COLLEGE PARK -- Less than 24 hours after Mark Duffner and his staff cleared out of Maryland's football complex, Ron Vanderlinden checked out the facilities and Byrd Stadium.
Athletic director Debbie Yow said she wasn't going to rush to find a successor for Duffner, the head coach she fired nine days ago, but she was forced to move quickly to hire Vanderlinden, the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Northwestern who helped both the Wildcats and Colorado to national prominence.
"It was a matter of time before he was picked off by someone else," said Yow, who today will formally introduce Vanderlinden as the new Terps coach. "We didn't want to get left out on Ron."
When Northwestern coach Gary Barnett turned down an offer to go to Notre Dame, Vanderlinden, the Wildcats' heir apparent, looked elsewhere. Minnesota, Oregon State, Southern Methodist and Tulane were among the major-college programs interested in Vanderlinden, who agreed in principle Monday to a five-year contract that has a base salary of $130,000.
"I had other opportunities and so did they [Maryland]," Vanderlinden told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's a great situation for both of us."
After today's news conference at the University Union, Vanderlinden, 40, is expected to make an appearance at Cole Field House during the men's basketball game against UMBC, but Vanderlinden was greeted with considerably less fanfare on his first trip here, a week ago today.
The hiring capped a courtship that was shaded by haste, secrecy and what was anything but a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend for the coach who will attempt to turn around a program that has only two winning records to show for the past 11 seasons.
When Yow fired Duffner, Vanderlinden's name was not among the candidates whose names were leaked by well-placed sources at Maryland. The Terps were talking about Colorado State's Sonny Lubick, Florida State's Chuck Amato and Penn State's Jerry Sandusky, but their eyes were on Vanderlinden.
The day after Maryland completed a 5-6 season with a 48-10 loss to Florida State, Yow and Vanderlinden spoke on the phone for an hour.
Duffner was fired the next day, and two days after that, Vanderlinden jetted here and met for 90 minutes with the screening committee that included Yow, assistant athletic director R. D. Helt and five faculty members. Yow said that Maryland discussed the opening with 14 candidates, but Vanderlinden was the only one to have a formal interview.
Vanderlinden made a favorable impression, met Dr. William Kirwan, the Maryland president, and liked what he saw of the university.
"I expected a large, metropolitan situation, but I found a beautiful setting," Vanderlinden said. "The facilities are very good, the football team house is only 4 years old and the stadium's just been renovated. It's a very pretty place."
He spent that night at his home in Vernon Hills, Ill., but last Saturday he jetted back and went house-hunting with his wife, Lisa.
"Ron returned my call Sunday night and said, 'Am I still No. 1?' " Yow said. "He said that the AD at Minnesota wanted him to come up there. I encouraged him to cancel his other visits and negotiate with us. I knew from his credentials, if he showed any interest, we had to get him in quickly. We spent yesterday [Monday] working with him and his attorney."
As late as last Saturday, Maryland was lining up other interviews. Lubick had to be contacted immediately, since he was supposed to take a 6: 30 a.m. flight yesterday from Denver for an interview. Penn State's Sandusky, meanwhile, complained that he was misled and "not dealt with honestly."
"I last talked to someone from Maryland last Friday," he said. "There was supposed to be a conference call with the screening committee Monday, but they called my wife Sunday night and said they couldn't get it together."
Because his name hadn't been linked to the job until Monday night, Vanderlinden's hiring came as a surprise. Yow said she kept it quiet because she didn't want to disrupt any recruiting Vanderlinden was doing for Northwestern, but he said Maryland was just as insistent to keep the negotiations private.
"Maryland really wanted to keep it out of the press," Vanderlinden said. "They were afraid that they might get burned, that I might go somewhere else."
Duffner's fate was clear two weeks ago, when news surfaced that Maryland had interviewed Notre Dame assistant Bob Davie. Davie replaced Lou Holtz when Barnett stayed put at Northwestern, which in turn led Vanderlinden to check out his job prospects.
"I probably would have stayed on as head coach [at Northwestern] if Gary had left," he said.
When Yow was honing her short list of candidates and crossing off names like those of former Terps coach Bobby Ross, Vanderlinden's stood out.
Vanderlinden was still in his 20s when he was the recruiting coordinator on the two classes that primarily fueled Colorado's national championship in 1990. He followed Barnett, another Buffalo assistant, to Northwestern in 1992, and three years later, the Wildcats were in their first Rose Bowl since 1949.
There were other factors in Vanderlinden's favor.
Helt, Yow's assistant, was the recruiting coordinator for Kansas from 1988 to 1993, and he had firsthand knowledge of what Vanderlinden had done to elevate the talent level at Colorado. Yow also knew Northwestern athletic director Rick Taylor.
Yow said Vanderlinden will not be involved in Northwestern's preparations for the Citrus Bowl, and instead will concentrate on putting together a staff -- which could include ex-Illinois coach Lou Tepper and Northwestern quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson -- and a recruiting class that to date has no commitments.
The Ron Vanderlinden file
Family: Wife, Lisa; daughter, Chelsea (9); son, Reid (6)
Highlights: Has never been a head coach, but renowned recruiter has assisted Bo Schembechler, Bill McCartney and Gary Barnett in Top 10 programs Coached three All-Americans at Colorado, and was Buffaloes recruiting coordinator in 1985-86, lining up some of talent that led to national title in 1990 Moved to Northwestern in 1992 Wildcats' assistant head coach and coordinator of defense that led nation in fewest points allowed in 1995 Native of Livonia, Mich., played football, baseball at Albion College.
School .......... Seasons ... Position
Albion College .. 1974-77 ... Center
Bowling Green ... 1978 ...... Graduate assistant
Michigan ........ 1979-80 ... Graduate assistant
Ball State ...... 1981-82 ... Offensive line
Colorado ........ 1983-91 ... Defensive line
Northwestern .... 1992-96 ... Def. coordinator/Inside linebackers/Punt
5) ................. ........... returns
Pub Date: 12/04/96