COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Whatever the University of Maryland is paying Joe Krivak not to coach football is a bargain. In fact, if and when the Terrapins start winning, ol' Joe should ask for a raise.
What a difference around Byrd Stadium, the practice fields and among a lot of people on campus these days (save for the student body, judging from Saturday's home crowd count: 27,550).
Krivak used to wander into his weekly news conference after the team's latest loss and complain about how restricted he was in the academic quality of the players he could recruit. National merit scholars only, please. Invariably, he would end up throwing himself on the mercy of the court, whining, "We're playing the best people we have."
As you've probably heard by now, Mark Duffner is a whole new ballgame, to borrow an advertising campaign phrase everybody seems to be using these days. He talks newspaper headlines, referring to last weekend's opponent as "the 16th-ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack," but it's easy to overlook that once you get caught up in the verve he brings to his work.
With this guy, everything's a positive, the cup is always half-full, not half-empty, and every cloud has a minimum of 73 silver linings. Retreat? Hell, that was a strategic withdrawal.
"We improved. We gained in confidence. We gained in the belief that we can win against talented teams," he said of the disheartening 14-10 loss to N.C. State.
Disheartening to whom? Certainly not the coach.
"We've led in the fourth period of both games," he noted proudly. "Now all we have to do is learn how to put teams away or hold onto leads. We've got to get a game in our control and keep it that way. We've got to find a way to win, it's that simple."
Coaches have been saying this since Athens blew a big lead and lost to Sparta, but you get the idea Duffner has a definite plan for accomplishing the task.
If any of the players have it in the backs of their minds to become frustrated, they can forget it; such feelings will not be tolerated. "Frustration hinders preparation," the coach says. "We're working to make sure that doesn't happen . . . ever."
In every close game, the difference between winning and losing always seems to come down to the little things, sometimes referred to as luck and breaks of the game. Not to Duffner.
"Little things are fundamentals, attention to detail," he says. "They include things like running pass routes exactly, holding onto the ball right, stripping the ball correctly, making your kicks, the proper techniques of the position you play."
He was on top of it now: "When we throw that interception or fumble the ball, I don't want to see us moping. We're going to channel that energy into striving to get it right the next time.
"When we gave up that interception at the goal line late in the game Saturday, I was confident we'd get the ball back. You could see it on the faces of the defensive players as we reviewed the situation; they knew they'd get it back."
They did, too, the Terps making one last furious bid for victory from 51 yards out with just 68 seconds and no timeouts remaining. A pass from thrill-a-minute quarterback John Kaleo intended for Richie Harris just missed at the buzzer, but, as Duffner reminded, "We were in a position to win it. That's all you can ask for."
Kaleo threw three interceptions, but was absolved of blame on two of them and drew unmistakable backing from Duffner when it was suggested that perhaps a change at the position was warranted.
Coaches always try mightily to steer clear of a quarterback controversy, and, in so doing, usually toss another aged log on the fire. Duffner seemed almost aghast: "You can't ask a whole lot more of a quarterback than what Kaleo is giving us. He played his heart out and moved us up and down the field [500 total yards worth]."
Scratch one potential quarterback controversy until further notice.
Saturday, the Terps head for Morgantown to take on West Virginia (1-0-1). Duffner makes the Mountaineers sound like the point-a-minute Michigan team of a bygone era. They have averaged more than 500 yards net offense against Miami of Ohio and Pitt and slaughtered the latter, 44-6.
They sound like a good match for the Maryland team Mark Duffner sees through that 0-2 record.