COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Mark Duffner, stop laughing.
The former Maryland coach was holed up at a Baltimore hotel last night as an assistant for the Cincinnati Bengals, but too bad he couldn't make it to Byrd Stadium.
He would have been in pieces.
Duff isn't a vindictive sort. He still cares about his former players. But he had to allow himself a smile after learning of Maryland's 21-14 loss to Ohio.
So much for Ron Vanderlinden becoming the first Maryland coach in 38 years to win his debut at College Park.
Uh, and so much for that bowl appearance Vanderlinden was planning.
"I feel like we're just the team to rise up and take this conference over," Vanderlinden said a few weeks back.
Florida State and the rest of the ACC must be quivering. As it stands, Maryland couldn't win the Mid-American Conference.
Were these the Terps or the Ravens?
You couldn't tell last night, when the crowd of 30,100 booed the Terps for running a draw on second-and-14 from their 23 with under 1: 30 remaining.
"Oh, my God," one Maryland employee said as he left the stadium. "Oh, my God."
As time ran out, a 30-something fan the size of a defensive end approached Vanderlinden on the sideline, and they exchanged words.
"He said, 'Ron you look like you could use a beer," Vanderlinden said, smiling. "He looked like he had a few."
Seriously, coach, what did he say?
"He said, 'Don't listen to the guys that are going to get on you. You're doing a good job.' "
And Vandy's response?
"Thank you. Now get out of here."
Afterward, a state trooper popped into the interview room and said, jokingly, "I missed the tackle."
He wasn't the only one.
The Terps had one punt blocked and failed to down another. They blew two chances to score after recovering fumbles in Ohio territory, threw an interception into the end zone, missed a 23-yard field-goal attempt.
Not exactly the coming-out party their fans expected from a coach who promised to revive a program that has had only two winning seasons since 1985.
We applauded the hiring of Vanderlinden. We still think he'll succeed at College Park. But after all his talk, you'd think he would have won as a 12-point favorite.
"I feel like we're going to have to screw it up not to be successful," the former Northwestern assistant said before the season.
Well, Ron, your team screwed up big-time last night.
Stop laughing, Mark.
Stop it already!
Vanderlinden was totally composed as he entered the interview room, clutching a bottle of water in one hand, a stat sheet in the other.
"Another fun part of being a head coach," he said.
He took responsibility. He apologized to Maryland fans. He said the Terps didn't become overconfident after taking a 14-0 lead.
It all sounded reasonable enough, and perhaps too much was expected of a team that played at least six true freshmen.
But here's the problem:
The Terps' next two opponents are Florida State and North Carolina. They're going to be 0-3 and maybe 0-4, considering that Temple just beat Boston College.
There's simply no excuse for losing to Ohio, a team that threw the ball just three -- count 'em, three -- times in its 31-7 season-opening victory over Kent.
Even Duffner beat Northern Illinois, for crying out loud.
Vanderlinden knew Ohio would run, but he said the Terps kept guessing wrong, looking for the option when the Bobcats ran the counter, and vice versa.
The new coach pointed to a 95-yard touchdown drive by Ohio in the second quarter as the turning point, but even after that the Terps still led, 14-7.
Which leads us to a paraphrase of Ted Marchibroda's favorite question:
Is this the same old Maryland?
"No way," senior quarterback Brian Cummings said. "Coach put a tremendous game plan together. I knew that going in. I knew that to win the game, we'd have to execute. It came down to little things. It came down to mistakes. That's why we lost."
Still, Vanderlinden set himself up for a fall, talking about winning the ACC title the day he was hired, and taking it from there.
"Would you expect me to come in and say our goal is to be average?" Vanderlinden said. "Absolutely, my goal is to win the ACC championship. That's what I was hired to do."
Well, so much for the Northwestern mystique mesmerizing the conference: Vanderlinden not only was a bust in his debut, but the Wildcats also lost to Wake Forest, 27-20.
Stop laughing, Mark.
Oh, and one other thing, Duff.
Take it easy on the Ravens today.
Pub Date: 9/07/97