Maryland's Anderson seeks new era of civility from students

One of Kevin Anderson's first actions last week as Maryland's athletic director was to author a guest column for the campus newspaper challenging students to be "respectful" to opposing teams during sports events.

After several days on the job, Anderson had already received messages from families complaining that Maryland fans' behavior was offensive. Anderson said he had been bothered by profane slogans he saw on T-shirts during recent football and men's soccer games against Duke.

"To be quite frank with you, I don't want my kids around that," he said in an interview.

Anderson's immediate foray into a divisive campus debate — the issue of how to curb student profanity at Maryland games is a longstanding one — did not surprise those who know him. The former Army athletic director, who began at Maryland on Oct. 1, wants to win games as much as any sports administrator. But friends and colleagues say Anderson, 55, is also guided by values that he calls "old school."

"His values are high, his standards are high, his morals are high," said Army soccer coach Russell Payne, a former Maryland player and assistant coach who was hired by Anderson. "I don't think that's just lip service."

Anderson, an Army sergeant's son, said he simply couldn't remain quiet.

"Sometimes, I guess I'm old school and old-fashioned. Some of the behavior I just don't understand," he said.

"I'm not a saint," he continued, pausing to choose his words carefully. "From time to time I have been known to use profanity. But I would like to think that … it's probably in the heat of battle."

The profanity debate provides an early test of Anderson's ability to bridge differences. The issue has been around for years without a resolution.

Maryland officials want the university to move past its reputation as a place where students harass visiting fans and take to the streets after big wins, particularly over Duke in basketball. Athletic department administrators still wince when students yell "You suck" after singing Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll, Part 2," which the university forbids the band from playing.

In 2004, some Comcast Center fans started an off-color chant aimed at Duke guard J.J. Redick that could be heard on broadcasts of the nationally televised game. It was around that time that the university sought legal advice from the state attorney general's office on how far it could go to curtail the behavior. Since then, the university has used broadcast messages about sportsmanship during games and provided free T-shirts if students cover up existing ones featuring profane messages (often involving Duke).

Anderson, who played football at San Francisco State in the 1970s before injuring a knee, said fan behavior is clearly an issue at other universities, but that "one of the schools where there are bigger concerns is our school. What we have to do is keep appealing to the student body and asking them to think of different ways that they can support [teams] and share their enthusiasm rather than attack our competition."

Depending on how hard he pushes, Anderson may encounter student resistance.

"It doesn't seem as though students are too concerned about fixing this problem," student body president Steve Glickman said in an interview. "If the new athletic director were to try to combat this himself, I think he's going to face some backlash. If this is something we're going to overcome, it has to be completely student led."

In his nearly six years at Army, Anderson acquired a reputation for building consensus.

"When you step in the door, either you're a civilian or you're military," Payne said. "Here at West Point he fostered relationships with the corps and the chain of command. We were able as an athletic department to cross the line and break that barrier."

Anderson said his management style is modeled partly after a 2001 book called "Good to Great." In the book, author Jim Collins chronicled the successes of business leaders who were humble and not overbearing.

Army's golf coach Brian Watts described Anderson in those terms, calling him "soft spoken" and "approachable" but saying he "runs a tight ship."

In his guest column in The Diamondback newspaper, Anderson appealed to a sense of common purpose without explicitly criticizing students. "Each of us is responsible for the image, reputation and greatness of the university and our athletics department," Anderson wrote. "Damage to image, reputation and greatness happens much faster than it is undone."

Anderson, who is married with four children, told The Sun that keeping sporting events family friendly makes good business sense.

One of his top priorities, he said, is to increase football-game attendance and sell out remaining premium seats. Season-ticket sales slipped from 28,661 in 2005 to 22,804 last season, and are off substantially this season.

Anderson said boosting ticket sales is largely about winning games, but also about atmosphere.

"We are trying to sustain a program and bring people out to have a great experience of watching these young people compete," said Anderson, the successor to former athletic director Debbie Yow, who is now at North Carolina State.

Anderson has a business background — he is a former Xerox Corp. executive.

But he said his priorities changed when — on leave from his Xerox duties about 20 years ago — he helped disadvantaged youths in Oakland, Calif., with math, science and other skills.

"That year experiencing working with young people changed my entire life," he said. "I had a successful career at Xerox, but it was never the same."

College sports, he said, have allowed him to continue to deal with young people — including athletes and their student fans.

"These are all bright young people coming to the University of Maryland," Anderson said with the trace of a smile.

His clear implication was that they are smart enough to know how to properly behave.

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