COLLEGE PARK -- The renovation of Maryland's football facilities is nearly complete. The refurbishing of Byrd Stadium, as well as a $6.1 million training and office complex, are the result of a three-year campaign that began before the current athletic director and football coach came aboard.
Now comes the tough part: rebuilding a football program that won three straight Atlantic Coast Conference championships during the 1980s under Bobby Ross but had one winning record in the past five years under Joe Krivak. That process officially begins today, when the Terrapins start practicing for the 1992 season.
Some who have watched the program's deterioration from dominant to dormant say it will take a minor miracle for Maryland to make its way back to the top of the ACC, which now includes perennial power Florida State. But many of the same folks say that Mark Duffner, the Terps' new head coach, is some sort of miracle-worker.
4 Duffner, 39, seems undaunted by the task ahead.
"What I've studied is how Virginia came from being down and where they are now, how Virginia and Georgia Tech have been at the top, how even Duke had a run," Duffner said earlier this week. "The great thing about Maryland is that it has had a winning tradition. It's been done here. We've got to do it again."
A coaching prodigy at Holy Cross, Duffner came to Marylan more than seven months ago with an impeccable record (60-5-1 in six years) and no timetable. He is confident enough to think that he and his staff can turn a lethargic 2-9 team into an enthusiastic one but is realistic enough to understand the potential obstacles.
Rebuilding in 1992 will be more difficult than it might have been even two years ago. With a reduced number of scholarships -- 92 this year compared with 95, and going down to 85 by 1994 -- and higher academic standards on the horizon, there eventually will be a smaller talent pool from which to choose.
"Everybody is going to be faced with being as sharp as they can be," said Duffner, whose first recruiting effort was nothing short of phenomenal, considering how little time he had and how many players Maryland was able to sign. "It helps that our academic standards have been high. We've kind of been on the leading edge of that."
Those around the ACC who have experienced what Duffner is about to go through empathize with one of the league's three new coaches. (Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Georgia Tech's Bill Lewis, formerly of East Carolina, are the others.)
"It's got to be tougher to rebuild now than at any time since I've been in coaching," North Carolina coach Mack Brown said at the recent ACC Summer Kickoff in Kiawah Island, S.C. "You have less time on the road recruiting, less time to meet with your players and fewer numbers to do it with."
Said Virginia coach George Welsh: "I wouldn't want to have to do it now. You have be given a long enough contract by your AD and your fans have to be patient. It might not get done in three or four years. It might take six."
It can be done, though, as other teams throughout the ACC have proven in recent years. Except for Clemson, which hasn't had a losing season since 1976, and Wake Forest, which has won seven games in a season only once since 1979, nearly every school has gone through a relatively successful rebuilding process.
The two biggest success stories have come at Virginia, where in 10 years Welsh has turned the league's longtime laughingstock into a respectable top-25 program, and at Georgia Tech, which Ross helped return to national prominence after a dismal start. Ross left after last season to become head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
But the Cavaliers haven't proven yet that they can win on a national level -- witness three straight bowl losses, including last year's 48-14 Gator Bowl defeat to Oklahoma. And the Yellow Jackets, after going unbeaten and sharing the national championship with Colorado in 1990, slipped to 8-5 last season.
"Ultimately, in five years we would like to be a team that's at the top of the conference," said Duffner, who has a five-year contract at Maryland. "Yeah, we want to show improvement [this season]. We want to be winners. You prepare and play to win. It does not get much more complicated than that.
"I haven't put in a date, say by December 1993, that we want to be at this spot or that. This year, we have to establish a fundamental base of a team that plays hard, a team that plays with what we call the four E's: great effort, emotion, execution and enthusiasm."
There are certainly factors in Duffner's favor. Start with the facilities, which for years have been used against Maryland coaches in recruiting. Mix in Duffner's record. Though others with similar credentials have bombed out, the consensus in the coaching business is that the Terps have a budding star.