Leaving fast lane, Terps find driving force in AD Yow

August 16, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, it seemed likely that Tulane's Kevin White was going to be Maryland's next athletic director. White appeared to be a perfect fit: a media-conscious, politically savvy administrator with an upwardly mobile resume that included a history of successful fund-raising campaigns.

But those who looked more closely at that resume saw a disturbing trend. Four years at the University of Maine. Less than three at Tulane. Would College Park be the next pit stop in White's fast-lane career? Would Maryland, in need of stability after years of tumult, be getting another stopgap athletic director?

"They're what I call accidental tourists," one Maryland supporter said recently, when it seemed White was on the verge of taking the job. "They come for three or four years, but they're always looking at that next move."

In other words, an accidental tourist waiting to happen. That's why many whose professional and personal lives revolve around Maryland athletics were a bit relieved when White pulled himself out of contention after university president William E. Kirwan was unable, or unwilling, to meet his demands.

All Debbie Yow wanted was a fair chance.

Yow, introduced yesterday morning as Maryland's new athletic director, was running a distant third in the unofficial media polls behind White and East Carolina athletic director Dave Hart Jr. for most of this race. At one point, when former Miami and Cal athletic director Dave Maggard entered the picture, she slipped to fourth.

But Yow, a former women's basketball coach who got into administration as a fund-raiser for the Florida athletic department 11 years ago, is accustomed to fighting from behind. When she met with an all-male search committee at Saint Louis University four years ago, they didn't so much as offer her a chair, let alone a job.

"Where's the hot seat?" Yow asked, trying to break the silence.

"Anywhere you sit," one of the committee members said.

She got the job.

Skeptics will say that Maryland didn't get its first, second or even third choice for this job. And they might be correct. But it's also possible that a school privately criticized by one of the candidates for lacking fire might have gotten the best person to replace Andy Geiger.

"She's got the energy level we need," said Keith Inman, the department's chief fund-raiser. "Andy took us to a point and got us moving forward. With her energy level, she can take us even farther."

Sure, it will take time for some at Maryland to get used to the idea of having a female athletic director. But Yow is not going to tiptoe into this job. She is full of energy and ideas, with the passion that Geiger had when he first arrived from Stanford before being worn down by a combination of the department's staggering debt and some of its nasty politics.

Geiger was a terrific administrator, but a lackluster fund-raiser. His predecessor, Lew Perkins, was the complete opposite. The school's $6 million debt can be laid partially at the feet of both men. In Yow, Maryland is getting a down-home North Carolinian who motivates like the coach she once was and has the ability to make tough decisions like the administrator she has become.

At Saint Louis, she was criticized for firing popular basketball coach Rich Grawer and hiring Charlie Spoonhour from Southwest Missouri State. Spoonhour has been a godsend to the program, the town and the community, not to mention national Coach of the Year. When five bigger schools came looking to hire Spoonhour away, Yow made sure that he wasn't interested in leaving.

"She fully understands the world coaches live in," said Mike Slive, the commissioner of the Great Midwest Conference, the league to which Saint Louis belongs. "The people who work for her are highly motivated. Nobody will outwork her. But I don't think she has patience for someone who doesn't have the same work ethic."

Yow certainly will be tested, maybe sooner than she'd like. There's the matter of the debt, which scared off possible candidates. There's the idea of changing what has been an old-boy network of donors and supporters to one that has a more well-rounded constituency.

There's also the fact that Yow never has been at a Division I-A football school. (Asked about that yesterday, she said: "Fortunately, Dr. Kirwan didn't hire me to coach football.") If the football team's fortunes do not improve dramatically, her first major personnel decision could involve coach Mark Duffner. And quite possibly, others will pursue Yow like Ohio State went after Geiger.

But something says that this will be a long marriage. She grew up going to Saturday football games at North Carolina, where her father was a ticket taker for 20 years at Kenan Stadium, so an athletic director's job at another Atlantic Coast Conference school is close enough to Tobacco Road.

This is no accidental tourist.

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