Hall of Fame Maryland football coach Jerry Claiborne died early yesterday morning at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., after undergoing what was thought to be successful abdominal surgery on Friday.
"Dad was walking around on Saturday," Claiborne's son, Jonathan, said yesterday. "We thought things were going to work out. He had some breathing difficulty Saturday night and then his heart stopped at 12:30 Sunday morning. They tried to resuscitate him but couldn't. They're not sure what went wrong. All we know now is that it was caused by complications with the surgery."
Jerry Claiborne, 72, was transferred to Vanderbilt on Thursday after having surgery to remove his gallbladder Wednesday in Bowling Green, Ky., where he lived. The former Terps coach had entered the hospital in Bowling Green on Monday after complaining of chest pains.
"Dad was having abdominal pain following the gallbladder surgery," Jonathan Claiborne said. "And they first thought it was related to the gallbladder, but they realized it was more serious and they sent him to Vanderbilt, which is something like Duke University's medical center."
The abdominal surgery at Vanderbilt had gone so well that Jonathan Claiborne decided to go ahead with his duties as the color analyst on the Maryland football radio network Saturday night at Byrd Stadium, where the Terps defeated Middle Tennessee, 45-27.
"If you had asked me Saturday night how my dad was doing, I would have said fine," said the first-year Maryland color analyst, who did the same job for three years at Towson University. Jonathan Claiborne is a Baltimore attorney who played football for his father at Maryland from 1975 to '77, becoming a starting safety even though he made the team as a walk-on.
"My dad had a wonderful and full life," Jonathan Claiborne said. "Our whole family is very close, and we'll all miss him."
Jerry Claiborne was found to have Alzheimer's disease 22 months ago at Johns Hopkins Hospital shortly after he returned from a late fall trip with his wife, Faye, through New England. Almost exactly a year after that diagnosis, Claiborne was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame on Dec. 7, 1999, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
Faye Claiborne said on the eve of that Hall of Fame induction, "I wish this could have happened a year ago. Jerry would have been able to enjoy it so much. He used to go to New York often for this dinner and loved it."
When Claiborne took Maryland to the 1973 Peach Bowl, it was the school's first bowl trip in 18 years.
Maryland was 25-66 in the nine years before Claiborne arrived in 1972, and he went on to lead the Terps to a 77-37-3 record, seven bowls and three Atlantic Coast Conference championships in 10 years. He also coached 13 All-Americans and was named Sporting News National Coach of the Year in 1974 after winning the ACC title and finishing No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.
Claiborne coached 28 seasons at Virginia Tech, Maryland and Kentucky and compiled a 179-122-8 record, currently 28th on the all-time Division I-A victories list.
In addition to his son, Jonathan, and wife, Claiborne is survived by two daughters, Katie Claiborne Newell of Landenberg, Pa., and Eileen Claiborne of Portland, Ore., and another son, David, of San Francisco. Services will be held Thursday afternoon in Hopkinsville, Ky., at Hughart and Beard funeral home.