Yow ushers out Duffner, 'excuses' Maryland AD says 'gut' told her to remove football coach year ago

Refusing to resign, he's fired

'There's always reason given' during 20-35 run

November 26, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Debbie Yow fired Mark Duffner as Maryland's football coach yesterday, and said she should have done so a year ago.

"It's fully time for a change in the coaching staff," said Yow, the Maryland athletic director. "In fact, I waited a year longer than my gut told me I should to make the change."

Two days after the completion of a disappointing 5-6 season that put Duffner's five-year record at 20-35, he turned down the offer of a forced resignation and was dismissed. Duffner will be paid his $132,000 salary and other benefits through 1997-98, but his nine assistant coaches, who also were dismissed, will be paid only through June 1997, the end of the school's fiscal year.

"I've never been a quitter in my life," Duffner said. "I'm not going to start now."

Flanked by his assistant coaches and a handful of other support personnel, Duffner stood at the same podium in Byrd Stadium's Tyser Tower where he has held his weekly media briefings and discussed the difficulty of turning around a program that has won no more than six games since 1985.

"We've done the very best we could with what we have," said Duffner, 43. "We worked as hard as we possibly can, and we walk out of here proud, knowing that's what we've done."

Yow, however, put little stock in what she called excuses for Duffner being the first Maryland coach in more than three decades to last as long as five years and not get the Terps to a bowl game.

"We've consistently under-achieved, and there's always a reason given," Yow said. "It's injuries one time, it's a controversy with the quarterbacks another time. Looking at that, to be candid, I see excuses. I want a staff that doesn't make excuses, one that maximizes our resources."

Maryland had a 4-0 record and a No. 17 ranking in September 1995, before a 2-5 finish that revolved around a quarterback dispute between Brian Cummings and Scott Milanovich. Cummings got the Terps to a 2-0 start this year, but he suffered a shoulder separation in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Virginia, the start of a four-game losing streak.

Cummings did not play in the third game of that streak, a 34-8 loss to N.C. State, which beat no one else in its first seven games. If Yow considered firing Duffner after a 6-5 record in 1995, in her mind that loss to the Wolfpack sealed his fate.

"If I could pinpoint the time when I really said to myself, 'I'm going to have to deal with this,' it was after the N.C. State game," Yow said.

That was Oct. 5.

An assistant coach who asked not to be named said that Duffner didn't fully realize how much trouble he was in until reports surfaced last Thursday that a representative of Maryland had talked to Notre Dame assistant Bob Davie.

"Over the past two weeks I have responded to several coaches who inquired about the program," Yow said. "As a professional courtesy I have corresponded with them; I have contacted them. I told Coach Duffner three weeks ago I would do that. I didn't want to do that behind his back. I felt he needed to know."

Yesterday morning, Yow asked Duffner to resign. Ninety minutes later, he declined the offer, and she was forced to fire him.

"I thought he might have an interest in resigning," Yow said. "I thought that would be in his best interest. I think that would have helped. I tend to think he took it personally."

Yow met with available players at Cole Field House at 2 p.m., and the players then walked down the hill to the football house for a meeting with Duffner.

"It's like a funeral down there," said Aaron Henne, an offensive lineman who just completed his eligibility. "These are people you see five or six hours a day. They've been our friends as well as our coaches."

John Feugill, another offensive lineman who has two years of eligibility remaining, was disappointed, but understood Yow's rationale.

"I didn't want Coach Duffner to leave at all," Feugill said. "I came under Coach Duffner, I wanted to graduate under Coach Duffner. It was real unfortunate. After talking to Debbie Yow, I don't have any anger toward her. She gave us her reasons. I'm very disappointed for the coaches, but I'm not disappointed in her."

Duffner came to Maryland in December 1991, after five whirlwind years at Holy Cross, where he had a 60-5-1 record. The great majority of the wins came over nonscholarship programs from the Patriot and Ivy leagues.

"In fairness to him, I don't know how many folks could go from Holy Cross to the Atlantic Coast Conference and be successful," Yow said.

Duffner inherited a 2-9 team, and won a total of five games in his first two seasons with the Terps.

"We had better players at Holy Cross in 1991 than we did when we got here," running backs coach Dave Ungerer said. "We came in late, and took a lot of kids who weren't being offered [scholarships] by anyone else. It was a hard way for the program to start."

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