Football woes are tied to Bias, not just Krivak

JOHN EISENBERG

November 17, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

There sits Joe Krivak with a dart board on his forehead. Everyone is taking a shot now. Politicians. Alumni. Fans. They're lining up to zing Krivak with the blame for Maryland's football ills.

It's so easy. And so unfair.

So shortsighted. So tunnel-visioned.

It's the very definition of a knee-jerk reaction, with no thought given to the circumstances.

Complaining about Krivak implies that another coach would have done better. That's where everyone is wrong.

Krivak isn't another Bill Walsh, far from it. But no coach was going to win many games at Maryland these past few years. And it's not because the schedule and academic guidelines were tough.

Think about it. Len Bias died five years ago. The juniors and seniors on this year's team were the ones recruited in the wake of Bias' death, when the popular perception of Maryland was that it was a school where everyone snorted cocaine.

Krivak, hired months after Bias died, had no chance. Maryland was a recruiting wasteland for at least his first two years and probably three. Every recruit and every recruit's mother thought it was a drug school.

The mothers told their kids: "Anywhere but there."

You doubt this? Pick up a phone and call some Terps who recently graduated. Call Barry Johnson with the Denver Broncos. Call Scott Whittier, now a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech.

They'll tell you it's true, just like they told me, that in their first years on campus Krivak had no shot at signing recruits anyone else wanted.

It wasn't just Bias, either. Byrd Stadium and the football building were run down. Recruits saw that, and saw Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina building football buildings, and where do you think they wanted to go?

(Now, thanks to athletic director Andy Geiger, a new football building finally is going up. Instead of carping at Geiger for rehiring Krivak, alumni should be thanking him for realizing the program would never get turned around without better facilities.)

Listen to this: Maryland has recruited exactly one All-ACC player (Larry Webster) since Bias died. It's no longer an excuse, but it was for two or three years, and recruits from those years are now juniors and seniors, expected to carry the load. They just don't rate.

Sorry to tell you angry alums and pols and fans, but Don Shula couldn't win without load-carrying juniors and seniors. Not when every other team has load-carrying juniors and seniors.

Krivak is playing cards with an incomplete deck.

That is not to say he's above criticism. His loyalty to upperclassmen has cost him. His play-calling is often second-guessable. His handling of Raphael Wall's redshirt year is downright illogical. He seems to have lost a grip on this year's team.

He does know a lot of football, but his teams historically get outscored in the second half, when coaches supposedly make game-changing adjustments. No one ever said he was a hellacious motivator.

But you just can't forget the larger picture. Maybe another coach could have squeezed out an extra couple of wins, but no more than a couple. There just aren't enough top upperclassmen.

(It's worth noting that Krivak has recruited well these past few years, post-Bias. He got Mark Mason, Larry Washington and Wall, a couple of top quarterbacks . . . )

Anyway, so now Krivak has a dart board on his forehead, and it's not fair. Here is a coach who has kept his dignity in a no-hope situation, and at the same time, brought integrity back to the football team.

These people complaining about him, you wonder if they read the papers. Did they read about the Clemson and Georgia Tech players getting in trouble with the law in the past year? The Virginia players taking those sleazy loans?

The Terps used to fit right in. In Bobby Ross' final years, there were a handful of incidents involving players and police. The graduation rate was a mystery because the school didn't want it known.

Now Maryland is taking the high road. The players are articulate, solid citizens. At last count, 15 of 18 seniors from last year's team had graduated. That's fantastic.

Krivak leads the way. Other coaches routinely pull their kids out of class when NFL scouts show up. Krivak won't do it. He tells scouts they'll have to wait for his kids to get out of class. It's a small gesture that speaks volumes.

But enough of that. Enough of defending Krivak on the grounds that he's principled. That's no defense. You can be principled and win. But you can't win without players.

Krivak had no chance this year. In retrospect, it's a miracle he got a team to a bowl last year, although he did it mostly with fifth-year players recruited before Bias died. Anyone who thinks otherwise, who expected big things this year, they're just wrong. They're dreaming. Their heads are in the clouds.

The only reason it may be time to replace Krivak is that at some point this annual speculation about his job becomes self-defeating. That it's happening again is Geiger's fault. He just gave Krivak a four-year contract. He should have the guts to see the larger picture and stand behind his coach.

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