He is one of the hottest young coaches in the country. His team has a 20-game winning streak. And he may be a candidate to succeed Joe Krivak as Maryland's head football coach.
Mark Duffner of Holy Cross is emerging as one of the more attractive nationwide coaching candidates of 1991. On Monday, he turned down the head coaching job at Tulane University. By Thursday night, some Maryland players were tracking a rumor that Duffner was ready to come to College Park.
"Some of our guys called Holy Cross players because we heard he was going to be our coach," said Mitch Suplee, Maryland's senior co-captain. "A lot of the younger guys wanted to know what kind of an offense he ran and his style of play. His name is being thrown around [by players] as the front-runner for the job, and we heard he was going to get it."
Suplee said he didn't discover much. But Duffner's name kept circulating yesterday in the wake of Krivak's resignation.
When asked by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette if he was a candidate for the Maryland job, Duffner said: "I can't really say. I don't want anything speculated."
Still, with Maryland yet to announce a search committee, the first batch of potential candidates began circulating. The list: Duffner, Dennis Green of Stanford, Jimmye Laycock of William & Mary, Bill Lewis of East Carolina and Andy Talley of Villanova.
"We have procedures to follow, procedures that must be approved," Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger said. "We will go forward as quickly as we can. It is important that we do it correctly and that doesn't necessarily mean fast. I think our location, conference and facilities are just a few of the positives we have to offer."
The most intense speculation involves Duffner, 38, who is expected to be named the NCAA Division I-AA Coach of the Year today after leading Holy Cross to an 11-0 record. His six-year record of 60-5-1 at Holy Cross gives him the highest winning percentage (.916) among active Division I coaches.
Duffner and Maryland appear to be a perfect fit. He is a native of Annandale, Va. He is accustomed to recruiting athletes able to meet stringent academic standards. He also is a defensive specialist.
After attending William & Mary, Duffner served as a defensive coordinator at Holy Cross for five years. He became the head coach after Rick Carter committed suicide, Feb. 2, 1986.
Under Duffner, Holy Cross won the Patriot League championship in five of the last six years. Because of a league rule barring postseason appearances, his teams never have appeared in the Division I-AA playoffs.
Duffner's edge in the Patriot League may be eroding, however. The school has de-emphasized athletics and only grants need-based scholarships. This season, Holy Cross will graduate the last class of players who had athletic scholarships.
Apparently, Duffner will only come to a Division I-A school as part of a package. He said he turned down the Tulane job in part because Kevin Coyle, his former offensive coordinator, declined to move to New Orleans. Coyle is on the staff at Syracuse University. Northwestern is also said to be interested in Duffner.
The other potential candidates for the Maryland job also have superb credentials.
Three years ago, Geiger hired Green to become the head coach at Stanford. This past season, Green's team was 8-3 and secured a bid to the Eagle Aloha Bowl against Georgia Tech.
But Green's sights may be set higher than Maryland. He has been mentioned as a candidate for the opening at the University of Texas and for the San Diego Chargers -- if they fire Dan Henning.
Laycock has a 73-62-2 record in 12 seasons at William & Mary, a Division I-AA school. After his team finished 10-3 last season, he was mentioned as a candidate for several openings. But the luster may have worn off Laycock after William & Mary's 5-6 finish in 1991.
Lewis is another hot commodity based on East Carolina's 10-1 regular season and a berth in the Peach Bowl opposite North Carolina State. With a three-year record of 20-12-1, Lewis may be prepared to take a bigger jump to Texas or Arizona State.
Talley began the Villanova program from scratch seven years ago and has a 48-21-1 record, reaching the I-AA playoffs in two of the past three seasons. He interviewed for the recent vacancy at New Mexico. He also served as an assistant coach at Brown when Geiger was the athletic director.
"I haven't been contacted," Talley said. "I don't know what the persuasion is at Maryland. I know that a lot of Division I-A schools want a big-name guy. It all depends on who fits."
Talley has been through this rumor-game before. It was the autumn of 1986. Bobby Ross had just quit as Maryland's football coach and the names of possible successors were beginning to surface.
"I was watching television," Talley said. "All of a sudden Beano Cook [of ESPN] comes on and I heard Maryland and then I heard my name and then I heard I was supposed to be interviewed for the job. There were some people around and they all looked at me and said, 'You must know something.' But I didn't know a thing."
Talley never got a call. The job went to Krivak.