Recent 108-7 plunge tests even strongest of Duffner supporters

Bill Tanton

October 12, 1993|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- Naturally there are people calling for Mark Duffner's scalp.

By now some -- many? -- have lost confidence in Maryland's second-year football coach and his program.

After consecutive losses of 70-7 to Penn State and 38-0 against Georgia Tech in a winless season, that sort of thing is to be expected.

Duffner knows that. He's no kid, though he looks like one. He turned 40 in July. He's been in coaching for 18 years. He knows the realities of his profession.

I'm hearing now from people who thought all along that Duffner was the wrong choice. They remind me that at Holy Cross, where Duffner was the winningest coach in the country, he still had football scholarships and was beating schools that already had stopped giving them.

Now Duffner is as big a loser as there is in the country. No coach has a worse won-lost percentage than his .000. The Terps are 0-6.

First, Duffner's defense established itself as the worst in the country. Now, his offense has been shut down, scoring a total of seven points in the last two games.

"When was the last time your offense was shut out?" Duffner was asked at his weekly press luncheon here yesterday.

"Never happened," he answered.

Just yesterday a longtime Maryland supporter said to me:

"You can't take a coach out of a bush league and put him in the ACC with a schedule like Maryland's. It's a different world.

"I don't like it when Duffner hugs these kids on the sideline. Watch these big-time coaches. They never do that.

"We've never lost this bad at Maryland. Ever. I feel sorry for the Maryland fans. They've been through enough."

On and on it goes. Some of the critics are quick to remind you that four years ago, Maryland, under the since deposed Joe Krivak, tied Penn State, 13-13, in Baltimore. Now Penn State is 63 points better than Maryland.

The Terps' apparent hopelessness befuddles many of their followers, such as Baltimorean Dennis German, whose daughter a sophomore at College Park.

After the rout by Penn State, German said to me:

"Don't they have some wrestlers down there they could put on the line? That's what Ed Hargaden used to do when I was at Loyola High."

Media criticism of Duffner and his team has been tempered in their own neighborhood because there's another team over there -- the 1-4 Redskins -- catching more flak than the Terps.

The Skins' 41-7 loss to the Giants Sunday was the worst the ZTC team has suffered in RFK Stadium history. In that market Richie Petitbon is a more pressing concern than Duffner.

Despite all that, and in spite of the Terps' woeful performance, not everyone is giving up on Duffner. Not by a long shot.

It seems the more people know about football, and the better they understand how hard it is to turn a program around, the more they support Duffner.

"I'm committed to Duffner," says Cockeysville insurance man Keith Neff, immediate past president of the Terrapin Club of Baltimore City/Baltimore County. "I'm willing to give him a lot more time. He needs a couple more recruiting classes.

"What Maryland needs is stability. We need a positive role model like Mark. He's the type of man you'd want your son to play for.

"Against us, Penn State played 18 fifth-year seniors. We were playing a lot of kids in their first year of college football.

"This year he got some Pennsylvania kids that Joe Paterno wanted. That's almost unheard of at Maryland. Paterno has admitted that Duffner outrecruited him this year.

"I think that's the message Paterno was sending when he beat us as badly as he did. Duffner had a lot of high school recruits at the game. Penn State is not going to play Maryland again for a long time, but Paterno will go on recruiting against Duffner. He wanted to show those kids something."

Somehow, Duffner remains positive.

"Our goal," he said yesterday, "is improvement. We just have to work as hard as we can every day and try to improve. If you keep hitting a door long enough eventually it's going to break and come down."

Last year Duffner won three games. This year he may not win one. This Saturday, on Homecoming Day, Maryland is a four-point underdog to Duke, which has beaten only Army in six games.

Did Duffner realize what lay ahead when he took the Maryland job?

"I knew it was going to be difficult," he said yesterday. "If it wasn't going to be difficult, we wouldn't be here."

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