Greivis Vasquez has all but fulfilled his dream of playing in the NBA getting selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 28th pick in the first round last night. It was a great scene with Vasquez and his parents in the crowd at the draft and their exuberant celebration, no surprise there, when his name was called. Vasquez suggested that he was confident about getting selected in the first round, with its guaranteed contracts, and that confidence now seems appropriate. Memphis is a decent spot for Vasquez where he could come off the bench and allow O.J. Mayo to play the off guard. Gary Williams also has to be thrilled that Vasquez was rewarded for coming back his senior year and leading Maryland to its best ACC record since the national title season and a regular season championship. Vasquez deserved this moment.
I suspect Gary Williams also was raising a few libations last night when it became known that athletic director Debbie Yow is leaving her position at Maryland to take the AD job at N.C. State. Yow’s press conference with its thinly veiled shots at Maryland and its fans is a prime example of why it is a good thing that she has moved on. Anyone who has read my blog for any time knows that I am thrilled that Yow is leaving Maryland. This could turn out to be a situation that benefits both parties.
Regardless of your opinion about Yow it was probably time for her to move on for about the last two years. If Yow had left earlier she probably would have avoided some of the recent PR disasters that came from the AD’s office and tarnished her reputation among many Maryland fans. Now Maryland can start fresh with a new AD and new president to replace Dan Mote who is leaving his post. I have a feeling that the failures of the recent power plays by Yow against Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen were a factor in her leaving. Her relationships with the two head coaches of the revenue sports was poisoned and wasn’t going to repaired any time soon. Gary Williams resurgence has made it unlikely that Yow would get to name his successor even if she had stayed. With the way she handled her relationships with Friedgen and Williams made it impossible to effectively manage the two most important athletic programs at the University. It was an untenable situation.
Yow’s record at Maryland is a mixed one. It is true that when she arrived at Maryland back in 1994 things were a mess. The basketball team was only recently off sanctions and the football program was hapless under Mark Duffner. Saddled with a large debt Yow went about trying to find ways to pay off those liabilities and grown the athletic department. It was no easy task. The AD is in much better shape today but it is debatable how much credit Yow should get for that. She certainly deserves some, even an ardent critic like me can acknowledge that, but there were many factors that had little to do with her decisions that got Maryland back into the black. The success of Gary Williams in reviving the basketball program went a long way to balancing the budget and his team is the only real money maker among the athletic programs. Treating student athletes as in-state students for the purposes of the athletic department budget regardless of their home state was clever but little more than an accounting trick. Years after Maryland’s budget footing has improved the basketball team is still the only program that produces any significant profit while millions of dollars are spent on the women’s team that has no hope of ever breaking even. There have been improvements to facilities, most notably the Comcast Center, but many of those were only made possible by the success of Williams and Ralph Friedgen.
Much has been made of the 20 national titles that Maryland has won during the 16 years that Yow was the AD but that number is very misleading. Fourteen of those titles were won by coaches that Yow had no role in hiring. Gary Williams (2002), men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski (2005, 2008), women’s lacrosse coach Cindy Timchal (1995-2001), and field hockey coach Missy Meharg (1999, 2005-6, 2008) were all at Maryland when Yow arrived. The only titles that Yow’s hand picked coaches have won are Brenda Frese’s 2006 women’s basketball title, the women’s lacrosse title this season and the four “national titles” won by the competitive cheer squad. So in the last 16 years the men’s programs at Maryland have not won a single national title in any sport with a coach that Debbie Yow hired. If you take our the ridiculous competitive cheer titles (sorry to anyone who supports that team but an AD shouldn’t be using them to bolster this kind of claim) Yow has only hired two national title winning coaches in women’s sports. That isn’t something to be ashamed of but hardly is much to boast about either.
The larger issues were Yow’s divisive management style and her public relations disasters that marked the end of her time at Maryland. Her increasingly ugly clashes with Gary Williams in the press only made the situation worse and opened Maryland to ridicule and unflattering media coverage. In this climate it became an opportunity for local reporters to engage in a muckraking campaign against the basketball program that did legitimate harm and the national media to write articles about the disarray going on in College Park. This was all part of Yow’s attempt to undermine Williams and precipitate his departure from Maryland. In the end this clumsy attempt to settle personal scores only resulted in harm to the University, which should be the last thing an AD should do, and may have unwittingly resulted in the beginning of the end for Yow herself. Another AD with a better sense of their own role as a Sheppard, and not queen, of Maryland athletics (and the larger University) would have never let things escalate to the point that they did under Yow.
Maryland may have needed someone to clean house after Andy Geiger but those kinds of chainsaw managers rarely do well over the long term after their initial reshuffling. A good athletic director is almost invisible if they are doing their job the right way and too often Yow was a 600 pound gorilla. There are stories of Yow firing employees with a Post It note left on their desk and has a history of being hypersensitive to criticism. She often attempted to attack critics both in the media, fan message boards and even blogs like mine. I often received emails with laughable threats of litigation for offering my opinions on Yow from anonymous supporters of her. Yow’s attempts to censor various message boards like Inside Maryland Sports was shameful. That alone was enough to justify her being removed. As you can tell from this article by John Feinstein, who is certainly a Friend of Gary, her behavior won’t be missed and her undermining of people who she needs to work with will be something College Park can do without.
Even though I am delighted that Yow is leaving I have to point out that Yow denied that she was talking to N.C. State about their AD opening. Clearly that was not the case. Yow was always an outsider. People from North Carolina often have a hard time realizing most of the rest of the country gets along every day without thinking about North Carolina. Yow’s constant attempts to insist that she was a “Terp” through and through seem like the disingenuous and transparent attempt to curry favor with Maryland fans and her power base. Yow’s departure probably had as much to do with her realizing her status at Maryland wasn’t as secure as it may have seemed. Now Maryland can move on and hopefully find a replacement who will captain the ship to smoother seas. I for one and glad the sometimes tumultuous tenure of Debbie Yow at Maryland has come to a close.