Passion for work

September 19, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

When football coach Mark Duffner arrived at Maryland in 1992, boosters gave him a gaudy golf bag and some top-of-the-line clubs. But when they're cleaned these days, it's for dust, not divots. In July, Duffner took two weeksvenings were spent monitoring the gambling investigation that ultimately resulted in the suspension of quarterback Scott Milanovich for four games.

A few years ago, the NCAA restricted the number of hours an athlete can practice each week, but there are no limits on how long a coach can work. In Duffner's case, turning around Maryland football is a job that runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So far this year, that work is paying off: The Terps are 3-0 and ranked 24th in the nation.

Duffner's boss, athletic director Debbie Yow, came to Maryland a year ago proclaiming that she wanted employees "who are wired for 220." But is there any concern that Duffner's fuses NTC might burn out? Does his wife worry about her husband's schedule?

"Most people would collapse under this kind of schedule," Kathy Duffner said. "It's a tough business, and the pressure coaches put on themselves, well, you have to see it to believe it. But as far as Mark burning out? Neither one of us have ever really talked about it."

There just isn't the time, not when Duffner is trying to get wins and recognition for the Terps. Maryland is nationally ranked for the first time in nine years, and the questions about his future have subsided, but don't think Duffner is going to slow down now.

"Even when we were 11-0 at Holy Cross, we never got content," said Duffner, who was 9-24 in his first three seasons at Maryland. "We're always looking for ways to improve things. You only get players for 2 1/2 hours a day, and making the most of that time is the focus of everything we do."

When Betty Francis, Duffner's secretary, arrives at the Maryland football complex at 6:30 a.m., chances are he's already conducting the first meeting of the day with his assistant coaches. Practice itself is the only break from the film sessions, brainstorming and recruiting. Thursday is the only night of the

week Duffner is home before Letterman and Leno

come on, but even then, it's for business reasons. Dinner consists of carry-out and "one of my wife's legendary desserts," and the guests are a dozen offensive linemen or linebackers.

With Duffner, there's no day off, no off-season, no coasting.

At his weekly press briefing today, he'll take about 38 seconds to inhale a plate of food. An interview with Duffner on his way to practice becomes a parody of an old Monty Python bit in which intrepid reporter Eric Idle ends up sprinting to keep up with a moving camera.

Coach, what has Jermaine Lewis meant to the program?

"A lot," Duffner will say.

Can you elaborate?

"He's meant a whole lot."

There is considerably more attention to detail inside the football complex, where Duffner has surrounded himself with the staff that helped him compile a 60-5-1 record in six whirlwind seasons at Holy Cross. Seven of the nine assistants worked for Duffner there, and offensive coordinator Dan Dorazio is famed for his 18-hour days.

"Everyone on the staff believes that everything we do is related to how hard we work," said Rob Spence, the quarterbacks coach. "We take pride in that. It's always been that way with Mark."

Some former assistant coaches argue that, at some point, there is overkill, that the long hours become counterproductive.

"We don't confuse activity with results," Spence said. "Duffner has always said, 'Leave no stone unturned.' The most incriminating thing you can say about a coach is that his team is not prepared. We're always looking for new ways to maximize our talent. He tells us you're measured by what you do with what you have."

Which wasn't much when Duffner agreed to come to Maryland in late December 1991, going from the top of Division I-AA to nearly the bottom of I-A.

Duffner's second Terps team had eight freshmen get starts on defense. There weren't enough defensive backs to play a nickel coverage. Beaten down by injuries and defections, the Terps traveled to N.C. State in October 1993 with little more than 50 scholarship players. Maryland is surely the only ranked team in ,, the nation starting five players who arrived as walk-ons.

At Holy Cross, Duffner tinkered from strength. At Maryland, he has had to survive.

Lose an All-American junior-college kicker to a bogus transcript? Hold a mass tryout for the soccer team.

The run-and-shoot keeps firing blanks inside an opponent's 20? Incorporate a short-yardage offense, "Black Thunder."

Don't have enough defensive backs for a nickel coverage? Move three receivers to defense.

Need a backup to Brian Cummings while Milanovich is out? Take a cornerback who hasn't played in two years, teach him the rudiments of the offense and win with Orlando Strozier playing quarterback the last three quarters at Tulane.

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