Wildcats to Terps: Prepare to win Northwestern players laud coach as one who expects a lot and gets it

December 04, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald knew there were plenty of head coaching jobs open around the country and he figured that the Wildcats' assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Ron Vanderlinden, wasn't long for the place.

"I knew he was going to test the waters," Fitzgerald said after meeting here yesterday with Vanderlinden shortly before the 40-year-old coach left for Maryland. "This is a can't-miss opportunity for him going to a place like Maryland."

Asked what the Maryland players should expect, Fitzgerald said: "He's going to ask a lot of them, and he's going to demand a lot out of his assistant coaches as well. But he gets the most out of you. He knows how to push the right buttons. He's a guy who likes challenges."

Added senior linebacker Tim Scharf: "If I could tell the [Terps] one thing, it would be 'Get ready to work.' "

Actually, Scharf had another warning: "Get ready to win," he said.

Vanderlinden will be introduced this afternoon at a news conference in College Park as the Terrapins' new coach. Fitzgerald thought there was a time when a similar news conference might happen at Northwestern.

But Gary Barnett remained with the Wildcats, first after turning down UCLA last season and again after rejecting an offer to talk with Notre Dame when Lou Holtz resigned last month.

"He's really going to be missed," Fitzgerald said. "I just wish I could play for him one more time [in the Citrus Bowl], but I realize he has to do what's best for himself and for Maryland."

Barnett was on the road recruiting, but in a statement released through the school's sports information department he wished his longtime aide the best.

"I am very happy and excited for Ron," Barnett said. "He certainly earned it. He did a good job for us and will do a tremendous job in rebuilding Maryland. I just couldn't be happier for him."

Said offensive coordinator Greg Meyer: "He's a very solid coach. It was just a matter of time before he got a head coaching job. He was only going to go if the fit was right, and obviously it was with Maryland."

Fitzgerald attributes much of his individual success -- he won a number of national linebacker of the year awards last season -- and Northwestern's rags-to-riches saga last year and second straight Big Ten title this year to Vanderlinden's defense.

The defense -- called a "reduction defense" -- plays a nose guard at an angle toward the tight end's side over the center, and

funnels much of the action toward the linebackers. It resulted in Northwestern leading the nation in scoring defense in 1995 and being third in turnover margin.

"For the last four years he's been a great teacher," said Fitzgerald. "It took us a couple of years to figure out where everything fit in his scheme, but once we did it really worked."

It also helped Vanderlinden emerge as a potential Division I head coach. That nearly happened last year when Vanderlinden was considering the head coaching job at Northern Illinois, which interestingly was Maryland's first opponent this season.

Now it will be Vanderlinden preparing the underachieving Terrapins for life after Mark Duffner.

Scharf said that Vanderlinden expects his players to be ready not only physically, but also mentally.

"He expects a lot of his players mentally," said Scharf. "He expects his players to know the defense in two days. He's big on expectations. He doesn't allow his players to accept anything less than their potential."

Vanderlinden's recruiting prowess is legendary around here. As Scharf looked out on a typical Chicago day in early December -- temperature hovering around 30, with wet snow falling -- he smiled.

"His recruiting base was California and if he could get them to come here, he'll definitely get them to Maryland," said Scharf.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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