John Loch showed up at Towson State University for his usual Monday afternoon workout last week when he received word of an emergency team meeting with football coach Phil Albert.
"I thought it had something to do with our running program," said Loch, a junior offensive tackle who graduated from Arundel High School in 1988. "He came in andyou could tell something was up. He was sort of emotional, but then he flat-out told us he was going to resign. To tell you the truth, I was taken totally by surprise."
So were many former county athletes who played under Albert, Towson State's head coach for the last 20 years. Albert will remain at the university as a faculty member.
"When I heard about it, I felt like I was losing somebody from my family," said Dean Drehoff, a three-year starter at offensive guard and former All-County selection at Brooklyn Park in 1980.
Drehoff, who lives in Richmond, Va., played on the Towson team that won the Lambert Award in 1983, given to the top Division II program in the East. The Tigers also won the award in 1984 and 1986 before moving up to Division I-AA in 1987.
The Tigers have struggled in recent years, going 5-27 over the last three seasons.
"When you've play at a program at it's peak, it's really hardto realize what has transpired in the last five years," Drehoff said, "especially when I played when we were Division II and a powerhouse. Then they climb to I-AA and get a guy like Dave Meggett (now with the New York Giants) and I'm thinking, 'Hey, a Top 20 team.' But they're competing against teams in I-AA that have 70 full rides (scholarships), while Towson still gives 40-50. And it's hard Saturday after Saturday lining up against guys who are the cream of the crop that didn't go to I-A schools."
In January, Towson athletic director Billy Hunter said he intended to eliminate football scholarships at the university as a way of dealing with the athletic department's growing deficit. Last month, the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee supported the plan, making it that much harder for the program to be competitive.
Tony DeBarbieri, a 1985 graduate of Glen Burnie who played offensive and defensive tackle for the Tigers until 1989, said he thoughtAlbert's departure under those circumstances was "a good move on hispart."
"I just don't think the commitment was there like it was in past years," said DeBarbieri, who played for the Maryland team in the Big 33 high school game. "It seemed like he was applying for everycoaching job that became available, and who could blame him, with the condition that the program was in."
Glen Schmidt, a resident of Glen Burnie and a three-year starter at outside linebacker until 1988, said, "Albert had his back against the wall. He was a good coach, but when you don't have the support of the administration and the student body, it's tough to win.
"When I initially found out (about the resignation), I was shocked, I couldn't believe it. But after I though about it for a while, I figured the day would come. The university was not supporting the program to the extent where they would keep it competitive at the Division I level. The commitment just wasn't there."
Loch said, "The hurdles he faced just kept getting bigger and bigger."
Many of Albert's former players don't believe his days as a coach ended with the resignation.
"He has the capability and knowledge to be a great coach at any level," Schmidt said.
"With his knowledge of offense and the points we used to put up, averaging over 25 points a game, and the complicated offense we ran, he'd be theperfect offensive coordinator at a bigger school," Drehoff said.
"He always told his team that complacency will get you nowhere, that it will make you stale," Schmidt said. "Maybe he saw that in himself and thought it was time to make a move toward a new future and a new beginning."