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Debbie Yow had number of reasons to take athletic director job at N.C. State

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010; D02

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sporting essentially the same shade of red as she has for the past 16 years, Debbie Yow stood at a podium inside Vaughn Towers at Carter-Finley Stadium and spoke Friday about the factors that led her to assume the vacant athletic director position at North Carolina State.

For Yow, who had been athletic director at Maryland since 1994, some of the reasons were obvious. She grew up 65 miles northwest of here in Gibsonville, N.C.; her sister, Kay, coached women's basketball at N.C. State for 34 years before dying of breast cancer in 2009.

But there were other, less heart-warming and more sobering reasons for Yow's shift from one ACC athletic department to another. And they will continue to have an impact on Maryland in the wake of Yow's departure.

University of Maryland President C.D. Mote has announced he will retire effective Aug. 31, and no successor has been named. Multiple sources with knowledge of the presidential search process said Friday that a decision is expected to be made between the middle of August and the end of September.

Mote and Yow shared a close working relationship, and it was believed that the arrival of a new university president would bring about a significant degree of uncertainty regarding Yow's long-term job status. Yow's public image deteriorated somewhat in recent years as her relationship with the coaches of her two primary revenue sports -- men's basketball's Gary Williams and football's Ralph Friedgen -- strained.

Rather than await an outcome she could not control, Yow displayed some of the assertiveness that has helped mold her reputation as a college athletics administrator.

"I've always understood that as the AD, whoever the president is, I need to line up with what they expect," Yow said. "So that's kind of my orientation to it. But it is nice to be able to pick your chancellor, and that's what I was able to do."

Yow's "pick," N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson, praised Yow for the success Maryland athletics has experienced under her watch. Since Yow came to College Park, the Terrapins have claimed 16 NCAA-sanctioned national championships in five sports. She also helped reduce an inherited, unfounded department deficit of $51 million to $5.5 million.

Woodson met with Yow in Maryland on Tuesday, and that night he called other candidates to inform them he'd made his choice. Yow agreed to a five-year contract that will pay her an annual base salary of $350,000.

"You all know she's a North Carolinian with a heart for this state and pride in this state and a real interest in coming home," Woodson said. "She's forever changed the campus community in Maryland, and I know she'll have that same impact here at N.C. State."

When asked to discuss some of the elements that drew her to N.C. State -- outside of her family ties -- Yow mentioned the program's history of balanced budgets, its facilities and the loyalty of its fan base. N.C. State's football team finished 5-7 and in fifth place in the ACC's Atlantic Division last season, and still, Yow said, the Wolfpack fans made their presence felt. She called it "an irreplaceable trait."

"How I have judged that that burning desire is there is checking the number of season ticket holders you have in football," Yow said. "There are a lot of folks still on board in football through thick and through thin. Trust me, that doesn't happen in most places, so I know there's a strong attachment and loyalty to the program."

Last fall, Maryland revealed that season ticket sales in football have declined each year since the 2005 season.

Last season, the Maryland football team finished 2-10, a performance that led Yow to attempt -- and fail -- to raise the funds necessary to buy out Friedgen's contract, according to multiple high-ranking donors. Many of those sources said Yow also tried to buy out Williams's contract during the 2008-09 season.

Yow played down the apparent rift between her and Maryland's football and men's basketball coaches. She said she recently nominated Williams for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and made a formal request to a campus committee that Williams's name be added to the Comcast Center court. Her last day at Maryland is July 9, and she will begin work at N.C. State on July 15.

The search for her replacement will take some time and likely won't be able to gain much momentum until a new university president is named. Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation said Mote will name an interim athletic director early next week.

As for her permanent successor, Yow said she suggested to Maryland officials that they target Connecticut Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway. She spoke of the respect Hathaway commands in the college athletics community, as well as of the successful men's and women's basketball programs he has overseen at Connecticut.

She also pointed out that Hathaway has roots in College Park. He and his wife are Maryland graduates, and Yow knows all about returning to familiar territory.

"Perhaps that conference [the Big East] is not as stable as the ACC, and the ACC has a new TV agreement with more money," Yow said. "I'm practicing [my sales pitch] because I will be calling him and saying, 'You need to come home.' "

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