Maryland finally hits the jackpot

December 04, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

This isn't a Division I-AA gamble like Mark Duffner. This isn't a promotion from within like Joe Krivak.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a big-time hire, and it will be an upset if Ron Vanderlinden isn't Maryland's best football coach since Bobby Ross.

Vanderlinden, 40, was the defensive coordinator at Northwestern, a Big Ten team that has gone 19-4 the past two seasons.

Before that, he was the recruiting coordinator at Colorado, a Big Eight school that won the national championship.

"He is one of the great character people in the country and one of the brightest coaches in the game," said one of his former opponents, Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.

"He is a first-class person and a first-class coach. Maryland's got a lot to look forward to."

It starts today with a news conference at the student union, continues with renewed interest in the program and peaks with

Go ahead and dream.

It's Maryland's lucky day.

Athletic director Debbie Yow acted boldly and forcefully, first with the firing of Duffner, and now with the hiring of a coach who drew interest from at least four other schools.

Actually, luck had nothing to do with it, not when it took Yow only eight days to get from Point A to Point B.

How swiftly did she move?

By this time in 1991, former AD Andy Geiger hadn't even fired Krivak, much less hired Duffner.

The delay put Duffner in an immediate recruiting hole. Vander- linden gets to start nearly a month earlier. What's more, he appears far better suited for the job.

No one knows if Vanderlinden will make the successful transition to head coach, but he clearly stands a better chance than say, a hotshot from Holy Cross.

This isn't a guy who went from battling Lehigh and Colgate in the Patriot League to battling Virginia and Florida State in the ACC.

This is a guy who helped transform Northwestern into a national power, devising game plans to beat Notre Dame and Penn State.

Vanderlinden broke down five years of Notre Dame game films to determine Lou Holtz's offensive tendencies last season.

The result? A shocking 17-15 victory by Northwestern -- in South Bend, no less.

Vanderlinden's defense allowed the fewest points in the country last season, and ranked third in turnover margin.

He's so well-prepared, Maryland might actually give Florida State a game after a nine-day layoff, instead of getting rocked, 48-10.

But it's not just Vanderlinden who will help the Terps.

You hire a coach, you hire his cronies. With Duffner, that meant the Holy Cross braintrust. With Vanderlinden, it will mean so much more.

His potential defensive coordinator, Lou Tepper, is the guy who recruited Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy at Illinois, and Bruce Smith at Virginia Tech.

Never mind that Tepper just got fired as the head man at Illinois -- he'd be back in a job where he belongs, with a coach he first worked with under Bill McCartney at Colorado.

With two such strong defensive minds, the hiring of a capable offensive coordinator would become that much more critical.

Just no run-and-shoot wizards, OK, Ron?

Yow won't let it happen. Yow wants seven or eight victories per season. Yow wants the Terps to return to bowl contention.

Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky can moan all he wants about how the Maryland AD treated him. Yow wanted Vanderlinden, and she got him. End of story.

Indeed, Yow was not about to waste time with Tulane, Oregon State, SMU and Minnesota interested in Vanderlinden.

She is tough. She is aggressive. And she is sending a message.

At this point, men's basketball coach Gary Williams has no reason to fear getting the Duffner treatment, but you can bet Yow has caught his attention.

When Duffner wouldn't accept a forced resignation, Yow fired him, then ripped him. No more excuses, she said that day. No more thinking small.

Vanderlinden is cut from the same ambitious cloth. If he doesn't last the five years on his contract, it will be because he left for a more attractive job.

He turned down Northern Illinois last season, believing he could do better. He showed interest in the Purdue job. He would have been the leading candidate to replace Gary Barnett at Northwestern.

But he jumped at Maryland.

The timing is perfect, for Northwestern could lose its best two defensive players to the NFL -- senior linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and junior cornerback Hudhaifa Ismaeli.

The defense is bound to regress next season. Vanderlinden wasn't a lock for the head job even if Barnett departed. How much hotter was he going to get?

Northwestern has parallels to Maryland -- it's near an urban center where pro sports are dominant. Its strong academic reputation also worked in Vanderlinden's favor.

"This will not be a man who whines about high academic standards," Yow said.

No, this is a man who can open new recruiting pipelines, return Maryland to prominence and make people care about the program again.

If Vanderlinden can't do it, then maybe it can't be done.

"He has been an integral part of two coaching staffs that took two doormat programs to the top in major conferences, in one case to No. 1 [Colorado], in the other to the Rose Bowl [Northwestern]," Yow said.

He's not a I-AA gamble.

He's not a promotion from within.

He's a big-time hire.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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