Being nice isn't enough for Duffner


Betty Francis is the real Miss Maryland. Or Mrs. Maryland, if you will.

Betty has been a secretary in the University of Maryland athletic department for 36 years. Her children, Nanci and Jim, went to Maryland.

For 30 years, Betty Francis was secretary to the athletic director. She's seen it all from the inside.

When she first came to the university, Bud Millikan was the basketball coach. Tommy Mont was moving out as football coach and Tom Nugent was moving in. Bill Cobey was the athletic director.

Betty was part of the scene for five years before Gary Williams arrived -- as a freshman player.

"I was there when we opened Cole Field House in the '50s," Betty says proudly. "We still have the same seats for basketball."

People with that kind of seniority tend to favor the coaches and ADs from the good old days. That's just human nature.

But do you know whose praises Betty Francis sings? Mark Duffner's.

"He's a great guy," Betty says with obvious sincerity. "If he wasn't, I wouldn't be here."

Betty retired in 1987. When her husband of 52 years, Scotty, died, she came back to work as secretary to Duffner, the head football coach who came here in 1992.

Francis -- her head full of wisdom from all those years of dealing with the people in the passing parade at Maryland -- has identified Duffner as a good and decent man.

She is not alone. Debbie Yow, who became Maryland's first woman athletic director last Aug. 15, soon came to the same conclusion about Duffner.

Before Yow had spent a full football season with him, she said to me:

"Mark is such a good guy that you have to pull for him. There's a lot of slime in the profession. Mark is the opposite of that."

But Mark has a problem. He has to win. So far, he hasn't.

In three years he has compiled a record of 9-24. He was 4-7 last year, doubling his '93 win total. But coaches with better records get fired.

This week the NCAA may have doomed the Duffner regime at Maryland once and for all when it announced an eight-game gambling suspension for the Terps' only experienced quarterback, Scott Milanovich.

This was to have been the year when Duffner would show the world -- and Debbie Yow, of course -- that he can win more than a handful of games in Division I-A, as he once did at I-AA Holy Cross.

This is the year when Duffner was going to save his job.

But if Duffner couldn't win with Milanovich, an All-America candidate who holds 14 school passing and punting records, how is he going to win without him?

The betting -- er, the guess -- has to be that he won't. It's likely that after this season Yow will have the unpleasant duty of firing a coach she admires and looking for a successor.

Must a university make such decisions based on wins and losses? Yes.

Winners draw; losers don't. Maryland has spent more than $20 million fixing up 45-year-old Byrd Stadium. Yet even for the Homecoming game last year against Tulane, the Terps drew only 24,456. Six months later, NCAA lacrosse drew 30,000 at Byrd.

Maryland is appealing the NCAA's penalties against Milanovich and basketball walk-on Matt Raydo (20 games), but they're not likely to be reduced.

Even with ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan now serving as president of the NCAA, Maryland, once again, was shown no mercy.

Forget about Milanovich coming back for the final three games (North Carolina State, Virginia and Florida State). From what I hear, the QB already is checking out NAIA schools and the pros.

It's probably Duffner's own fault that, even with Milanovich, he was going into this season with only one quarterback who had ever thrown a pass in college.

Duffner had another one, Kevin Foley, brother of ex-Boston College and New York Jets QB Glenn Foley.

After three games last year, Duffner started Foley over Milanovich. Scott went into a funk. Stopped going to class. Talked of passing up the '95 season and entering the pro draft.

After two games, Duffner went back to Milanovich. Foley, seeing that the job was going to be Milanovich's, would transfer to Boston U. Now Duffner has neither quarterback.

Milanovich has long been controversial. He was suspended for two weeks during spring practice in '94 for breaking team rules. He dropped all his classes last fall. Now he is suspended for gambling.

No coach can control everything a player does away from the game, but Duffner obviously didn't make it clear enough to Milanovich and others that gambling is a violation of NCAA bylaw 10.3, which renders a player "not eligible to compete."

Maybe Duffner erred in going with a quarterback some saw as a loose cannon instead of Foley, who, while maybe not quite as talented, was a leader. Clearly, Milanovich has come up short as a leader.

Duffner's shortcomings involve more than X's and O's. He has had trouble running his program, managing the comings and goings and activities of 95 football players.

His first batch of recruits, from Florida, soon disappeared.

Two years ago he had only one kicker -- a kid from a Mississippi junior college who, it turned out, had falsified his grades to qualify at Maryland. Duffner spent the season kicker-less.

Too many of Duffner's players have had difficulty staying eligible academically.

If ever a team was unprepared for its season opener, it was Maryland last year in the embarrassing 49-16 loss at Duke.

If Duffner goes after this season, not everyone will be as disappointed as Betty Francis and Debbie Yow. Unfortunately, character and likability are not always enough.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad