It came as a surprise when Andy Geiger left high, mighty Stanford for scandalous Maryland some 44 months ago. But that was the last surprise of his tenure as athletic director at College Park, which ended with yesterday's word that he was taking the same job at Ohio State.
As expected from one of the most respected college sports administrators, Geiger did much to restore the Maryland athletic department's integrity, although, of course, it had somewhere between little and none when he took over. But let's give credit: Geiger is chiefly responsible for the fact that sports is no longer a curse word on campus and around the state.
But then, also as expected from a figure with such a high national profile, he found a job with bigger shoulders and took it.
Geiger, 55, recently had interviewed for the job of executive director of the NCAA and also for a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee. His decision to leave Maryland hardly registers as a surprise, especially considering that he wasn't overly lovey-dovey with his meal ticket, Gary Williams, and that Ohio State's $28 million athletic budget is twice the size of Maryland's.
This isn't so difficult to figure out, is it?
In any case, the school will miss him. He did a lot of things right. Williams' basketball program got rolling again on his watch. He was genuinely supportive of women's and nonrevenue sports. He raised academic standards.
His most admirable moment occurred when Williams wanted to bring in Donyell Marshall and Lawrence Moten, two subpar academic recruits who became major stars elsewhere. They would have turned the Terps into a top 25 team much earlier, but Geiger understood that, after Lefty Driesell and Lew Perkins and Bob Wade, success meant nothing if you didn't have standards. The recruits were denied admission.
At that low point in the long time line of Maryland's athletic history, it was imperative that someone stand up for doing things right, regardless of the consequences. Geiger did it without blinking. A pro, he had the broader vision.
Now, his ledger is not without debits, of course. He gave Joe Krivak a four-year contract to coach the football team, then ran him off a year later. The loyal, upstanding Krivak deserved better. New coach Mark Duffner brought youthful energy to the program, but let's wait and see if he also brings success.
As for whether the department's overall academic performance has improved, who knows? You can make the numbers say anything. It's best just to reserve judgment on that one.
It was initially a surprise when Geiger came to Maryland, because Stanford mixes academics and big-time athletics better than any other school, but beneath the surface there was a body of logic. He was sick of the Stanford alumni and in need of new surroundings and a new challenge. Maryland gave him the chance to pull white knight duty, which is always appealing.
His departure now is surprising only because he was noticeably happy here, but, again, beneath the surface there is more to the story. By leaving he escapes a debt-laden department for the biggest department in the country; gets to avoid having to fire Duffner if that doesn't work out, as many of his football coaches have not; and gets to avoid working with Williams, who is fast becoming king of College Park.
Geiger and Williams co-existed peaceably enough, and with mutual respect, but there was tension there. And it's never easy for an athletic director when a coach gets as bulletproof as Williams is about to get.
What Geiger's departure will mean for the department depends a lot on his replacement. If they can find someone with similarly right-thinking instincts, everything will be fine. If not . . .
See, with the sorry state of college sports today, you measure an athletic director by the amount of times he doesn't turn his head. Every one of them sees all sorts of off-putting things, crazy alums with checkbooks, bully coaches, you name it, and every one of them has to decide what he thinks he needs to police and what he thinks is OK.
Geiger's standards were far higher than most, which is why Maryland can only hope to find a replacement who measures up to him.