Aug. 11, 1997
Makeover at Maryland
By Paul McMullen
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In eight months as Maryland's football coach, Ron Vanderlinden has changed everything about the Terps that he could, from the carpet under the players' feet to the helmets on their heads.
Vanderlinden told his team that it was undisciplined, ordered 75 percent of the returning players to report to 7 a.m. study halls and opened up every position. He asked the academic support unit to do more, and sought an overhaul there. After three disturbing defections during the hiring process, he had to make over his staff before it ever worked a practice.
Vanderlinden even had to alter himself. This is his first job as a head coach, and, after two decades as an assistant, he's learning how to be a chief executive officer.
"I got a lot of advice," said Vanderlinden, who this week will begin preparation for a Sept. 6 opener against Ohio. "People told me not to micro-manage, but, initially, I feel I have to be involved in everything, because I want it to look just like the model in my mind. I know how it should look, at least according to Vandy, and I want to make sure it does."
Vanderlinden's fingerprints have been all over Maryland since his hiring last December, one week after the firing of Mark Duffner.
His first recruiting class reports today, and 21 of the 22 have been cleared for freshman eligibility. When veterans report Thursday, out of approximately 60 returning scholarship players, two will be absent, one because he was academically dismissed, the other because he wanted a change in scenery.
One of the Terps' recognized leaders said that Vanderlinden has met little resistance because the players know he has been where they want to go.
"Everyone has bought into it," senior quarterback Brian Cummings said. "When he was at Northwestern, they decided that the road to the Rose Bowl was beating Michigan, then they did it two years straight. It's amazing to have quiet arrogance like that. He believes big things can happen. He's already done them."
No Brag, Just Fact
Over the past 11 seasons, Maryland has been to one bowl game, and the program has floundered since the 1986 departure of Bobby Ross.
While the Terps slipped under Joe Krivak in the late 1980s, Vanderlinden helped Bill McCartney and Colorado reach a national championship in 1990. As Duffner treaded water the past five years, Vanderlinden followed Gary Barnett from Boulder, Colo., to Evanston, Ill., where he was the assistant head coach when Northwestern shocked the Big Ten in 1995 and went to the Rose Bowl.
Since 1990, Maryland has lost 23 straight games against ranked teams. Vanderlinden has developed game plans that have knocked off Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Oh, yes, he's also beaten Penn State, no small point to long-suffering Terps fans.
Vanderlinden crows about the 33 bowl games he and his staff have worked, but it was a confusing assembly. Lou Tepper, believed to be the first assistant head coach in Maryland history, was hired but then backed out, as did two assistants.
Wally Ake, at 46 the graybeard of the staff and with 12 bowls under his belt, replaced Tepper as defensive coordinator. He'll call the defensive schemes, and offensive coordinator Craig Johnson will handle the play-calling. Vanderlinden will get to micro-manage one unit, the punt-return team, and said that spring practice was an adjustment after all those years as a position coach.
"I'm a hands-on guy, and that was hard for me initially," Vanderlinden said. "When spring practice started, it took me a couple of days to know when to jump in. I need to trust my coaches, and those guys don't need me breathing down their neck. I'm very involved, but I'm still feeling out my role there, and probably will all season. I'll never be a tower guy."
Typically, Maryland reimburses its coaches based on experience. Under Duffner, the pay scale for assistants ranged from $60,593 to $85,729. Under Vanderlinden, it ranges from $60,750 to $91,125.
Johnson, Rubin Carter (defensive tackles) and Mike Locksley (running backs) are African-Americans, and no Atlantic Coast Conference school has more minority coaches. Johnson isn't the first African-American coordinator at Maryland, but this season he's the only one in the ACC.
"Pragmatically, you need to definitely have some diversity on your staff," Vanderlinden said. "I have a very diverse team. I live in a very diverse area. But I didn't hire Craig or Rubin or Mike because they're black. I hired them because they can coach."
The new coach also took a primer on current events at Maryland, meeting with Duffner last January.
"He was terrific, very helpful," Vanderlinden said. "We discussed academic issues. When a football staff gets fired for not winning enough games, there's more broke than the football staff."
Duffner, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, did not return phone messages.
Vanderlinden said that more than 10 Maryland players were in danger of being academically dismissed last winter. Tepper, the former Illinois coach, said he didn't leave Maryland because he was unhappy with the academic support, but "it's something that certainly has to be addressed."
Athletic director Debbie Yow said that academic support has two positions that work predominantly with football and that Duffner chose to make one of them a part-time position for a graduate student.
Vanderlinden said his request for a change in academic support and a second full-timer was approved by assistant athletic director Javaune Adams-Gaston, who has since become an assistant dean elsewhere on campus. He also asked for a more vigilant approach.
"I walked into study hall one day last spring, and a proctor was reading a newspaper," Vanderlinden said. "If the players aren't allowed to read a paper in study hall, I don't want the proctors doing that. A football coaching staff lives under the gun; there's always a sense of urgency. I wanted that sense of urgency brought to our academic emphasis."
Vanderlinden was in on a new helmet design and ordered new carpet for the football building. Not all the changes there are cosmetic. The players lounge will be converted into a satellite office for academic support. At a cost of $50,000, study cubicles and 10 computers will replace a big-screen television and oversized couches.
During recruiting rounds in January, Vanderlinden visited the homes of dozens of current players, and told parents that he was unhappy with their sons. He demanded that 44 of them attend daily study halls in the spring, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Twenty-two at-risk players whose cumulative grade-point average averaged 1.81 through fall 1996 averaged 2.4 in the spring.
There is one statistic that Vanderlinden likes. He hasn't had a player arrested since last season, although a senior who was considering an appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility dropped the idea after being charged with assault last December.
"There has not been a discipline problem since I got here," said Vanderlinden, knocking on an end table in his office.
"When they cross the line, our players know there are going to be consequences. You can hug and cry and pray with a coach, but at the same time, the players know that we expect them to do the right thing."