COLLEGE PARK — College Park--Let's take a walk in Mark Duffner's game-day shoes. Please bring an extra pair.
He races like Carl Lewis from the Maryland 40 to the Georgia Tech 25 with his kickoff team three times. He gives 13 hugs (including one to an official) and 16 high-fives in the first half and 10 low ones in the second. He bangs shoulders with kicker Dave DeArmas after an extra point. He makes 44 trips along the sideline, and three times he pumps his fist in the air to incite the crowd.
Imagine if the Terps had won.
Even though Maryland is 2-6, no one can say this team lacks emotion. Almost every week, Duffner, 39, has worked Maryland into a frenzied state. It was never more evident than Saturday, when the Terps, after suffering an embarrassing loss to Wake Forest the week before, pulled off a miracle finish with a "Hail Mary" pass as time expired to defeat Duke, 27-25.
Listen to Terps sophomore offensive tackle Steve Ingram:
"It's the aura about him. The first day I met him I was just in awe of this man, the confidence and optimism he projected. And then, when you see him on the sidelines, getting sweaty and dirty like us, you just want to sell out for him. You want to win for him, because he's putting everything he can into this program."
Duffner preaches family and attitude. He's a stickler on fundamentals, but an innovator as well. He's a master of the psyche, using the stories, wit and ideas he learned from mentors Woody Hayes and Lou Holtz.
He'll try anything, from having his players rub the nose of statue Testudo, a replica of the team mascot, to bringing a costumed Nittany Lions mascot onto his practice field.
Duffner once opened preseason camp at Holy Cross dressed in fatigues and a four-star helmet. He then recited the opening monologue by George C. Scott from "Patton."
"Players were going absolutely nuts," said Gordie Lockbaum, a former Holy Cross running back and defensive back and Heisman Trophy candidate under Duffner. "We were fired up for weeks."
One of Duffner's favorite stories to tell is "The Wizard of Oz." He does the impressions to break the routine of everyday practice. The story also encompasses almost everything he preaches -- family, courage, brains and heart.
And then there is the serious side of Duffner.
"He's a person the young guys can relate to," senior linebacker Mike Jarmolowich said. "When he is serious, though, he can get us motivated with the way he uses his voice and hands. He can hit that voice inflection at the right time, then he starts sweating and turning bright red. By that time, you're ready to kick some butt."
Duffner always has gotten his teams to overachieve. He has done that at Maryland. The Terps have won only two games, but had fourth-quarter leads in five of the six losses.
Duffner says he is frustrated. He was 60-5-1 in six years at Holy Cross. He was Division I-AA national coach of the year three times, and his team had a 20-game winning streak before he took the job at Maryland.
"Everybody connected with this program is frustrated, and they should be," said Duffner. "Losing is unacceptable, and so is moping. Instead of complaining about what we don't have, we work to improve on what we have. Our formula for winning hasn't added up to winning consistently yet, but sometimes you can get caught up in wins and losses and lose your perspective.
"Our players are giving us the effort, and they're happy and we're progressing in the classroom. I think we're winning the overall game right now," he said.
Missing the family
Duffner leaves home for the office at 6:20 every morning and returns about 11:30 p.m.
He spends very little time with his wife, Kathy, and their three children. The family has taken only a two-day vacation in the past year.
It eats away at him.
"I've been blessed so many times," said Duffner. "I don't even consider what I do a job. But I hate not being at home. It stinks. I spend so much time with other people's kids, and I don't spend a lot with my own. I fear waking up one day and being 50 years old and not having spent time with my children [ages 7, 10 and 12].
"Over the years, I've tried to incorporate them more into my job," said Duffner. "Maybe bring them around the office more during ** the off-season. It has gotten better. I'm very lucky to have an understanding wife."
He's also fortunate to have a wife whose father was in the armed services.
"I think it helps because there were times her mom had to do a lot of things when her father was at sea," said Duffner.
Kathy Duffner said: "It doesn't bother me that he puts so much time into his work. If he wants to spend that much time, then he must really, really love it. He's very fortunate to have this career."
Does he have a career, or does his career have him?
After each game, the tan shirt is drenched with perspiration and hangs out of his brown pants. One side of his shirt collar is up and the other is down. His wet, brown hair is matted to his head and his forehead, veins bulging, is red.
Both hands are rolled into fists. Sometimes, he'll be weeping.
Duffner is a candidate for burnout.
"I don't know," said Duffner. "I've been blessed genetically with a lot of energy. Football is an opportunity to deal with a lot of people. You can help shape, educate and strengthen a young man's life with situations here that they will encounter in life, some good, some bad. Football has brought me in contact with a lot of fascinating, great men. I've never considered it a job."
"Yes and no about burnout," said Lockbaum. "It could happen because he puts so much of himself, so much energy into the program. No, it won't happen because his flame always seems to get renewed."
A mind in motion
Duffner is either watching film, recruiting, drawing up plays, meeting with his coaches or players, or telling someone about the Wizard of Oz.
"He's got a great mind, always looking for new ideas," said Southern Methodist coach Tom Rossley, a former offensive coordinator for Duffner at Holy Cross. "He took the run-and-shoot offense from Mouse Davis and put his own little special mark on it with the no-huddle and some other little extras."
Duffner has built this team the way he said he would, and that has included some overachievers piling up big numbers on offense.
Senior players such as quarterback John Kaleo and receivers Dan Prunzik, Richie Harris and Marcus Badgett were either too small, too short or too slow to play regularly until this season.
Badgett is the nation's leading receiver in yards per game (127) and second in receptions (61). Harris (39 catches, 360 yards) and Prunzik (38, 478) are third and fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in receiving. Kaleo is second in the country in total offense, averaging 311.9 yards.
The Terps have an attacking offense and defense. And Duffner has shown it's not going to change.
* The Terps blew a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead to West Virginia earlier this season partially because they stayed with their no-huddle attack and used little time during their
possessions. Two weeks later, when the Terps had a 40-27 lead over Pittsburgh with 9:40 left, Duffner stayed with the no-huddle.
* Against Georgia Tech in the fourth game of the season, the Terps had fourth-and-one at the Yellow Jackets' 6 with 7:35 remaining in the game. Maryland trailed by nine. Duffner went for the first down and touchdown instead of the field goal. Maryland failed, the Terps scored later and lost, 28-26.
Maryland still likes to gamble and play pressure defense despite allowing 430.3 yards of total offense per game.
"We have been teaching these kids to stay in the attack mode all year, and they enjoy it," said Duffner. "We want to play aggressive football. That's the way we've always played at Holy Cross and will continue to play that way, too."
Duffner always has paid attention to the smallest detail.
"I remember he used to give out Xerox copies from the media guide of the guy you were going to play against," said Dennis Golden, now an assistant football coach at DeMatha and a former offensive lineman for Duffner at Holy Cross. "By game time, you knew everything about that guy: his hometown, his high school coach, if he liked strawberry ice cream. When the game started, you had this image in your mind of your opponent and how you were going to beat him."
After his team was penalized six times for 75 yards in the season-opening loss to Virginia, Duffner researched that there were 75 penalties in five ACC games that weekend and 46 were administrative (before the snap of the ball) and 29 judgmental.
"He can blow you away with the minute detail," said Ingram, laughing. "He doesn't want little things to cost you a ballgame. That's his style."
While most coaches spend a great deal of time on fundamentals only in spring practice and the beginning of preseason camp, Duffner does it every day with a period he calls "Little Things."
Duffner has brought in mats used by high jumpers to teach his players how to dive and block extra points and field goals. Also, offensive linemen in a three-point stance are taught to put their free hands near their calves to keep low and maintain balance. Refresher courses are provided in how to catch punts and kickoffs, how to scoop up loose balls and score.
"You're mentally prepared, physically prepared and strategically prepared," said Golden. "Watch Coach Duffner when he walks off the field after a loss. He has this look on his face as if to say,
'How did we lose? We were prepared so well.' "
'We're in this together'
Duffner has stressed the team concept since Day 1, when he told players they couldn't wear beards. Outrageous haircuts were outlawed.
"About this time last year, there were a lot of negative comments from the players about the coaches and the program," said linebacker Jarmolowich. "This year, we realize we're a family, we're in this together. Last year, we were getting blown out in the first 15 minutes. This year, we realize that if we stay together, no matter what, we still can win."
Coaches and players lived in the dormitories during preseason camp, and Duffner initiated a "big brother" program in which veterans showed rookies life on campus. The coaching staff and the players met for two softball games during the summer.
When outside linebacker Chad Wiestling's father died in late July, Duffner and outside linebackers coach Peter McCarty attended the funeral.
"After the years this program has been through, we needed this kind of closeness badly," said Jarmolowich.
The coaching staff seems to be sold on Duffner, too.
"Camp was about to open, and we had a big weekend for recruits coming up," said Kyle Lingerfelt, Maryland's recruiting coordinator. "My father died of cancer, and Mark told me to take all the time I needed.
"I've worked for Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden and Bill Lewis, but none are committed as personally as Mark Duffner," said Lingerfelt. "I'd sell my left arm to keep him at Maryland."
Early lessons about spirit
Duffner grew up in affluent Annandale, Va. His father was a lawyer, his mother a teacher.
Duffner loved sports. He played in a top 40 band, admiring the work of Sam & Dave, the Temptations, the Supremes and Cream.
Duffner was a quarterback in a flag football league in seventh and eighth grades, but was moved to tackle when he started at Annandale High, a regional power in the mid- to late 1960s. It was there Duffner learned about enthusiasm and spirit.
"I grew up reading about Annandale's team and its coach, Bob Hardage," said Duffner. "There was tremendous pride, tremendous success. There was teamwork, there was discipline you saw from the teams he had."
Duffner was a skinny, 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive tackle. He started two years for Annandale, and Hardage considered him a classic overachiever.
"He was an intense player and sure could talk a lot," said Hardage. "But he couldn't run very well. That was his problem. But he played above what I first thought he could play."
Well enough for an assistant coach named Bobby Ross to recruit Duffner to William & Mary to play for Holtz. Duffner started his last three years at William & Mary, earning All-Southern Conference academic honors.
"He was an extremely hard-working player," said Joe Montgomery, one of Duffner's college teammates. "I think one of the reasons he became a successful coach is that when your skill doesn't come naturally, you have an easier time relating football to others," said Montgomery. "Plus, we had Lou Holtz as a coach. He was one of the most intense people I ever met."
Holtz later would become one of Duffner's friends. So did Hayes, Hardage and Ric Carter, the head coach at Holy Cross who hired Duffner as an assistant. Duffner became head coach after Carter's suicide in February 1986.
"You never stop learning in this game," said Duffner, a one-time graduate assistant under Hayes at Ohio State. "If I actually had the time to realize it, I'd probably be floored knowing that I'm coaching against a George Welsh or a Joe Paterno. Coaches like Hardage, Carter, Holtz and Hayes, they all had tremendous energy, pride, discipline and enthusiasm. I learned something from all of them."
Those who know Duffner say he has all of those characteristics.
"I know losing hurts him, and giving up so many points on defense has to be driving him nuts," said Lockbaum. "But, with every loss, he's getting more motivated. His energy is so much in a positive direction that he cannot fail."
"What fans at Maryland have to do is look at the entire picture," SMU's Rossley said. "Maryland is a great place to coach. It's in the ACC, they have a great tradition athletically and academically, and they can draw players from several large market areas. Mark is a high-energy coach who loves the game, his players and his job. It's a great combination, one that will eventually be a winning one."
Mark Duffner's college coaching record and this season's Maryland results and schedule:
Year.. .. .. ..Team.. .. .. ..W-L-T
1986.. .. ...Holy Cross.. ...10-1-0
1987.. .. ...Holy Cross.. .. 11-0-0
1988.. .. ...Holy Cross.. .. .9-2-0
1989.. .. .. Holy Cross.. .. 10-1-0
1990.. .. .. Holy Cross.. .. .9-1-1
1991.. .. .. Holy Cross.. ...11-0-0
1992.. .. .. Maryland.. .. ...2-6-0
Totals.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..62-11-1
Maryland results, schedule
15.. .. .. ..at Virginia.. .. .. 28
.. .. ..N.C. State.. .. .. .14
.. .. at West Virginia.. ...34
13.. .. .. at Penn State.. .. ...49
.. .. ..Pittsburgh.. .. .. .34
26.. .. .. .Georgia Tech.. .. .. 28
.. .. .Wake Forest.. .. .. .30
.. .. ..at Duke.. .. .. .. .25
Sat... .. ..N. Carolina.. .. ..1:30
Nov. 7.. ..at Fla. State.. ...12:10
Nov. 14.. ...Clemson.. .. .. .12:10