COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's football players are convinced that new coach Mark Duffner will bring something to the team that Joe Krivak was unable to provide.
"We've heard nothing but good about him," said junior guard Ron Staffileno after Maryland announced the hiring of Duffner yesterday. "Not to take anything away from Coach Krivak, but Duffner's young  and will add the missing spark -- motivation. We've heard he's a motivator."
Mike Hopson, a junior defensive back and punt returner, also cited Duffner's youth, enthusiasm and ability to relate to the players.
"A lot of us didn't respect Coach Krivak as much as we should have," Hopson said. "He didn't get the team fired up for games. This guy comes from a winning program. He knows how to win."
Tuned into the players' grapevine, freshman Scott Milanovich, the Terps' heir apparent at quarterback, "heard nothing negative" about Duffner. That figured, since Duffner was 60-5-1 in six years at Division I-AA Holy Cross and left with a 20-game winning streak.
"I met a guy who said Duffner would be the greatest coach I'd ever play for," Milanovich said. "He throws a lot, which will be good for me, I guess."
But a question lingers: Can any coach win at Maryland with its demanding academic standards? Sonny Mothershead, president of the Terrapin Club, snorts at the question.
"I don't buy academics as a crutch," Mothershead said. "The players are out there. Academics are an asset.
"Mark wants to get the 10 or 12 local blue chippers we haven't been getting. Joe's a good friend, but he's so low key he wasn't getting through to the kids. We need a players' coach. I'm tickled. We're fortunate to have Mark."
Gib Romaine, a former Maryland coach and now executive director of the Terrapin Club, helped athletic director Andy Geiger in his search for a coach. One name kept popping to the surface: Mark Duffner.
"Everybody we talked to in doing background checks on people, Duffner's name came up," Romaine said. "It was amazing. They were so positive about him as a coach, teacher and person, even to the point on how he conducts practice."
Ralph Lary, a former Terps safety and a member of the search committee, felt that Geiger was influenced in part because Duffner won at a school where academics are king.
"Mark is very attentive to the whole individual," said Lary, a four-time member of the ACC's All-Academic team from 1977-80 who's a partner in a computer consulting firm in Annandale, Va.
"He believes in involvement, meeting goals, keeping in touch with his players. Winning is a state of mind. You need a handful of the fastest and toughest players, sure, but what you try to build is players who believe they're the fastest, smartest and toughest. You need overachievers, we-can-do-it guys. When I was here, we didn't always have the best talent."
Jack Bradford, a linebacker on the 1990 team and a member of the search committee, participated in the three-hour interview session with Duffner.
"I was really impressed," Bradford said. "He's ambitious and energetic. If anyone can win here, he can."
Another linebacker on the 1990 team, Scott Whittier, now a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech, also said his alma mater has the right man.
"Our defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, Mike Clark, played under Duffner at Cincinnati," Whittier said. "He said Mark's a go-getter who won't take no for an answer as far as getting a program to the top."
Jack Scarbath, a first-team All-America quarterback at Maryland in 1952, called Duffner "a very good appointment." Now, he added, "the coaches can get on the road and recruit."