Uzelac gets UM offense in line Former Navy head coach giving assist to Terps

September 19, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The timing has been perfect for the coaching return of Elliot Uzelac to the Baltimore-Washington area.

The former Navy head coach has a young and eager offensive line at Maryland to work with.

His granddaughter, Jordan, lives in Annapolis, and his wife, Wendy, still loves all the area's cultural offerings.

If Uzelac, 57, has his way, this will be the last move in a career

that has been spiced with some controversy during a one-year stay at Ohio State in 1991 and already spans 31 years and 13 stops.

"We really love this area and want to stay," said Uzelac, who is offensive centers and guards coach. "That's why I want to win here. I sincerely believe we're going to get it done but I can't give you a timetable."

Uzelac has been something of a hired gun for college offensive lines with the exception of head-coaching stints at Navy and Western Michigan.

Have resume will travel has been Uzelac's track record since current West Virginia coach Don Nehlen named him offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at Bowling Green in 1968.

Nehlen and Uzelac have remained close friends since those days at Bowling Green when Uzelac was earning just $1,600 as an assistant.

Tonight they will be on opposite sides of the field when Maryland (1-1) meets No. 19 West Virginia (0-1) in Morgantown, W. Va., at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

"Don Nehlen is the best thing that ever happened to West Virginia football," said Uzelac. "We talk often on the phone, and I'm sure I'll be calling him before our game."

Maryland is the ninth school to bring in Uzelac to coach linemen and he even had a one-year stay as a volunteer assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns in 1992.

Said Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden: "Four of the greatest college football coaches ever and men I deeply respect -- Bo Schembechler, Bill McCartney, Bill Mallory and Bill Curry -- recommended Elliot as the finest offensive line coach they had ever worked with. And everything he's done here has lived up to those expectations."

Hardly a day passes without Vanderlinden praising Uzelac for installing a new blocking scheme or recommending a key personnel move in an attempt to patch up a thin offensive line.

It took Uzelac just two weeks in fall practice to discover that redshirt freshman Melvin Fowler, a backup nose tackle, could help the team more as a starting center than playing behind Delbert Cowsette. Fowler had not played center since junior high, but Uzelac has performed near-miracles with the 6-foot-3, 267-pounder.

Just two weeks after being moved to center, Fowler played a major role in an impressive Maryland rushing performance against a Virginia team,then ranked 12th, that had allowed just 18 yards rushing in a 19-0 shutout of Auburn.

Starting right guard Jamie Wu also has made major strides this season, and Vanderlinden says he can now "block a moving target. He couldn't do that last year."

The high praise eases some of the pain from an unfounded Ohio State report and the circumstances surrounding his being let go by Navy in 1989 after an 8-25 record in three years.

At Ohio State, Uzelac made national news when he allegedly told a player to skip class for a practice session. The allegations ,, were never proven, and Sports Illustrated printed a retraction.

"They ran a little retraction four months later on the last page and no one read it," said Uzelac. "It was untrue. The coach [John Cooper], athletic director and president of the university knew nothing happened and defended me privately but wouldn't say anything publicly. I said the heck with that."

On his departure from Navy, Uzelac said, "We could have won if they had given us more time. We started getting good athletes but had to go through the prep school."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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