Jim Kehoe dies; athletics director made U-Md. a powerhouse

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jim Kehoe, who led the University of Maryland track team to national prominence during his 23 years as coach and later revived the Terrapins' sports programs as the school's athletic director, died Jan. 17 of cardiovascular disease at Burnett-Calvert Hospice House in Prince Frederick. He was 91 and lived in Chesapeake Beach.

Mr. Kehoe had been associated with the University of Maryland since 1936, when he enrolled as a freshman and became a standout middle-distance runner. After becoming the track and cross country coach in 1946, he made Maryland a perennial national powerhouse and won more conference titles than any other coach in school history.

When he retired from coaching in 1969 to become athletic director, his teams had not lost a dual meet with another school in nine years. His track teams had won 27 consecutive meets, and his cross country teams had a 29-meet winning streak.

Mr. Kehoe was asked to bring some of his track-and-field success to the school's other sports programs, which at the time were nothing short of dismal. The football team had lost 17 of 19 games in two years, and the players were in such open rebellion that they reached out to the governor to demand the coach's ouster.

Mr. Kehoe promptly fired the coach, even though he was an old friend, then turned his attention to basketball. Only six weeks into the job as athletic director, he hired Charles "Lefty" Driesell as men's basketball coach and promised "a new era in athletics at the University of Maryland ... top drawer, all the way and nothing less."

It turned out to be a prophetic statement. During his 17 years in College Park, Driesell transformed Maryland into one of the nation's premier basketball schools and a mainstay in the NCAA tournament.

In an effort to improve the fortunes of a hapless football program, Mr. Kehoe hired Jerry Claiborne as coach before the 1972 season. Claiborne turned the team around and won three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference titles in the 1970s.

In other sports, Mr. Kehoe hired Bud Beardmore to coach the men's lacrosse team and Chris Weller as women's basketball coach. All four coaches -- Driesell, Claiborne, Beardmore and Weller -- have been inducted into national coaching halls of fame. In 1998, Mr. Kehoe was named to the national hall of fame for track coaches.

"I believe in winning, no ifs, ands or buts," he said.

Along with success on the field, Mr. Kehoe sought to make the Maryland athletic program a financial success, hiring Tom Fields, an old track teammate, as chief fundraiser.

With soaring attendance and alumni donations, the athletic program turned a profit during each of Mr. Kehoe's nine years at the helm.

Despite his outlandish plaid sportcoats, Mr. Kehoe was conservative in politics and demeanor and once banned a production of "Hair" at Cole Field House on campus. He initially resisted efforts to expand women's athletic programs because, he said, they couldn't pay for themselves.

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