Corrigan is proud of his ACC, tired of outsized expectations

Bill Tanton

April 13, 1993|By Bill Tanton

These are heady times in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which just produced its third straight NCAA basketball champion.

When North Carolina beat Michigan last week for an ACC threepeat after Duke's '91 and '92 titles, Gene Corrigan's chest swelled a couple of inches.

Corrigan, Baltimore-born and educated (Loyola High '46), is commissioner of the ACC. Speaking from conference headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., yesterday, he discussed a range of topics, including the league's basketball success and athletics at the University of Maryland.

"Being in New Orleans to see North Carolina win this championship," said Corrigan, "meant just as much to me as seeing my own alma mater [Duke] win it the two years before that.

"I'm happy for Dean Smith. He's one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, and yet, until he won this second NCAA championship [the first one was in 1982 in the same Louisiana Superdome], some people questioned that.

"They forget that great players like Michael Jordan and James Worthy left Carolina when they had eligibility remaining -- and they left with Dean's blessing. You don't know how many championships he might have won if he'd kept them for four years.

"I was proud of the way Carolina played its way through this one. They had to beat good teams like Arkansas and Cincinnati to get there. And when they got there they had to beat Michigan, which is a great team."

Corrigan has worked in athletics as a coach, athletic director and commissioner since he came out of Duke in 1950 and went to work at St. Paul's School. After all these years, he's still disappointed by the unfair expectations the public has for its sports heroes.

Case in point: Michigan's Chris Webber, who called a timeout his team didn't have in the closing seconds of the title game, causing a technical foul to be called against his team. Exemplifying the media frenzy over that is the photo of Webber in the current Sports Illustrated captioned, "I Cost Our Team The Game."

"It's gotten ridiculous," Corrigan was saying. "A 20-year-old kid, a sophomore, made a mistake, that's all. Let it go. They're beating that thing to death. I'll say this about Chris Webber -- I think I could start an NBA franchise with him."

Corrigan had the same sort of feeling when Duke was eliminated by California in the tournament. Said the commissioner: "Some people think if you don't win three in a row, you're no good."

One problem, if it can be called that, is the ACC is so strong in basketball that some excellent teams don't get to win championships.

"We've never had as much depth in the conference as we had this year," Corrigan said. "Clemson had an outstanding team and they were our No. 7 team."

ACC-wide strength makes things tough on everybody, including the University of Maryland. Jim Phelan, the longtime basketball coach at Mount St. Mary's, commented recently on the Terps' 12-16 record this year.

"That's not a schedule Maryland goes through in the ACC," Phelan said. "It's a meat grinder."

Said Corrigan: "Maryland beat teams like Louisville and Oklahoma, and yet some people think they had a bad year.

"Maryland is going to be fine. Gary Williams is a great coach, and he's bringing in two really good players next year [Keith Booth from Dunbar High and 6-foot-10 Joe Smith from Norfolk]. Maryland could move up to the top half of our conference next year, but I think they need another year of recruiting."

Success didn't just come to Gene Corrigan with these three straight ACC basketball championships.

As athletic director at Virginia, he brought that school to the athletic forefront in the ACC.

He hired Terry Holland, who built the basketball program. Corrigan had moved on to Notre Dame by the time coach George Welsh came to Virginia and elevated the football program. Said Corrigan now: "I wish I had hired George Welsh." As AD at ND, Corrigan inherited football coach Gerry Faust, but once Faust's contract was up, Gene promptly hired Lou Holtz, who won a national championship with the Irish and rejuvenated the program.

These days there's another Corrigan, Gene's son, Kevin, who is doing some exciting things at Notre Dame. Kevin coaches the lacrosse team there, which has lost only to Duke (No. 10 in The Baltimore Sun poll).

Kevin's team has beaten Georgetown and won at Hofstra, where nationally ranked Loyola lost last weekend.

They're winners, these Corrigans. The record proves that.

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