Throughout Towson State's struggle over the last 17 months to maintain a competitive football program, people on the inside stressed the positive by pointing to only a handful of players who left the Tigers.
Yesterday, however, Towson State lost more than just a quarterback or linebacker. For the first time since the program was started in 1969, Phil Albert is not involved with the Tigers. After three seasons as an assistant and the last 20 as a head coach, Albert, 47, told his players he was resigning.
"I've invested a lot of my life into Towson State, but this is the thing we're going to do right now," said Albert, who will remain at the university as a faculty member. "I don't want to go and offend anyone, our players or coaches, and that's all I've got to say right now."
Albert was to say more this morning at a news conference, at which Towson State also planned to announce the elevation of Gordy Combs to head coach (see accompanying story). Albert's 20-year record of 117-91-3 was highlighted by four NCAA playoff appearances, but the Tigers were 5-27 over the last three years.
Last month, athletic director Bill Hunter said he intended to eliminate football scholarships at Towson State, and on Feb. 10, the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee backed that plan. In October 1990, Hunter proposed dropping football as a means of dealing with a projected two-year athletic department deficit of $257,000.
Albert couched his criticism of those moves, but his former players did not.
"It's a very sad day for Towson State," said Jim Holdridge, who organized an alumni-driven fund-raising effort to supplement scholarships in 1990, but a year later stopped it because of what he claimed was a lack of complementary support from Hunter and Towson State president Hoke L. Smith. "They destroyed the program through a lack of management."
Holdridge played for Albert in happier days, as he tri-captained the 1976 team that went to the NCAA Division III championship game, where it lost by three points in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
A native of Johnstown, Pa., Albert was a quarterback at Cisco Junior College in Texas and the University of Arizona. When Carl Runk was starting the Towson State program in 1969, he brought in Albert as an assistant, and three years later Albert became head coach.
His teams often had pro-style passing attacks that featured quarterbacks like Dan Dullea, Ron Meehan and Kurt Beathard, but the program's most famous products are New York Giants punter Sean Landeta and tailback Dave Meggett.
Albert's first team, in 1972, went 1-9, beating only Johns Hopkins. Two years later, however, the Tigers were a perfect 10-0, and two years after that they came within three points of an NCAA title.
In 1979, the program was up graded to Division II. The Tigers had barely more than half of the 40 scholarships allowed an NCAA program at that level, but they immediately prospered, going 9-1. Towson State went to the NCAA playoffs in 1983, '84 and '86, each year winning the Lambert Award given to the best team in the east.
When the Tigers stepped up to Division I-AA status in 1979, they began with roughly half of the NCAA scholarship limit of 70. The Tigers went 4-6 and 5-5 with Meggett, who was recognized as I-AA's top player in 1988. The decline continued in records of 2-8, 2-9 and last year's 1-10, the worst in the program's history.
Before 1991 spring practice, Albert vowed that the Tigers would be stronger and improved, but it didn't translate into more wins.
Runk, Towson State's long-time lacrosse coach, speculated that Albert resigned because coaching positions could be cut in the move to non-scholarship football, and that he wanted to save someone else's job.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he quit just to keep some of his coaches on the staff," Runk said. "He brought this program to tremendous heights, and he meant so much to the kids. It was no secret that he didn't get the financial support of the teams he was playing against."
After the 1987 season, Albert was a finalist for coaching positions at several Division I-AA universities in the east. Yesterday he said wouldn't be applying for any other jobs.