Friday, June 25, 2010

Big night for Maryland

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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The earth moves beneath our feet

It has been a busy week for Maryland sports. Let’s start with some very good news. Maryland hired Xavier assistant Orlando “Bino” Ranson as an assistant coach to replace the departed Chuck Driesell who took over the head coaching job at The Citadel.

Ranson is a young up and coming coach who is familiar with the area, particularly Baltimore, and had a very good reputation as a recruiter. He had stints with James Madison and Loyola, where he was under former Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, before going to Xavier. Ranson helped Xavier put together a very nice 2010 recruiting class that included 4-star Baltimore player Jordan Latham. In Ranson the Terps will get a coach who wants to be at Maryland and has proven to be a good talent evaluator and tireless recruiter. Certainly those traits are needed to replace Driesell. As I wrote earlier I think this is a very promising hire and better than some of the options that had been floated early in the process.

 

The bigger news is coming from the potentially apocalyptic shift in college conferences that is happening as I type. Colorado has already left for the Pac-10, almost sure to be followed by other Big 12 members. Nebraska seems to be poised to announce a move to the Big Ten as soon as tomorrow. There are many rumors floating around regarding Maryland’s status and potential invites to the Big Ten.

My position is that if Maryland is invited to the Big Ten they have little choice but to accept membership in what will be the most powerful and lucrative conference in college sports. I am as much a traditionalist as the next blogger, I was against expansion the first time around, but this decision cannot be made based on sentimentality. It would be best to evaluate the future of Maryland as an institution and athletic power without regard to what existed prior to the expansion of the ACC. The old ACC was relegated to history years ago. This new ACC is not configured in a way to make it competitive with a new Big Ten, SEC or an expanded Pac-10 that include most of the current Big 12. Swofford missed the boat back in 2005. He didn’t realize that getting a TV network like the Big Ten has was far more important than adding a few schools that nobody wanted. It seems that the moment for the ACC to form their own network has likely passed the league by and that may just be a fatal error. The SEC is likely moving towards their own network soon and the Pac-10 is certainly going to go that route once they add the likes of Texas and Oklahoma. The ACC will be left with a collection of teams that outside of Maryland and Boston College don’t add much to a network for cable and satellite operators. I can watch the Big Ten network in Virginia as part of my basic cable package but who in the midwest will want to pay extra to watch the ACC network when the Pac-10 and SEC have better content.

The only hope for the health of the ACC is to hope that the Big Ten stops at Nebraska and gives the ACC a chance to raid the poor Big East again. If they could grab schools like Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt then they may have a fighting chance to create their own network or negotiate a better deal on par with the SEC or Big Ten. Otherwise the ACC will be relegated to being the poor man’s big conference for the next few decades. With significant revenue advantages the other mega conferences will be able to outspend every ACC school in regards to coaches and facilities. Forget ACC football becoming a factor for decades.

Problem is I don’t think the Big Ten is as dumb as the ACC has been. They will go for the kill. That means some combination of Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse or perhaps Maryland. Even if the ACC raided the remnants of the Big East football schools such as Pitt, West Virginia and Connecticut would add little cache to any TV deals that may come in the future and further dilute the share of each member.

As a fan I would certainly miss the rivalries with Virginia, Duke and North Carolina but as expansion should have taught everyone things change. I’d rather be with the have’s instead of the have less schools. Standing pat will only cement Maryland’s position in a conference that will be second tier in terms of power and influence. The ACC is a weakened white wale that is in danger of getting harpooned and cut up for blubber. Even if it lives on it will only be a shadow of its former glory. That is not a place I want to be.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Women Lax wins title; Early All-ACC

The women’s lacrosse team defeated Northwestern on Sunday to win the 10th National Championship in the program’s history. It was the first championship for the Terps since 2001 which ended seven straight years of Maryland dominance. Northwestern had won five titles in a row before falling to the lady Terps in a seesaw affair that ended 13-11. It was the first title for head coach Cathy Reese in her fourth season at Maryland. Reese is no stranger to championships having played at Maryland during the 7 straight titles under Cindy Timchal.

Lead by senior Caitlyn McFadden, who was awarded Tournament MVP, the Terps stormed back after going down 6-0 to start the match. Sarah Mollison, Karri Johnson and Katie Schwarzmann all scored three goals each and will return next season. It looks like coach Reese has the Terps poised for another run of sustained greatness.

 

Phill Steele is out with his preseason All-ACC picks. No real surprises for Maryland with the exception of Antwine Perez getting the nod as 2nd team SS. On offense WR Torrey Smith and RB Da’Rel Scott were both given 2nd team honors. Smith was also tagged as 1st team kick returner. It illustrates the question marks on offense for Maryland this coming season that no other players were picked on the four teams.

Defense is another story. In addition to Perez Maryland has three linebackers Alex Wujciak (1st team), Demetrius Hartsfield (3rd) and Adrian Moten (3rd). The linebacking corps is certainly the best position group on the team with quality backups like Ben Pooler and Darin Drakeford in addition to the impressive starters. Safety Kenny Tate also made Steele’s 3rd team All-ACC. The defensive unit certainly has talent and it will be up to second year defensive coordinator Don Brown to get this group playing up to their talent. I expect the defense to be greatly improved this season.