MIKE LITTWIN

November 10, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Joe Krivak is an honorable man. Everyone says so.

In fact, it's why he has his job today.

And so, it's not unfair to ask: What is the honorable course for him to follow now?

His Maryland football team is in a shambles. That was never more clear than in the cold and dreary half-light of Memorial Stadium, which enjoyed a brief but inglorious afterlife yesterday. We said goodbye again to the old girl on 33rd Street. Are there more goodbyes to come?

The numbers tell us something. Maryland is 2-7, its worst record in 20 years. The 47-7 defeat to Penn State was the Terps' worst loss in 13 years and worst regular-season loss in 22. When they scored in the fourth quarter against Penn State's third team, they had been 10 quarters without a touchdown.

All the great memories of all the great games and all the great finishes and all the tearful defeats against Penn State were just memories. Whatever its record, Maryland would always seem to play Penn State tough, and now this. Maybe the way the game was played says more than the numbers.

This time, the game was over early in the second quarter, or maybe by the game's opening drive -- 80 yards in seven plays in 3 minutes, 5 seconds. By the start of the fourth quarter, the capacity crowd was so sufficiently depleted that you could have crashed another plane in any section of the stadium without fear of injury.

What's a coach to do?

Krivak kind of coach-talked about effort and loyalty. It was all he had left.

"This is a tough situation," he would say after the game. "This is a tough situation for a coach. This is a tough situation for players. You just roll up your sleeves. We're going through a tough phase now -- a tough phase. As I've said, this has not been an easy job for the past five years. Nobody understands that better than I do. You do the best that you can, and that's exactly what we're doing."

It's too facile to say that his best isn't good enough. And it's too obvious to say that the five years have been anything but easy.

Under Krivak, Maryland is 20-32-2. After four seasons, they were 18-25-2, his contract was up and his job in jeopardy. The Terps stayed the course because of that dramatic win over Virginia and because Krivak has been the one major-sport coach through Maryland's trauma who has stood for the right things. Maryland had to rehire him.

And so, the Terps gave him four more years and wished him well. It was the right message at the right time from Andy Geiger, who came to College Park from Stanford as the education athletic director.

But the Terps have grown only worse. This deterioration of an already-troubling situation is tearing Krivak apart, and it's not doing much for the football program either.

Once upon a time, Krivak was a wonderful assistant coach, turning out one quarterback after another to a grateful National Football League. Like most assistants, he wanted his own team, and, finally, at 51, he got one. However, the timing could have been better. If you'll remember, Maryland was still in the throes of the Len Bias scandal, and the athletic department was beginning to insist upon enhanced academic standards.

But if there were barriers to overcome, they were not impossible. Certainly, other coaches have handled like situations. And, besides, he is five seasons into the Krivak era, and the question now is whether there's any reason to believe matters will improve.

Against Penn State, there was not. Maryland has been hit by injuries and hit by academic casualties, and Penn State is, of course, a superior team. But that doesn't explain what happened the week before against North Carolina. Maryland has not been able even to be competitive.

For Geiger's part, he says only that he will re-evaluate the situation after the season. This is not a vote of confidence, as Krivak surely knows. And yet, Geiger will not fire Krivak. He should not fire him.

The choice, finally, must be Krivak's. He must decide his future. If he no longer believes he can get the job done or if he believes the pressure is getting in the way of performance, then he can give the job up.

Not surprisingly, he says the thought has crossed his mind. He has said it would be ludicrous to think otherwise.

"You're a human being, right?" he said yesterday. "And every time you pick up the newspaper and every time somebody calls, everybody's taking a shot. You're a human being.

"You don't dwell on those kinds of things. You deal with it. You say, 'Well, I have to consider the source.' "

He paused for a minute and added this: "But don't read more into that than what is there."

What he meant to say was that he wasn't quitting yet. Of course tTC he's not. There are two games to play -- against Clemson and North Carolina State. When they're done, a 2-9 season is a probable ending. Meaning, he'll have some more thinking to do.

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