Candidates beware job isn't easy

November 26, 1996|By John Eisenberg

COLLEGE PARK -- Joe Krivak couldn't win at Maryland.

Mark Duffner couldn't win at Maryland.

Can any football coach win at Maryland?

It's getting harder every day.

Athletic director Debbie Yow feels otherwise, so she fired Duffner yesterday.

"We've consistently under-achieved," Yow said.

That's a strong indictment, but Duffner's replacement will inherit a program with no modern tradition and limited potential in an area saturated with pro teams and fans.

Good luck.

That's not to say it's an impossible mission; if Northwestern, Navy and Virginia can find coaches to turn their losing programs into winners, anyone can.

Duffner obviously wasn't the guy. In the final reckoning, he just wasn't experienced enough to jump from Holy Cross to the ACC.

Neither his coaching nor his recruiting was exceptional at Maryland.

As a coach, he went from having a great offense and terrible defense in 1992 to having a great defense and terrible offense in 1996. As Moe said to Larry on the Three Stooges, "Pick something!"

As a recruiter, he brought in several classes that were given high marks by the geeks who track such things. But where was that talent?

Duffner refused to resign yesterday, implying that he felt he was wronged. He wasn't. Five years was more than a fair shot, particularly for a coach who went 2-13 against North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson in the ACC's second tier below Florida State.

Yow had every right to dump him and try someone else.

But that someone else had better sign a long-term contract.

Maryland is no picnic for a coach after a decade of losing football.

Teams fall off the big-time map after five years out of the bowl/TV spotlight, and the Terps' winning tradition ended with Bobby Ross' departure 10 years ago, when today's recruits were barely out of kindergarten.

Maryland has a football tradition, but it isn't a relevant one.

Today's recruits think Jerry Claiborne and Jack Scarbath walked the Earth during the Paleozoic Era.

Nor does it help recruiting to know going in that a conference title simply is unattainable. The rest of the ACC is at least five lengths behind Florida State, and it's tough to sell kids on a best-case scenario of "We're No. 2!"

The fact that the Baltimore-Washington area is overflowing with pro teams and fans isn't really an excuse -- Georgia Tech has succeeded in Atlanta -- but combine it with Maryland's recent losses and you have a program that has become little more than a footnote locally.

Players like to be in headlines, not footnotes.

Of course, Yow disagreed strongly yesterday with the notion that Maryland had become a tough place to win for all these reasons.

"I think it's one of the best situations in the country," she said.

She made some valid points. Maryland has spent millions to upgrade its stadium and football center, which are first-rate. The alums are generous with their support.

"I think we have everything you need to be successful," Yow said.

Is Maryland a tough place to win after a decade of losing? Duffner sidestepped the question yesterday, as he is prone to do.

"We've shown progress in the last two years," he said.

Well, going from 6-5 last year to 5-6 this year isn't exactly progress, especially with a 34-8 home loss to North Carolina State thrown in.

Yow said the decision to fire Duffner was "clear," adding that it "simply was not acceptable" to hover around .500 in your best years. Hard to argue.

Not to diss the Duff entirely. He raised the graduation rate, improved recruiting and brought youthful energy to the program.

"I feel the program is in better shape than when I arrived," he said.

Florida State's Bobby Bowden seconded the opinion after beating the Terps on Saturday. "They're a lot better now than the first year we played them," Bowden said.

But they're still not good enough to contend for a bowl, not even the immortal Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl and Fish Fry, or whatever they're calling it now.

Yow wants the Weed-Eater, minimum. She wants to whack.

"We think we can consistently win seven or eight games and go to a bowl," she said.

She is supposed to think that, say that and believe that. And she has every right to aim for that, particularly after investing millions in the program.

But the reality is that Maryland is a tough sell for top recruits these days, a tough place to win. Any coach is going to be walking uphill.

Krivak couldn't handle it.

Nor could Duffner.

The next coach had better be a good one.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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