Answers are few as losses mount College football: In decline for more than a decade, Maryland has learned that winning is easier said than done.

October 29, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's football program has been in sharp decline since 1986, when coach Bobby Ross left for Georgia Tech.

The reasons for the fall to the bottom echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference have been well-documented, but no one has been able to provide enough answers to halt the losing.

But to a former member of Maryland's coaching staff during happier seasons, winning seems so easy.

"I could come out of retirement and win at Maryland," said Jerry Eisaman, who had a memorable 10-year run as quarterbacks coach -- he recruited future pro quarterbacks Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh -- for Jerry Claiborne and returned to work for Joe Krivak in his final two years as head coach. "If you can't win at Maryland, you can't win anywhere. I don't mean win like Penn State. I just mean win. It's too close to too many good recruiting areas for a coach not to be successful. You have to get out and sell the Baltimore-Washington area."

It all sounded so simple.

But Krivak couldn't do it on a consistent basis, and neither could Mark Duffner.

Ron Vanderlinden is in the middle of his second season and is still paddling upstream.

Krivak was 20-34 over five years, and Duffner 20-35 over five seasons.

Vanderlinden will take a 4-14 record into Saturday's noon game with No. 23 Georgia Tech at Ravens stadium.

"Just give me a little more time," said Vanderlinden, who is 2-5 this season. "Don't blame me for the last 12 years. I've only been here two. This is going to be the most important off-season in the history of Maryland football since Jerry Claiborne came here in 1972.

"This off-season is going to be critical to our future success because we're right on the brink of turning this thing around. We're going to have a very, very aggressive off-season, and we're going to do a lot mentally to prepare our guys to win next year. I know we're making progress and we're doing it the right way."

Vanderlinden likely doesn't have much time, because the Maryland faithful are tired of 12 years of rebuilding, excuses and wait-until-next-years.

They want to return quickly to the glory that was Maryland football under Claiborne and Ross.

Claiborne rescued Maryland from seven straight losing seasons and built an ACC powerhouse that captured three straight league championships in the mid-1970s. He compiled a 77-37-3 record from 1972 to 1981 and went to seven bowls in 10 years.

Maryland had not been to a bowl in 18 years when Claiborne took the team to the Peach Bowl in 1973.

Ross had a 39-19-1 run from 1982 to 1986 that included four bowl trips and a preseason No. 1 ranking by The Sporting News in 1985.

However, the playing field at Maryland has changed since those days, beginning with the reduction in individual admissions (also known as exemptions) that fall beneath normal admission guidelines allowed for the entire athletic program and the football team.

After the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias in 1986, the athletic department was cut back to a total of 21 individual admissions for all sports for one year.

The football team routinely receives 10 to 15 of those exemptions.

Duffner had 15 in both 1993 and 1994, and Vanderlinden is operating on 10 to 12 individual admissions a year, said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.

Yow said one of the major reasons she hired Vanderlinden is his willingness to operate under the tougher academic guidelines.

"Our standards are not prohibitive to us having a winning football program," said Yow. "People are sitting around thinking Maryland's standards are so high they can't be successful, but the facts don't support it."

Yow then produced an extensive NCAA document that detailed from 1993 to 1997 the entering grade-point averages and standardized test scores for incoming freshman football players at 109 Division I-A schools.

The document showed that incoming freshman football players at Maryland and Virginia were not separated by much academically from 1993 to 1997.

The average SAT scores at Maryland were 935 compared with 902 at Virginia, and the average GPA at Maryland was 2.59 to 2.79 at Virginia.

"We're both pretty much in the same ballpark," said Yow. "Even though a lot of people think Virginia has a big competitive edge over us, it's just not true."

Virginia is perceived to have a major edge in admitting football players because the school now says it individually admits every LTC student who is on campus, thereby eliminating guidelines for test scores and GPA for all students.

There are also some significant NCAA and ACC roadblocks to the kind of instant success that Claiborne achieved.

The big change is NCAA scholarship limitations, which are down to 85 from an original high of 120 when Claiborne arrived at Maryland.

The 85 limit makes it much harder for a Division I-A school to dig out of a hole once it has slipped as badly as Maryland has.

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