Terps' Duffner has plenty riding on '96 May need solid season to land new contract

August 30, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The 6-foot-tall red letters are one of the finishing touches to the renovation and expansion of Byrd Stadium. In the last row of the year-old upper deck, they proclaim it "HOME OF THE MARYLAND TERRAPINS."

How long will it be the home of Mark Duffner?

The Terps open their fifth season under Duffner tomorrow (7 p.m.) at Byrd Stadium against Northern Illinois. There are two years left on his contract, and Duffner said that reporters have his situation all wrong.

Duffner's contract, guaranteed through 1997, figures to be altered one way or another after this season. Recruiting would be impossible with only one year left on it. If the Terps fall flat on their faces this season, athletic director Debbie Yow might buy out the final year, but Duffner said that possibility is the furthest thing from his mind.

"My job security is stronger now than it's ever been," Duffner said. "I feel confident in the support I've got from the president and athletic director."

In Duffner's plan, Maryland will play in its first bowl since 1990, and then he'll negotiate from strength, even if he needed all five years on his original contract to get the Terps back in the postseason.

After the 1994 season, he and Yow agreed on a non-guaranteed extension that would add another year, through 1997. He met the conditions last season, but didn't seek another such performance-based extension through 1998.

"Mark could have locked into a longer extension with less money," Yow said. "He opted to wait that out. I appreciate that. If he has a very good year, let's say we go 7-4 and go to a bowl game, he's probably going to ask me for a lot of money."

Duffner told visiting Atlantic Coast Conference media last week that he was too preoccupied with recruiting to pursue the matter further last winter. "Not to be dumb or anything," he said, "but I didn't have the time."

Yesterday, he offered a different version.

"I'm not trying to look like a saint, or say that I'm consumed with the day-to-day stuff," Duffner said. "The athletic director and I have talked about a contract extension, but that's between me and her. We agree that she wants continuity in the program. Maybe I should be concerned, but based on the support I'm getting, I'm not. Look at the record. All we've done is improve."

Duffner's 15-29 record gives him the worst winning percentage among Maryland coaches who lasted four seasons, but he asks to be judged on where he started. The program was in decline when Bobby Ross left in 1986, and it had just one winning season in the six years before Duffner arrived.

Maryland dipped to 2-9 in 1993, Duffner's second season, when he used 12 true freshmen. It since has gone 4-7 and 6-5. But Yow said that the won-loss record isn't the only factor she discusses with Duffner.

"We're selling more season tickets," Yow said. "In two of the last three years, we've been honored [by the College Football Association] for our graduation rate. If we say that graduation of student-athletes matters, it's another reason to be flexible. If he's doing a great job in other matters, that's another reason I'd be as flexible as possible in giving him as much time as possible."

Yow heard from angry fans last October and November, when the promise of a 4-0 start dissolved in a 2-5 finish. The slump triggered changes in the Terps' offense, but there were also questions about the attitude after the Terps folded in losses to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville.

"That makes you sick," Duffner said. "We can't have subpar performances like that. We got put on hold, but actually, we put ourselves on hold. You've got 11 chances, and if you don't fight your butt off every time, you're in trouble."

Duffner will deal with an athletic director whose main charge was getting Maryland out of a $7 million budget deficit. The debt grew that large, in part, because Maryland was paying off the contracts of several coaches who were fired, like Lefty Driesell, Bob Wade and Joe Krivak, the man Duffner succeeded.

Yow has already negotiated one long-term contract: basketball coach Gary Williams signed a seven-year deal in November 1994.

Duffner's reputation has been tarnished by the struggles of the last few seasons, but he's still only 43, and not that far removed from the phenom status he enjoyed at Holy Cross, where his record was 60-5-1 in six years. A breakthrough season for Maryland could make him a hot property elsewhere, although he doesn't sound like a man looking to make a move.

"We got real spoiled by winning at Holy Cross," Duffner said. "It's been a slow and steady process here, not as quick as I would have liked it. Our goal is a winning season and to be chosen for a bowl. We want to continue to improve, but I don't see it as a make or break year.

"I'm going to be here longer than you think."

Duffner at UM

Season .. Overall .. ACC

1992 ...... 3-8 .... 2-6

1993 ...... 2-9 .... 2-6

1994 ...... 4-7 .... 2-6

1995 ...... 6-5 .... 4-4

) Totals ... 15-29 .. 10-22

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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