Signs of discontent at stadium Fans told to remove anti-Duffner banner or leave, pair says

November 15, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The debate about whether the University of Maryland should fire football coach Mark Duffner has raised a free speech issue as well.

Fans holding anti-Duffner signs at Byrd Stadium during last night's game against Georgia Tech were asked to take them down or leave the stadium, and positive signs like "Go Terps" were left alone.

Duffner, whose contract is guaranteed through next season, has coached the Terrapins since 1992 and has a 20-34 record at the school. That mark includes 5-5 this season, a year when many thought the team could do better. That has many fans calling for an end to Duffner's tenure -- or writing signs urging the school to do so.

Four-year season-ticket holders Michael Tucker and Brett Denig are among the pioneers of the movement. They first painted "Enough Of The Duff" on a bedsheet after Maryland's 13-0 loss at West Virginia on Sept. 26, and they've been bringing it to home games since.

Tucker and Denig said they were politely asked to take down the sign during games in November, and were never threatened with being kicked out of the stadium. Last night the sign-holders said they were ordered to take down their sign or they would have to leave the stadium.

An hour before last night's game, Tucker and Denig were the only two people huddled in section 209 of the club level, braving frigid temperatures with their sign. Minutes later they were approached by state troopers and issued the ultimatum.

"They said our sign couldn't be up because it's negative," Tucker said. "They said it was offensive. My ticket says no umbrellas, but it doesn't say anything about signs. It really makes me mad, the more I think about it."

Athletic director Debbie Yow said the school's stance is based ++ on "common sense" and it is routine for universities to ban such signs from athletic events.

"We will not allow signs intended to embarrass people at our games," Yow said. "It's just the right thing to do. It's a good policy.

"We won't allow signs that are meant to embarrass any person, not just those directed at Mark Duffner. If the signs are positive, then they can stay."

Tucker and Denig were hardly alone in their sentiments during the game, which was televised nationally on ESPN. In the first quarter, a sign proclaiming "Emergency: Struggling Program Needs A Coach" was taken down by security.

Another sign, this one with "Enough Stupidity Please Negate the Duff" scrawled on it, was also flashed by fans periodically, as was a "Fire Duffner" sign.

However, not everyone in attendance last night shared those views. Dave Bartynski said Duffner should be given more time to turn the program around.

"I think this team is in transition still, and Duffner has been OK," Bartynski said. "Give him a little while longer."

Bill Wentworth said Duffner's success off the field should not be overlooked.

"Graduation rates have increased, and that's very important," Wentworth said. "He's done a lot of positive things with state high school football coaches and he is the first coach to really make them feel like part of the program. Some things just haven't worked out for him."

Then there's Tucker.

"Duffner needs to go," Tucker said, adorned in his black Maryland hat and matching black Terps coat. "It's the same stuff every year. Everybody we've spoken with thinks the sign is great and they agree with it.

"Even if Duffner wins another game, his war is lost. We're just using our First Amendment rights to say that."

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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