Last title many moons ago, still nice to shoot for stars

December 05, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- He said it with a straight face. He said it with conviction. He said it early, and he said it often.

"Our standard for success will be the ACC championship."

Come again?

"We won't be satisfied until we win the ACC championship," Ron Vanderlinden said.

It's a new day, all right.

Bobby Bowden, here we come!

"I know it goes through Tallahassee," Vanderlinden said of the road to the ACC title. "I'm looking at maps right now, figuring out how we're going to get there."

It won't be easy with a program that keeps getting stuck in traffic.

But don't tell Vanderlinden.

"It's my hope that when we do win the ACC we're undefeated so we have a chance for the national championship," he said.

Maryland vs. Nebraska in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl?

First, let's see the Terps win their first ACC title since 1985.

According to the new party line in College Park, anything is possible if Northwestern can win the Big Ten and Colorado the national championship.

/# Vanderlinden, 40, was a part of

both those turnarounds. As unrealistic as his vision for Maryland might appear, at least he's thinking big. It seems the entire school is thinking big now.

Maryland introduced Vanderlinden yesterday in the grand ballroom of the student union, with hundreds of students, boosters and school officials cheering his every word.

It was a stunning contrast from Mark Duffner's first news conference at the Byrd Stadium tower on New Year's Eve 1991. School was not in session. The event was largely for the media.

That day, Duffner said he was running a marathon, not a sprint.

Vanderlinden wants to win both, thank you very much.

"Our drive to the ACC championship starts today," he said. "It's time for the Maryland football family to come together, roll up our sleeves, lock arms, believe in each other and make it happen."

"No horse can get anyone anywhere until it's harnessed. No steam does anything until confined. No life ever grows until it's focused, dedicated, disciplined. And no comment inspires until publicly announced.

"Well, I'm publicly announcing today that we're setting our sights on the ACC championship, and that's what I came here to do, to win the biggest prize of all."

Not since Lefty Driesell proclaimed that he would turn Maryland into the "UCLA of the East" has a Terps coach unveiled such grandiose plans.

"It was kind of fun to listen to, wasn't it?" athletic director Debbie Yow asked.

Yes, and it will be even more fun if Vanderlinden backs up what he says.

He's so serious about narrowing the gap to Florida State, he told his new players that the kind of recruit he wants is one who can help him beat the Seminoles.

Oh yes, recruiting.

Vanderlinden is, uh, rather confident.

"How can you not recruit here?" he asked the crowd. "I'm going to have to screw it up to not be successful."

He talked about "the need to control Maryland, Northern Virginia," as if the surrounding area was the line of scrimmage.

"My goal is to have each player within a two-hour drive on campus seven times," Vanderlinden said.

"Is that legal?" a woman in the audience whispered.

Yes -- a recruit can make one official visit, and as many unofficial visits as he chooses. Seven, of course, would be more than some college players visit their regular classes.

Duffner wasn't quite so brash, but he was just as enthusiastic. Vanderlinden brings a much stronger I-A background. But he also has no experience as a head coach.

With that in mind, maybe he should watch it with Florida State.

Remember that infamous practice from Duffner's first season, when he brought in an Indian on horseback and broke his spear in mockery of a Florida State pre-game tradition?

The TV stations in Tallahassee showed a tape of the incident, and Florida State responded by running up the score on #F Maryland, 69-21.

"That's all they talked about during the coin toss," former linebacker Mike Jarmolowich grumbled.

Vanderlinden probably is too smart to pull such a stunt. When asked specifically when Maryland would win the ACC, he wisely ducked the question.

"Who would have guessed we would win the Big Ten in four years at Northwestern?" he asked. "It's hard to put a timetable on that. If I were to tell you something like that, you would have every right to say this guy is clueless."

"I don't think any of us have a crystal ball and can see into the future. I hope it happens next year. I know that isn't always the case. I haven't seen us practice. I know so little about the personnel, it's difficult to make an assessment."

So, why make such bold proclamations?

"I think if you're afraid to stand up and say who you are, what you believe in, what your goals are, then what's the point?" Vanderlinden said. "I didn't come here to say, 'I'm OK, you're OK.' I came here maybe to upset the apple cart.

"If I'm not successful, maybe I won't be here in five years, but that's my goal. I want everyone to know, clearly, that's where we're headed."

Ah, what the heck -- if you can't talk the talk on Day One, you never will.

Should Bobby Bowden be nervous?

"I hope so. I think so," Yow said. "In due time."

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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