Yow fuels Maryland optimism

August 17, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Bobby Nelligan, who has been around the University of Maryland athletic department for 15 years and now five athletic directors, summed up the feeling at Cole Field House yesterday.

"It's apparent to the coaches that we've got a high-octane leader," said Nelligan, the university's gymnastics coach.

That energy wasn't readily apparent as Debbie Yow settled in for her first official day of work as Maryland's athletic director, but those who work here expect it won't be long before it takes hold.

Although Yow's appointment Monday was accompanied by a sense of surprise, her reputation as a women's basketball coach, a fund-raiser and most recently as athletic director at Saint Louis University paints a multidimensional picture of success.

"I'm glad to see that they picked somebody that has strong experience in fund-raising, as well as having the background as a coach," said women's basketball coach Chris Weller, who knew Yow slightly through her sister, North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow. "She's been extremely successful. She has all the attributes we need."

Said football coach Mark Duffner: "I think it's a very positive step. She's a proven leader. She's been very successful as a coach at the highest level that she could be -- at the University of Kentucky -- and she's been around a high-powered Division I football program as a fund-raiser at Florida. And she's shown tremendous leadership at Saint Louis. And I like her energy."

The biggest obstacle, according to many familiar with both the department and its fund-raising operation, will be in the way Yow, the first female athletic director at both Maryland and in the Atlantic Coast Conference, will be accepted by an almost all-male constituency.

But Suzanne Tyler, who will continue to serve as the department's senior associate director, says she doesn't believe it will be much of a problem, if at all.

"Certain things have been run by a woman before," said Tyler, who held the position of acting athletic director between the departure of Lew Perkins in the spring of 1990 and the arrival of Andy Geiger a few months later. "It's not that alien an idea to a lot of people anymore."

Tyler doesn't expect any problems working with Yow even though she had interest in the job, and many felt she was qualified for it. Nor does she think having two women run a high-profile Division I athletic program will be that different than having two men, despite the fact that Maryland is breaking ground in this area.

In fact, from an internal point of view, it might be better than to have a man and a woman.

"We used to joke when Andy was here that some people would play Mom against Dad, like kids do with their parents," said Tyler. "I guess you can't do that anymore."

Greg Manning, the former men's basketball star who now runs the university's M Club for former scholarship athletes, said that he didn't receive many calls yesterday about Yow. Of the club's 4,000 members, only about 800 are women.

"This could certainly help to stimulate more interest among former women athletes," said Manning. "But then allegiances to the university should not be predicated on whether we have a male athletic director or a female athletic director."

Said Tyler: "I think she's going to win everyone over. It might be that she'll have to work a little harder, but from what I've heard, she will."

Basketball coach Gary Williams said that he was impressed with Yow's track record as a fund-raiser, which is something Maryland needs to help the athletic department erase its $6 million deficit. And her background makes Williams feel immediately comfortable.

"It can be a positive because you can talk to her about a problem and she can understand it," he said.

The concern that Maryland is in for another short-term athletic director was allayed at Yow's first meeting with her coaches. At least Nelligan was relieved to hear what his new boss had to say.

"She has every intention of seeing this through," Nelligan said. "I'm sure everyone does when they first take the job, but she made a point to say that."

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