State needs an athletic director

March 01, 1994|By Bill Tanton

WANTED: Athletic director. Extensive sports background required. Must have strong personality, be able to handle CEO types. Apply to Personnel Office, State of Maryland.

That's what we need in this state to clear up the sports picture -- an athletic director.

Never have the waters been as muddied as they are now. We need somebody who can step in and take charge, someone smart enough and strong enough to handle governors, mayors and billionaires.

Why? Because so many things are up in the air, pro football especially.

One day the Washington Redskins are going to build a stadium in Laurel, then they're not going to. Another day later, their owner, Jack Kent Cooke, is going to build one in Laurel "come hell or high water."

The NFL gave Baltimore the back of its hand in the expansion process, but the city's quest for an existing team goes on . . . and on.

Now Governor Schaefer has Pete Angelos handling that one.

Angelos, as we all have learned during the past six months, is a doer. He got the deal to buy the Orioles done. Since then he's spent a fortune for new players to make the club a winner.

The deadline for landing an existing NFL team passed two weeks ago, but Schaefer and Angelos press on, trying to preserve at least until the end of the year the money designated for a new football stadium at Camden Yards.

People in Annapolis keep asking the governor: What teams are you talking to? How real is their interest? How close are you to a deal?

And Schaefer answers cleverly -- but vaguely: "There's more activity than ever before." A strong AD wouldn't settle for that.

Then there's Abe Pollin, who pulled his Bullets out of Baltimore two decades ago and put them and his NHL Capitals in the Capital Centre (Pollin just last summer took $1 million to rename the place the USAir Arena). Now he's looking for the state to build him another arena, perhaps even back in the city he once abandoned.

It's hard to believe the citizens of Maryland want to see a new home given for free to the perennially lousy Bullets.

Finally there is the Canadian Football League team that can't decide what it will call itself. That team will represent Baltimore -- and soon. In five months the league season will be under way.

What we need is a strong man or woman who can wade into this mess and make some sense of it.

Can't you just hear an AD saying to Schaefer and Cooke: "Sit down, Don, I'm calling the shots. Shut up, Jack. This is how it's going to be."

No, you can't imagine that. Neither can anyone else.

Neither Schaefer nor Cooke is going to be handled like that, one reason we're not going to have a state athletic director.

Schaefer and Cooke are two stubborn, hard-headed old men who are used to having their own way. Schaefer desperately wants an NFL team for Baltimore, and Cooke isn't at all interested in having a team 14 miles from his stadium-to-be in Anne Arundel County.

Jim Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles sportswriter, knows Cooke well from the days when Cooke operated the Lakers and The Forum in L.A. I know that not because Murray told me but because Cooke did.

So I take Murray's word for it when he says Cooke is "as unstoppable as a glacier."

I think the glacier-like Cooke is going to end up with his Redskins in Laurel, and I doubt that even action guy Angelos will get an existing NFL team to move here.

Malcolm Glazer and his sons spent a lot of time and money trying to get the Rams or Tampa Bay to move here. They failed. I wouldn't think that's changed.

As for Jim Speros, the young entrepreneur who owns the CFL team coming here, you can only admire the man and wish him luck. He'll need it.

A few local media persons are ga-ga over the CFL's coming to town but a lot of people are either tepid about it, don't care or just plain think it's a bad idea.

The other day I spoke to Vince Angotti's Sports Management class at Towson State. The subject of the CFL in Baltimore came up.

Some of the students thought the idea was fine. "The CFL is better than nothing," said Mike Ruddo. But Rich Strong, a junior from State College, Pa., wasn't sure about that.

"Baltimore is a great city," Strong said, "but I'm afraid it has settled for something less than it is."

What that means is that the CFL team is minor-league in a major-league city. It's hard to sell minor-league sports in this town -- and the CFL is sort of a football equivalent of baseball's Triple-A ball.

Remember, the CFL's Most Valuable Player is Doug Flutie, who has been discarded by two NFL teams including the one in New England, where he is an immortal.

The CFL needs names we know. Baltimore already has missed an opportunity by signing quarterback Tracy Ham.

The team should have worked a deal with Pollin for Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward to play QB for Baltimore from July to November, then join the Bullets for the rest of the season. Everybody would have loved it.

The right athletic director could have gotten that done.

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