UM's Yow knows how to pick winner Hiring of Spoonhour at Saint Louis proved to be inspired move

December 01, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- At Saint Louis University, Debbie Yow wanted a men's basketball team that would make the NCAA tournament more often than not, and one that lived up to its billing as a revenue producer.

At Maryland, Yow wants a football team that can provide a sturdier financial base for the Terps' nonrevenue teams, "win seven, eight games consistently, and be a bowl contender on a (( regular basis."

Yow, the athletic director, fired Mark Duffner, the Terps' football coach, Monday after five seasons and a 20-35 record. There has been criticism, not so much of Duffner's dismissal, but of the way it was handled. If Yow has as much success hiring as she did at Saint Louis, however, the complaints will subside.

This coaching search probably will be the defining moment of Yow's tenure at Maryland, just as her hiring of Charlie Spoonhour is her legacy at Saint Louis.

Maryland fans like Yow's talk of bowl games and at least fighting for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but at Saint Louis, there were doubters when she said the Billikens didn't have to settle for the National Invitation Tournament.

Yow came to Maryland in 1994, and two years later has fired Duffner. She was hired by Saint Louis in 1990, and two years later dumped basketball coach Rich Grawer. In three of the previous five years, he had gotten the Billikens to the NIT, but a 5-23 record in 1991-92 opened the door for a change.

Under the charismatic Spoonhour, known for his gray hair and black turtlenecks, Saint Louis reached the NCAA tournament in 1994 for the first time in 37 years. The Billikens returned to the NCAAs in 1995, the same season they moved into the 20,000-seat Kiel Center in downtown St. Louis.

A once-sleepy program has ranked seventh in the nation in home attendance in each of the past two seasons.

"She dragged this place to a new level, with people kicking and screaming," said a member of the Saint Louis search committee that hired Spoonhour.

Whom did Yow consult before hiring Spoonhour? Coaches such as Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Bobby Cremins and Ed Fogler, who were asked to recommend five names each. Administrators such as C. M. Newton of Kentucky and Bill Carr, who was the athletic director at Florida when Yow switched from the Gators' women's basketball coach to a post in athletic administration.

Carr is now the athletic director at Houston, which is enjoying a football renaissance of its own. He wouldn't say if Yow asked his advice this time, but he did talk about the decision-making process in a season in which at least 20 major-college programs will change coaches.

"She'll follow a deliberate process, just like she did with Spoonhour," Carr said. "In today's environment, there's unprecedented volatility in the [football] profession. Every athletic director keeps a short list of people, not just for coaching positions, but for staff, too. Any good president has a list of ADs too, in the event there's a change."

Two days before Duffner's last game, news surfaced that Yow had talked to Notre Dame's Bob Davie about his interest in coming to Maryland. A source at the university said that she has had several conversations with Bobby Ross, the former Terps coach who took the San Diego Chargers to the 1995 Super Bowl.

Ross isn't interested in coming back to Maryland, but Ralph Friedgen, his offensive coordinator and a former Terps player and coach, is. Florida State assistant head coach Chuck Amato and Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky have said they would like interviews, and are expected in later this week.

Ohio State quarterback coach Walt Harris, who had a record-setting passing attack when he was head coach at Pacific, also is supposed to be on Yow's short list.

Among college head coaches, Colorado State's Sonny Lubick finally has shown an interest in Maryland, and a source familiar with the process said he will come in for an interview Tuesday or Wednesday. Maryland's interest in Louisville's Ron Cooper cooled during a 5-6 season, and the Terps backed off of East Carolina's Steve Logan when he didn't respond favorably to their feelers.

Yow has other coaches whose candidacy requires secrecy, and whose names haven't leaked out. Maryland has received approximately 20 resumes.

"It's been gratifying to see the interest," Yow said Friday. "There are more good coaches out there than there are [vacant] positions. I've learned that in the last three weeks, as people have initiated contact with us."

Duffner was dismissed in part because of a $5.7 million athletic deficit. It was none of his doing, but Yow counted on increased revenue from football to pay off the debt.

For the fiscal year that ends June 30, 1997, Duffner and his nine assistants will be paid a total of $756,000. A more experienced head coach and staff also will cost more, and where is Yow going to come up with the money for a payroll that could surpass $1 million?

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