Geiger gave Krivak no way to go but out


December 07, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

COLLEGE PARK -- The public flogging is over, and, not coincidentally, so is Joe Krivak's tenure at Maryland.

When Krivak announced his resignation yesterday, he quit not only as football coach but also as whipping boy.

He quit because he had to quit, not because he wanted to. He quit because there was no other way he could leave with any semblance of dignity.

He walked away from the job he loved because athletic director Andy Geiger allowed the situation to reach the point where Krivak had no alternative.

You know what happened. For several weeks, in a period of what was called a time of assessment, Geiger interviewed many people involved with the football program. Some of them, especially players, then felt free to criticize Krivak openly. Krivak, clearly wounded, would say his credibility was eroded. And then some.

The process was ugly, painful and completely unnecessary.

Krivak, a decent man, deserved better. But common decency was a casualty here. The only question is whether Geiger designed a process with this end in mind. He says he did not.

"I did not orchestrate this," Geiger said.

But he was aware of the impact. In fact, in a joint news conference with Geiger and Krivak, Geiger's opening statement noted his regret over the anguish the process had caused Krivak, whom he went on to praise extensively. Geiger added that it was important, however, to conduct an open dialogue with the media and public.

Maybe he does regret the anguish. Certainly, Geiger, who has brought stability to Maryland, believes in an open dialogue. But there's a scenario that can't be ignored that goes something like this:

You've got a losing football coach who may be overmatched. You now recognize that the new contract you gave him was a mistake. You're tired of hearing him whine about tough academics. You want to get rid of him, but you don't want to fire him, maybe because you don't want to admit your mistake, maybe because you don't like firing coaches. So you say, when asked, that you're 95 percent sure you want him back, making that 5 percent loom as large as a hangman. You invite players in to discuss the program, and you don't require that they keep the conversations private. Instead, you allow the players and media to do your work. And the coach resigns.

When presented with this scenario, Krivak chose not to comment. "I consider myself a class guy," he said. "That's how I want to leave it."

Asked if he would have resigned absent this public scrutiny, Krivak said he couldn't answer. And yet the answer is obvious.

Geiger, meantime, defended himself and the process.

"That was not my intention," he said of Krivak's resignation. "I left the window open. I was asked if there were any circumstances where Joe would not be back. I could have said I supported him 100 percent or 200 percent and then conducted a process of evaluation in the dark. Would that have been fair?

"I regret what came out in the newspapers. We had exit interviews [by the media] like during election day. I didn't read a disclaimer to every student, asking him to keep our conversation private."

But didn't these interviews make it impossible for Krivak to continue?

"The situation got extremely difficult," Geiger said. "But I did not think it was irrevocable or irreversible."

Except, of course, it was.

This is not to say Krivak was a great football coach. He was not. He tried hard, but, face it, he was a fine assistant who turned out pro quarterbacks and who should have remained an assistant.

He can take pride in the fact that there was never any scandal in his program and that his players graduated at an acceptable rate. Krivak's excuses about Maryland's heightened academics, however, ring hollow. You can win with improved academic standing. Krivak's successor probably will.

But whatever Krivak's weaknesses, he did nothing to deserve this sad ending.

If Geiger had wanted him out, he should have fired him. That would have been kinder.

If Geiger, who had every right to examine the program, wanted him back, he could have set as a condition of his interviews with players that they remain private. But Geiger's responsibility didn't stop there. Once the assessment began to get out of control, Geiger could have stepped forward to say that the man was more important than the job and that he was, therefore, forced to close down the process.

"If I've erred," Geiger said, "I've erred on the side of being public."

If he has erred -- and he has -- it was on the side of not showing compassion for a man whose only crime was losing games.

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