N.C. State loss helps 'Pack coach's bag

November 12, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- When Mark Duffner is fired -- and yes, his future is that inevitable -- he can point to Oct. 5 as the day that ruined his career at Maryland.

Oct. 5 was the day the Terps lost at home to North Carolina State, 34-8. The day their fans and alumni lost hope in this likable, enthusiastic, overmatched coach.

Former athletic director Andy Geiger gave the newcomer from Division I-AA Holy Cross five years to revive the program, and it hasn't happened.

At least not to the extent Duffner needs to save his job.

His record at Maryland is 19-34 entering Thursday night's ESPN game against Georgia Tech at Byrd Stadium.

Even if the Terps win, they'll almost certainly lose to No. 3 Florida State in their finale, ensuring Duffner's fourth losing season in five years.

To think, they'd be 5-4 instead of 4-5 if they had beaten N.C. State, leaving athletic director Debbie Yow with a potentially difficult decision.

Instead, they got embarrassed by a team that has won only one other game in '96.

And then, with another chance last week to salvage their season, they fell at Clemson, 35-3.

What does Yow see?

A drop-off of $700,000 in ticket sales from last season.

An offense that has scored one touchdown or none in nine of the past 16 games.

A coach who remained too loyal to his assistants, many of whom were part of his Holy Cross staff.

Duffner fired defensive coordinator Larry Slade in 1993 after Maryland allowed 553 yards per game, a Division I-A record.

He could have done the same with offensive coordinator Dan Dorazio after last season. But Dorazio, unlike Slade, was a Holy Cross guy.

And now, it's too late.

Duffner can beat Georgia Tech, make a respectable showing against Florida State and then offer to fire Dorazio, and it probably won't change a thing.

Twenty-one seniors will play their last game at Byrd on Thursday night, including six starters on offense and six on defense.

Maryland is spinning its wheels.

Maryland is not going to get better.

Yow declined comment yesterday, but it wouldn't be a surprise if she has started to compile a list of possible replacements.

Nor would it be a surprise if she's focusing exclusively on Division I-A coaches.

Kansas' Glen Mason and East Carolina's Steve Logan figure to be candidates.

So might San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, a former Terps player who was an assistant coach under Bobby Ross.

It's safe to assume Yow won't take another chance on a Division I-AA hot shot, even if Duffner still believes it's possible to make the jump successfully.

"Look at Terry Bowden," he said yesterday. "Terry Bowden came from Samford and went to Auburn. They've had success.

"Every situation is different. You judge a coach on what he does with what he has. I know I've worked as hard as I could with what I've had."

No one disputes that. No one dislikes Duffner personally. But the question remains: Was he the right man for this job?

Duffner was 60-5-1 at Holy Cross, but he hadn't been part of a staff at a Bowl Alliance school since 1976, when he was a graduate assistant to Woody Hayes at Ohio State.

Geiger loved his record, loved his passion, loved the fact that Duffner would be accustomed to high academic standards coming from the Patriot League.

Indeed, it must be noted that Maryland ranked in the College Football Association Top 20 for graduation rates in 1994 and '95.

It also must be noted the program has remained largely free of off-the-field trouble, at least when compared with a Boston College or a Virginia Tech.

Still, no matter how much college administrators blather on about academics, the bottom line is winning.

Especially when you're an AD who inherited a $43 million stadium renovation and now must balance the budget.

What does Yow see?

Eleven walk-ons who have become starters under Duffner, including the current tight end and left tackle.

Only a handful of starts from the 12 junior-college transfers who received scholarships at Maryland the past three seasons.

A pattern of poor quarterback recruiting that left the Terps without an adequate replacement for the injured Brian Cummings this season.

Duffner, of course, sees it differently.

"We brought winning back to College Park last year," he said. "We've steadily improved.

"We've revived interest in Maryland football with last year's increase in attendance. We sold more season tickets this year than we ever have before.

"There have been many records set. We've played an exciting brand of football. We've shown improvement on defense."

He went on, talking about the graduation rate, the improved TTC relationships with area high school coaches. But the truth is, even Duffner thought Maryland would be better this season.

Last spring, Yow offered him a performance-based contract extension similar to the one that added a guaranteed year to his deal after last year's 6-5 finish.

Duffner turned it down, believing he'd be in an even stronger negotiating position if the Terps had a big year.

He had no idea Cummings and running back Buddy Rodgers would miss so much time with injuries. But that's still no excuse for what happened Oct. 5.

He lost the fans and alumni that day.

He lost the administration.

He lost the program.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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