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Yow takes steps to correct Maryland's course

November 30, 1996

A bit of friendly advice for those of you planning black-tie holiday parties: It definitely would be a faux pas to have Debbie Yow and Mark Duffner on the same guest list.

In case you missed it, theirs wasn't exactly an amicable parting.

Yow, the athletic director at the University of Maryland, summoned Duffner to a meeting Monday and asked for his resignation as head football coach. Considering that Yow offered a $132,000 golden parachute and that Duffner had a record of 20-35 in five seasons, this would seem to be a reasonable request. But Duffner refused to fall on his sword, so Yow used it to eviscerate him.

Seldom will you hear an administrator lash out publicly at a former employee, especially with the wound so fresh. But that's what Yow did Monday, bashing Duffner for cocooning himself with assistants who have no idea what it takes to win at the major-college level and for making excuses about the program's dismal record on his watch.

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Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was when she said under no circumstances will Maryland hire its next head coach from the ranks of Division I-AA, where Duffner had 60-5-1 in six seasons at Holy Cross. Translation: You don't hire a boy to do a man's job.

Yow should have been more restrained in her criticism of Duffner. She even said her instinct was to fire Duffner last year, after the team turned a 4-0 start into a 6-5 finish, but that her heart told her to give him another chance.

Ouch.

It's one thing to knock a guy down, quite another to kick dirt in his face. But you have to admire her for being candid, both about her views of Duffner and about what is an acceptable level on on-field performance for the Maryland football program.

Most athletic directors and college presidents like to make themselves feel good by saying that the academic development of the student-athletes is their foremost concern and blah, blah, blah, but the fact is, a lot of the money that supports sports such as swimming, soccer and wrestling is generated by a school's football and men's basketball programs. If those teams don't win, they don't sell tickets or attract alumni donations. And if they don't sell tickets or attract alumni donations, the athletic department can't meet its budget. And if the athletic department can't meet its budget, the athletic director has some explaining to do to the regents, who find trips to the country club much less desirable when some snowcap in a red cardigan keeps asking what it would take to bring back Bobby Ross.

Yow stood before the microphones and minicams and told the truth - that Maryland must count on its football team to win at least seven games and go to a bowl every year to sustain the rest of its intercollegiate teams. Anything less is intolerable.

If I'm a candidate to be Maryland's next head football coach, that's exactly what I want my boss to say, because I know I'll have the resources to get the job done. And if I'm a Maryland football fan, I'm telling myself, it's about time someone acknowledged that this ain't horseshoes and that the bottom line is winning.

Such is life as we know it today. Credit Yow for acknowledging it.

n n n

On the subject of football coaches and expectations, let's talk about Don Nehlen.

I don't hide the fact that I'm a West Virginia graduate. I want to see the Mountaineers do well. So why is it that a sense of hope arose in me when it was reported that the University of Kentucky might be interested in hiring Nehlen?

Many fans would be tickled to see their team 8-3 and heading to a bowl game with a top-25 ranking. But then you realize that it got destroyed by two of the four legitimate teams on its schedule, and you find yourself praying that it goes to the Liberty Bowl, where it has a chance to beat Houston, rather than to the Carquest Bowl, where it would be starched by Virginia.

I just get the feeling that the program has plateaued under Nehlen. With the cupcakes that litter their schedule, the Mountaineers should win eight or nine games every year, but it doesn't happen. And when West Virginia ventures into the ring with the heavyweights, the result is usually a one-punch knockout.

It's time to give someone else a chance.

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