Duffner: Nighttime is the right time for his Terps to play

Bill Tanton

April 27, 1993|By Bill Tanton

"I never thought I'd say this," Maryland football coach Mark Duffner confessed, "but I hope we're not on television this year."

What's this? A coach who does not want his team to appear on TV?

A coach who doesn't want to pose for the cameras and have himself and his program exposed to millions?

"That's right," said Duffner. "TV wants you to kick off at noon. I don't like 12 o'clock starts.

"It's too early in the day. The fans can't get there. You don't draw well. The team has trouble getting ready mentally. I've told [athletic director] Andy Geiger I hope he schedules us for all night games."

Duffner spoke at Art Donovan's Valley Country Club the other night when he appeared with Geiger and Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams before some 200 area Terrapin Club members.

Duffner says he can feel the difference when his team plays at night.

"The atmosphere at our Pitt game last year [which had a 7 o'clock kickoff] was absolutely fantastic," he said. "There was a big crowd at Byrd Stadium. You could feel the electricity in the air. The players could feel it. And we played a tremendous football game."

The 47-34 victory over Pitt that Oct. 3 night was one of three Maryland wins against eight losses in Duffner's first year at College Park.

Duffner will not, of course, be granted his request for all night games. The home schedule, perhaps the most attractive in Terp history, has Virginia in the Sept. 4 opener, West Virginia on Sept. 18, Penn State on Oct. 2, Duke (Homecoming) Oct. 16 and Florida State Nov. 6. Starting times will be announced in early summer.

You don't have to play at night to win football games. The best teams Maryland ever had, including Jim Tatum's national champions in the early '50s, played no night games. Byrd Stadium didn't even have lights.

Good teams will win if they kick off at midnight. But Maryland is not a good team -- yet.

At this point Duffner needs every possible advantage. If playing at 7 p.m. will inspire better play, Geiger will do his best to cooperate.

The thing about Duffner and Williams that most impressed the crowd was the energy and positive feelings they project.

"These guys really generate a lot of enthusiasm," said Pete Tomassi.

Both have a way to go, as their teams' records prove. But both are busy recruiting players who can turn things around.

"I'll tell you one thing," Duffner said. "We're going to look better getting off the bus."

He told of the size of the recruits he will suit up, including one who is 6 feet 8 and weighs more than 300 pounds. There was an audible gasp at that. Students of the recruiting wars tell me Maryland was able this year, for the first time, to beat Penn State for kids Joe Paterno wanted.

Though Duffner doesn't have many wins to show for it, he believes his team already has made some important strides. The biggest was the final game of the '92 season, the 53-23 win over Clemson.

"We took a giant step that day," said Duffner, taking a giant step with his own size 12s to illustrate his point. "That was a big help mentally, spiritually and every other way. That was the most one-sided loss Clemson has ever suffered in the ACC."

It was Duffner who restored the Varsity-Alumni football game two weeks ago, which he said was good because "it put faces with the names of Maryland's great players of the past."

The more you hear Duffner speak, the more you understand why he was able to compile a 60-5-1 record in six seasons at Holy Cross, why he won 17 separate Coach of the Year awards.

The man is good with intangibles. Notice what he talks about: the electricity in the air at a night game. . .the way a team looks getting off the bus. . .the spiritual lift that comes with a big win. . .getting back in touch with the school's tradition.

That's what impresses me about him, in addition to his obvious enthusiasm. All coaches know X's and O's. What often separates the winners from the losers is this mastery of the intangibles.

Gary Williams was an experienced head coach and a proven winner before he came to Maryland four years ago. He's another who values intangibles.

"I want to thank all of you," Williams told the Terps supporters, "who were at the Baltimore Arena when we beat a good Oklahoma team in January.

"The atmosphere was tremendous. A sellout crowd. We couldn't have played that well without you."

Intangibles. Duffner and Williams are skilled at dealing with them.

"I think we're on our way with these two guys," said alumnus Charley Wenzel.

Agreed.

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