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Duffner looks good and he'd better


COLLEGE PARK -- Five years! You'd think after blowing it with Joe Krivak, Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger would pull back his hands from the fire of a long-term contract. Instead, he's defiantly raising both fists, somersaulting into the blaze enveloping Maryland football.

Five years. That's how long Mark Duffner gets to restore the Terps to national prominence, and for Geiger's sake more than his own, he'd better succeed. Right now Duffner, 38, appears the perfect fit. It's a good thing, considering the unseemly turn of events that led to his hiring.

Thus closes the latest distasteful chapter in Maryland's ongoing athletic soap opera. From Geiger's tortuous treatment of Krivak to the endless 23-day search for a new coach, this sorry episode will be forgiven only if Duffner is the right man.

The evidence -- a 60-5-1 record at Holy Cross -- suggests he is. What's more, the evidence suggests he will be comfortable working under Maryland's stringent admissions and academic standards. Krivak was starting to make Maryland sound like the Harvard of the Chesapeake.

That, along with last season's 2-9 record, is why Geiger coerced Krivak's resignation one year into a four-year contract. Duffner inherits the low morale, the recruiting chaos, the impossible schedule. The good news is, he's Gary Williams in a headset, all intensity and enthusiasm.

Let's not hear any talk about him coming from Division I-AA: Lou Holtz and Marv Levy once coached at William and Mary, Duffner's I-AA alma mater. Besides, six former Duffner assistants now work at I-A schools. One, SMU's Tom Rossley, called him "the next great coach in Division I-A."

Can the Maryland situation be any worse than what Duffner faced at Holy Cross? After five years as defensive coordinator, he was thrust into the head coaching job less than one week after Rick Carter committed suicide on Feb. 2, 1986. Carter lost six games his final season. Duffner lost five in six years.

"We had to emphasize the positive," Duffner said. "It wasn't something where we were going to sit around and mope. We got our people together, rallied around one another. One alternative was to say, 'Why is this happening? Woe is me.' But we had to get going quickly."

The same is true at Maryland, where Duffner plans to work "25-hour days" until Feb. 5, the national signing date for high-school recruits. Still, he said, "It's not a 40-yard --. I'd equate it more to a mile run." Which, of course, is why Geiger gave him five years.

Amazingly enough, Geiger suggested the length of contract, just one year after granting Krivak long-term security. It proved a dreadful mistake, yet this time Geiger made an even stronger statement. Strange, considering the search process lasted more than three weeks.

The difference is, Duffner is Geiger's man, not a coach hired by a previous AD and then retained. Also, because of his insistence on both athletic and academic excellence, he closely approximates the prototype coach of the '90s.

Duffner joked that the extra "A" in I-AA stands for "academics," and 91 of his 95 seniors at Holy Cross graduated in four years. Krivak, mind you, was no slouch in this area, but he grew to resent Maryland's demanding policies -- policies necessary for the restoration of credibility in the post-Bias era.

"Academic integrity is an important consideration in every coaching position in the United States," Geiger said. "It isn't any more unusual here than anywhere else. Our standards are middle-of-the-road standards, and by the time the NCAA convention is finished in the next 10 days, we'll have national standards."

In other words, Maryland might simply have gotten a head start on everyone else. Whatever, Duffner said, "I don't consider the academic requirements an obstacle. I subscribe to the formula that young men come to a university to get the very best education they can, and also to participate in a national-caliber football program."

Many believe you can't have it both ways, but Maryland will find out. Duffner has the highest winning percentage among active Division I coaches. His teams played an attacking defense that ranked among the nation's best, and a run-and-shoot offense that helped two quarterbacks throw for more than 8,000 yards.

Five years. Duffner isn't as proven on this level as Dennis Green, but in harsh economic times Geiger couldn't hire his old Stanford crony at $275,000 a year. Duffner will receive a $120,000 base salary, plus undisclosed perks. As Geiger said, "Throwing money at a situation is not necessarily a panacea."

Five years. The program holds as much promise as ever -- the training facilities are upgrading to first-class, so is the stadium, so is the ACC. Five years. Andy Geiger rekindled this fire. Mark Duffner better extinguish it, once and for all.

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