Larry Slade said yesterday that he should not have been fired as Maryland's defensive coordinator, and he criticized coach Mark Duffner for hiring a close friend to replace Slade.
In each of the past two seasons, Maryland allowed more yardage than any other Division I-A team, and in 1993 the Terps established an NCAA record for defensive futility, allowing 553 yards per game. It was a unit depleted by injuries and dominated by first-year players.
Slade said firing him and bringing in Syracuse assistant Kevin Coyle, who helped Duffner turn Holy Cross into a I-AA power, wasn't the answer.
"As you look at the team we put on the field and the competition we faced, I don't care who the coach was, the results would be similar," Slade said from his Bowie home. "You start playing seven or eight freshmen against the competition we faced, it [the yardage] is understandable.
"We recruited some good young players. Those guys will mature, and I would have liked to have been there to see it happen. It's hard not to be bitter."
Slade said he was fired to "make room for Coyle. When Kevin became available, I became expendable."
Slade said Duffner's friendship with Coyle helped cost him his job. "Without a doubt, it was a major influence," Slade said. "He [Duffner] has always wanted to hire Kevin."
After coaching the Washington secondary for six seasons, Slade was hired two years ago as Terps defensive coordinator, but apparently only after Duffner was unable to bring in Coyle, who worked with him at Holy Cross from 1982 to 1990. Coyle was one year into a three-year stay at Syracuse when Duffner was putting together his Maryland staff.
"My heart wanted to come then," Coyle said yesterday as he was cleaning out his office at Syracuse, "but I had been here only one season and I'd just gotten married. . . . This time around, the timing was right."
Duffner and Coyle became close friends, according to Duffner's wife, Kathy, during their early coaching days at Cincinnati. They were also assistants at Holy Cross, and when Duffner became coach in 1986, he promoted Coyle to replace him as defensive coordinator.
Coyle left Holy Cross in 1990 to become defensive coordinator at Syracuse. In his first two seasons there, the Orangemen led the Big East Conference in rushing defense. They were ranked fifth in the nation in 1992, when they allowed only 91.5 yards, but in 1993, after the loss of three starting linebackers, that figure grew to 195.
"I believe in the approach Mark Duffner takes," Coyle said. "I'm not totally familiar with everything they have been doing, but I'm anxious to try and figure out what we can do to get it corrected."
Duffner has said he spent as much of 90 percent of his work week with the defense, whose shortcomings were the major factor in a two-year Terps record of 5-17.
Asked if he had been made a scapegoat for those shortcomings, Slade said: "In order to lead, you have to be empowered to lead. If the Houston Oilers' defense didn't play well, [coordinator] Buddy Ryan would suffer the consequences, because he's calling the shots. When that's not the case . . . you have to have people that trust you and allow you to do it your way. Maybe the trust factor will be there now. He [Duffner] has trust for him [Coyle]."
According to Mike Jarmolowich, Maryland's leading tackler in 1992, Duffner and Slade did not share defensive philosophies.
"There were times Coach Slade would call plays down from the press box, and Coach Duffner would make changes," Jarmolowich said. "Occasionally, we were barely having enough time to line up. I knew something had to happen. Coach Duffner had to do it [fire Slade], because it's his program."
Ratcliff Thomas, who as a true freshman succeeded Jarmolowich as the Terps' leading tackler in 1993, said he was zTC surprised by the firing of Slade.
"This came as sort of a shock," Thomas said. "I didn't expect this to happen. Coach Slade is a good coach, and most of all, he's a good person. He recruited me, and he's one of the reasons I came to Maryland. . . . I thought it was a building process we were in."
Slade had other questions about his firing.
"You first are loyal to the people on your immediate staff," Slade said. "That's my way. Unfortunately, that's not always adhered to by other people."
Duffner, speaking from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in between recruiting stops, did not specifically answer Slade's criticisms.
"These were very, very difficult decisions, and they were not something we made on the spur of the moment," said Duffner, who met several times with athletic director Andy Geiger to discuss his staff. "We made these moves to make the team better. Kevin Coyle does an excellent job of coaching and preparing a team. He's an outstanding defensive coach."
Slade was one of only 15 African-Americans in Division I-A to hold a job as a head coach, offensive or defensive coordinator. There are 163 black assistant coaches out of approximately 900 Division I-A assistants, and three black head coaches in I-A's 106 programs.
Slade's dismissal comes two years after Geiger reviewed the program under former coach Joe Krivak and recommended that the new staff include more minorities. Slade's departure leaves outside linebackers coach Peter McCarty as the only African-American assistant on the staff.
"There are very few black coordinators," Slade said. "This is a setback, but we will overcome. This just reinforces my belief of becoming associated with the right people and the right position, and not taking the jobs that sometimes we're accustomed to getting.
"I have not given up my goal of becoming a head coach, this just makes taking the next step a little more difficult. I think other black assistants will take a look at what has happened here."