MIAMI - Shortly after Debbie Yow settled in as the University of Maryland's athletic director in 1994, rumors began to circulate that she would log a few years in College Park, then leave for a better job.
Instead, Yow has turned the stewardship of Maryland sports into one of those better jobs.
Yow spent 18 years working at five colleges across the Midwest and South before arriving at Maryland, where most Terrapins teams were struggling to succeed in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Now, she ranks third among the ACC's nine athletic directors in seniority, and Maryland is enjoying its greatest athletic success since the mid-1970s.
The turnaround she has led has given her a prominence far beyond being solely known as the conference's first and only female athletic director.
"I knew that this job had tremendous potential and a tremendous number of problems," Yow said. "The last five athletic directors [before her] averaged three years. I think being here eight years has been a good thing."
Yow has stayed long enough to see the Terps football team and more than 20,000 of its fans basking in South Florida, where a celebration of one of the best years in Maryland athletics will be capped in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday, against Florida.
Football coach Ralph Friedgen has turned a moribund group into the nation's No. 6 team, ranked higher than the No. 8 men's basketball team, a program that made its first Final Four appearance in March. Earlier this month, both teams were simultaneously ranked among the nation's top six, a first in school history.
Toss in a women's lacrosse team that won its seventh straight national championship, and it is one of the best calendar years for Maryland athletics ever.
The success starts with Yow, 51, who oversees 23 teams and an annual budget that exceeds $32 million. Maryland is one of three colleges with Top 10 teams in both football and men's basketball. The University of Illinois is one; the other is the University of Florida, Yow's employer when she changed careers from coaching to athletics administration.
Yow was raised in a sporting family in Gibsonville, N.C. Her brother Pete was a scholarship football player at Clemson University. Like her sisters Kay and Susan, Yow went into college coaching, but not after she spent a few years searching for herself.
Yow dropped out of Elon College and embraced the counterculture of the late 1960s. At 22, she became pregnant and had an abortion; later she became a born-again Christian. Yow would return to Elon, graduate with honors and set about stacking up accomplishments to match Kay's.
Kay, who guided the United States to a gold medal in women's basketball in the 1988 Olympics, is the longtime coach at North Carolina State University.
Debbie bounced from the University of Kentucky to Oral Roberts University to Florida and became the first college basketball coach, male or female, to take three programs to the Top 20 that had never been there.
"I think they would call it being upwardly mobile," Yow said of her many moves.
After the 1984-1985 season at Florida, Yow left coaching for a new challenge. Instead of wooing teen-age athletes, she recruited well-to-do fans as the assistant director of the Florida Gator Boosters.
"When she went into fund raising, she was very, very good at it," said Jeremy N. Foley, Florida athletic director, who was an associate athletic director when Yow changed offices in 1985. "She's very organized and very direct. She set a target and did everything in her power to reach it. You have to get on the road, be aggressive and get after it. You have to cultivate people."
Yow is a past president of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics and in 2000 was named the female Executive of the Year by a national sports business journal. Foley saw her in action when both served on the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Management Council, which sets policy for college athletics at the highest level.
"Debbie has a great knowledge of our business," Foley said. "It's obvious that she is not afraid to speak her mind. That's good because some people never say anything at those meetings. She has something to say."
Yow spent three years as an associate athletic director at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and four as athletic director at St. Louis University. When Maryland hired her in the summer of 1994, she took charge of a department that had a $6.7 million deficit and owed $42 million for the renovation of Byrd Stadium.
Getting football on solid ground wasn't easy. In 1996, she made her first major personnel move. Coach Mark Duffner declined to resign after five seasons had produced one winning record and no bowl games. Yow fired him and said her only regret was that she hadn't done it a year earlier.