Terps' Hahn wins attention in fill-in role RAVE REVIEW

March 03, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

College Park -- He praised the Maryland players, his fellow assistant coaches and even the managers. He nearly went as far as thanking the guy who drove the bus the mile or so from the team's hotel to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Everyone but himself.

"It's a tremendous feeling to win down here, but this isn't about me," Billy Hahn said in the noisy visiting locker room after Maryland's down-to-the-wire 94-92 win over Duke on Wednesday night.

Certainly Joe Smith's career-high 40 points, which included the winning tip-in at the buzzer, as well as his 18 rebounds, had more to do with the sixth-ranked Terrapins' winning for the first time on Duke's home court in seven years and clinching at least a tie for their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 1979-80.

But the 41-year-old assistant, a former Division I head coach and a 1975 Maryland graduate, played a significant role. With less than a day to prepare, Hahn took over the duties left when head coach Gary Williams was hospitalized Tuesday night with pneumonia. Williams never had missed a game in his six seasons at Maryland, or his previous 11 as a head coach.

Hahn will remain in his role through Sunday, and possibly longer, while Williams recuperates at the Washington Adventist Hospital Takoma Park. It was announced yesterday that Hahn will coach the Terps when they finish the regular season Sunday against Virginia in Charlottesville.

"We're just going to do everything the same way, just as if Gary was here," Hahn said before meeting with the team yesterday to inform the players of Williams' status. "We've always been good at taking it one game at a time, and this one will be no different."

But the matchup with the Cavaliers will have the most significance of any game Maryland has played this season, or of any Hahn has coached. A victory will give the Terps the title outright, and the top seed in next week's ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. A defeat could result in the ACC's first four-way tie for first, and Maryland's being seeded either second or third.

The games against Duke and Virginia put Hahn in the kind of spotlight he never experienced during his three years as head coach at Ohio University. The victory over Duke was televised on ESPN; the game against Virginia will be shown regionally on network television.

Hahn might be in the position to get the head coaching offers that stopped after he was fired following his only losing season at Ohio University. His teams had records of 14-14, 16-14 and 12-17.

"As an assistant, you always want to put yourself in a situation where you have a chance to become a head coach if that's what you choose," said Hahn, who received more than 100 telephone calls and faxes yesterday from friends and fellow coaches around the country.

"Would I like to be a head coach at this level? Anybody would. But right now for me it's financial. I have a 17-year-old son, an 11-year-old daughter and my wife to think about. If somebody offered me a lot more money than I'm making, I'd have to look into it."

Hahn's career mirrors that of Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. A longtime Demon Deacons assistant under Carl Tacy, Odom spent three years as a head coach at East Carolina before getting fired. He went to Virginia for seven years as an assistant under Terry Holland, and got noticed when he coached the Cavaliers to a nationally televised upset of No. 1 North Carolina after Holland was hospitalized in 1989.

"If he'd just relax, he'll get a shot," Odom said yesterday of Hahn. "Maryland's success is only going to grow and Billy's been a big part of that success."

Relax is not part of Hahn's vocabulary. During his six years with Williams, there have been times when Hahn made his often frenzied boss seem mellow. But during the game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday night, Hahn was as in control as a head coach as he sometimes seemed out of control as an assistant.

"I'm an emotional guy, I'm active on the sidelines," said Hahn, who knelt in front of the bench, stamped his foot to get his players' attention and did a little victory dance when the final buzzer sounded. "I'm sure the players were saying, 'What's he going to be like?' I wanted to make sure they felt we were in control."

Said Smith, "The players talked about that all the way home. When we fell behind at the end, he called a timeout and all he said was, 'We're going to win the game.' "

Talk about following the game plan.

DON'T GO, JOE

The message from callers was clear: Maryland sophomore center Joe Smith should not go pro. Of the 461 responses to Sundial, 433 said Smith should return to Maryland next season rather than declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. Just 28 said Smith should take the money and run.

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