The news conference long since over, his routine round of television interviews just completed, John B. Slaughter was starting the 50 or so paces that would lead to his office when he sensed something unusual -- and welcome. He was alone.

For the first time in nearly 11 months, this bright and warm May morning, nobody was yipping at his heels or stepping into his path with yet another embarrassing question in a public setting. The media herd was crowded around the new athletic director, Lew Perkins, who seemed to be taking charge.

"That was a good feeling," Slaughter recalled not long ago. "That finished things."

Hardly. The calamity known as The Bias Aftermath was not ended for the University of Maryland's chancellor. Merely put aside, there being few significant areas of the athletic department that have not been altered by actions for which Slaughter is accountable.

If Brian Lee Tribble's immediate future was resolved last Wednesday night by a Prince George's County Circuit Court jury that found him innocent on charges of supplying the cocaine that killed Len Bias, other people whom Bias touched, including some on Maryland's College Park campus, remain affected by his death.

The hard decisions expected of a chief executive officer have been made by Slaughter: a new -- and untested -- football coach (Joe Krivak); a new -- and even less tested -- basketball coach (Bob Wade); a new -- and unfamiliar -- athletic director (Perkins); new -- and controversial -- policies that would keep Maryland under scrutiny even without the shakeup in personnel.

If dozens of issues remain unresolved, one ironic and perhaps startling conclusion about the ordeal seems clear: many of the changes that have occurred at Maryland probably would have taken place had Len Bias not died.

It was almost inevitable that Dick Dull would leave as athletic director; football coach Bobby Ross was getting antsy; quietly, Lefty Driesell was being eased out as basketball coach.

Slaughter had been publicly upset over academic shortcomings among athletes, particularly basketball players, long before it became known that Bias was nearly a year behind graduating on time.

The Bias-related incidents accelerated everything. Compacted years into months into weeks. Suddenly, the methodical, often slow pace of academia got flipped to the fast-forward style of sport.

For instance, Driesell was one year into a 10-year contract split between coaching and an administrative position in the athletic department. After five more years of an orderly -- and likely dignified -- transition, he might well have been sitting in the chair he assumed after three months of bitter negotiations last fall.

In the early months of 1986, Dull was one of two finalists for an executive position with Jefferson Teleproductions.

"Had I gotten that job," he said, "I would have been in Charlotte {N.C.} when this whole situation happened." He also had sought athletic directorships at Southern California and Arizona State before the Bias tragedy; last month, he declined an offer from Texas El-Paso.

Slaughter went public perhaps a year before the Bias tragedy with his concerns about graduation rates and "the kind of academic advising that the kids were getting."

"Then it became urgent, rather than just something that we ought to do," he said. "All the things that we've accomplished this year are things that you can sorta see out there, in the distance. But we probably wouldn't have been able to pull them off. Or without a lot more struggle.

"The major thing that we've done . . . is change the eligibility criteria. I had been concerned for some time that these kids were participating in athletics while being on academic warning.

"When we finally came to grips with the {task force on academics'} recommendations, we had a lot of cooperation from the athletic enterprise. I think we would not have had that cooperation earlier.

"They would have said: 'Don't shackle us with that, because we won't be able to compete with everybody else if we do that.' So we would have had a much harder battle to fight."

For all three -- Dull, Driesell and Slaughter -- it appeared that the battleground was a public spectacle. However, many of the battles were intensely private.

"The only time it really got to my mother {living in Pennsylvania}," said Dull, "was the day she saw me, on television, going into the courthouse and being ambushed by all the reporters on the way to the grand jury. That day, she sat down and cried. I guess she linked grand jury, criminality, her son.

"She realized that I was not under any kind of consideration for grand jury action. Still, that was the one thing that probably overwhelmed her. And it wasn't easy for me to know that she, being 73, was sitting up there crying."

Within two weeks of Bias' death, during a telephone conversation in his office, Dull experienced pains he thought might be related to an imminent heart attack.

"I said to myself: 'Wouldn't this be an epitaph to this whole story -- I dropped dead with a heart attack.' I sat there, afraid to get up but afraid to stay still."

An examination revealed the problem to be "more muscular and psychosomatic rather than coronary," Dull said.

The night last August when Slaughter told the basketball team he was going to shorten its season, he invited Driesell to his home for what he had hoped would be a private meeting.

Slaughter casually mentioned the briefing to his house guests, who were from California and unaware of the ongoing turmoil. He asked that they direct Driesell downstairs when the coach arrived.

They did. And when a camera crew from WJLA-TV rang a few minutes later, the naive guests offered a hearty welcome and innocently pointed toward where Driesell had headed.

"There was an almost hypergolic reaction between the coach and the camera people," said Slaughter, laughing.

Slaughter clearly is more relaxed these days, although decidedly less open. His sense of humor is closer to the surface. He enjoys athletics, having been a baseball player growing up in Kansas (he pitched against former St. Louis Cardinals star Bob Gibson), a half-miler in track and a member of the cross-country team that won the state championship.

"I used to dream about someday being on the sports page," he said. "I didn't anticipate that I'd find my name in headlines in the sports page like I have. I've decided I don't like it."

The headlines, large and unrelenting, followed soon after Bias' death. Some of them were Slaughter-inspired, for the task force he created stung Dull and Driesell with especially harsh criticism. Such as:

"The university has not been vigilant in safeguarding the quality of the academic program of student-athletes. There are already in place a number of regulations and procedures that were designed to ensure and maintain the integrity of these programs . . .

"The task force examined some representative samples of student-athlete transcripts and found some of them to be appalling. Apparently, some of our student-athletes have taken courses with no clear academic objective in mind other than to maintain athletic eligibility . . .

"We feel that the {grade-point average} standards for participation in intercollegiate athletics are too low . . . the appeal process for reinstatement is too liberal . . .

"The athletic department provides very little in terms of nonacademic support for student-athletes. These students appear to be isolated . . .

"We found that the recruiting materials used for the football team emphasized strongly the academic programs at the university . . . The testimony that the task force received concerning the recruitment practice of the men's basketball program showed that the emphasis was on the athletic participation of the student, rather than on the academic programs and opportunities . . ."

A few days before that barrage of criticism was released, Dull resigned and became an aide to Slaughter. Within a month, Driesell was out as basketball coach, reassigned as an assistant athletic director. And he was guaranteed to make $135,000 annually for the first four years in that position.

Said Dull, who had offered earlier to resign: "I think, probably, the time was ripe. I was worn out as much as anything. I realized, at a level above me, that people weren't as supportive of me as they once were. Not Dr. Slaughter, but others."

Dull is eager now to show the positive side of his five years as athletic director. He said that the number of Maryland athletes on the Atlantic Coast Conference honor role had risen from about 35 to 84 during his watch, and that the graduation rate for athletes was higher than that of the regular student body.

That's in addition to the football coach he hired, Ross, winning more than twice as often as he lost and attendance at Byrd Stadium nearly doubling.

"My initial reaction," Dull said, "was that I was glad to be out of intercollegiate athletics. I had thought about leaving Maryland before, so I was relieved. The longer I went the more I realized I missed intercollegiate athletics.

"Secondly, I realized that the Len Bias situation wasn't over for me, that I was going to have to think about that situation for a long, long time."

How has Bias haunted him?

"It's not really second-guessing," Dull said. "But what you begin to think is: 'I don't deserve this. I don't deserve to have been here. I don't feel like I did anything wrong.'

"Those are the mental gyrations you go through, and you know that your name has been tainted with An Athletic Scandal. You're not concerned about self-doubt so much as perceptions that people have of you that may not be correct.

"I finally realized you don't have control over some of the curves that are thrown at you in your life. Accordingly, I made that commitment, a few months ago, that I'd quit feeling sorry for being at Maryland, that I'd put that behind me."

Surely, Dull second-guesses himself at times.

"I should have come out and fought a little bit harder for my program," he said. "I think I probably should have been a little bit more argumentative in the media, as far as defending the program.

"I think the biggest misconception is that Lefty Driesell was a person that could care less about the welfare of his kids. And care less about their academics. That's not the Lefty Driesell I saw after five years.

"It's easy to put all the blame on the coach. If a student gets an F in psychology, it's not the instructor's fault. But that instructor is likely to say it's Lefty's fault, because he's the coach. I don't understand why there's no responsibility, other than the coach."

Dull quibbles about parts of the task force report, but says: "From my standpoint, they did a good job . . . All in all, I've been treated well by people at Maryland . . . on a one-on-one basis, although I realize how some relish saying things behind your back."

For the most part, Driesell's 17 seasons at Maryland were lively and highly productive. He arrived when the basketball program seemed stagnant and produced six teams ranked in the top 15 nationally. His 524-224 record, which includes nine seasons at Davidson, was second best among active coaches after his final season.

That final season started slowly, but ended with the Terrapins advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament after scoring the first visitors' victory in North Carolina's new basketball palace. Bias had 35 points that night and almost solely was responsible for Maryland's overcoming a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes.

Afterward, Driesell crowed: "If Leonard Bias ain't the player of the world, people don't know basketball."

To many, Driesell is the scapegoat of the Bias fallout. He maintains the graduation rate for his players over the years is higher than the university says it is. Others insist Driesell bears more than a little responsibility for players often on and off probation, and that he embarrassed the university twice in a four-year period by seeming to interfere in nonbasketball matters. The first time was a campus incident involving forward Herman Veal.

Driesell, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has been mentioned as a leading candidate to coach the new Charlotte franchise in the National Basketball Association. He turned down an offer to coach at South Alabama.

"I'm sure, from his standpoint," Slaughter said, "our relationship is a strained one. Perhaps an estranged one. But I would hope that at some point it'll change, because I happen to like him. And I think he has handled himself with a tremendous amount of class in a very difficult situation."

During the Tribble trial, Driesell seemed to contradict statements he made soon after Bias' death. His testimony was that team members David Gregg and Terry Long told him not only that Bias had been using cocaine that morning but that Tribble supplied it; hours after the death, Driesell said he thought drugs were not involved in the death.

"That's been almost a year ago," the Associated Press quoted Driesell as saying Thursday. "At the time, I didn't know that Leonard had died from drugs. The players had said he had used drugs. But I didn't know that drugs killed him and I wasn't going to say that unless I was positive. The autopsy wasn't done for days."

During the trial, Long said he has been working in a clothing store in Richmond -- his hometown. Most of the 29 games he started, during three years at Maryland, were during his final season. He averaged about three points and three rebounds for his career.

Gregg followed Bias from Northwestern High, but was used sparingly his freshman season. He has indicated he might try to return to the Maryland team this fall and also that he might transfer, possibly to Long Beach State.

Dull and Driesell mostly are finished defending themselves; Slaughter is not. But the actions of others, the men Slaughter has hired, will speak for what the chancellor has done.

"The whole period was tough," Slaughter said. "But I've always sensed it was a tremendous opportunity for us to turn this into something positive, in the long run.

"I'm not the kind of person who has a tendency to be depressed. That's not a characteristic I have. I have to curb my optimism. I have to curb my idealism. That's my problem. I tend to be convinced we can do anything.

"There certainly were some tough days. Many of them I didn't enjoy. I also lost my mother {in early May}, which was consistent with the whole {school} year in many ways."

Bias and other Maryland athletes often would drop by Slaughter's home for casual get-togethers.

"So I knew him well," Slaughter said. "I thought the world of him. So warm and engaging. A wonderful young man. I've never had anything hit me quite so hard as his death."

Slaughter clearly was not prepared for how hard, and how often, he would be peppered in the months that followed. There was no grand consensus for any major decision he made. Suggestions at the time that he also should be relieved of his duties have not abated. He is carrying much of the weight of both the football and basketball programs on his shoulders, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Presidents Commission, of which he is chairman.

Slaughter knows he cannot hide from the fallout of so many basic problems. He also admits to having received at least one letter calling him a hypocrite.

"I still believe it makes sense for freshmen not to participate in athletics," he said. "I believe that very strongly. People come back and say: 'If you feel that way, why did you disagree with the recommendation of the task force, which said that at-risk students shouldn't participate {their freshman seasons}? Sounds like you're speaking out of both sides of your mouth.'

"Well, I answer that by saying that, while I think freshmen shouldn't play, the one thing I oppose more is discrimination. And I sense discrimination in the recommendation that at-risk students, as they're defined, shouldn't play."

The discrimination about which he rails is based on standardized testing that fingers students as "at risk." He reasons: maybe the at-risk athletes actually are as capable of surviving in the classroom as those the standardized tests insist are better prepared.

"I think the intent of Proposition 48 {to toughen admissions standards for athletes} is great," he said. "I think the implementation is lousy."

Another area-wide criticism has been: Why did you not even place a courtesy call to De Matha High School Coach Morgan Wootten before hiring Wade?.

"An error in judgment," Slaughter admits, "that I didn't call and say: 'Here's what I'm doing. I'm letting you know.' "

The fundamental questions for Slaughter: What really has changed at Maryland? What's different, besides the new faces and the more than a dozen firings within the athletic department to balance the budget? At-risk athletes still get in -- and get to play right away.

"We're putting into place academic eligibility criteria which are comparable to the best institutions in the country," Slaughter said. "Our students clearly are going to be on target to graduate.

"By the time they're juniors they've got to have the grade-point average they're gonna need to graduate in order to be eligible as seniors: a 2.0. Our eligibility criteria will be the strongest in the Atlantic Coast Conference."

Nevertheless, people still point fingers at Maryland. A coach who lost the recruiting battle for Rudy Archer, recently signed by Wade, claims the gifted point guard needs to attend summer school to graduate from Allegany Community College. Would Slaughter be bothered if such a charge proved true?

"Not if he's in good standing at the time he comes here . . . I don't want to do anything for an athlete that we wouldn't do for another student."

Slaughter also insists that the academic support unit for athletes has been taken from athletic department control. All policies will be determined by a group that includes three faculty members, an academic dean and the athletic director and will report to the vice chancellor for academic affairs.

But what makes it appear to be business as usual is that the unit is housed in the athletic department.

Less than a year after being hired, Wade embarrassed Slaughter and others at College Park by appearing to be trying to run an obscure player, Phil Nevin, off the team.

"I don't question that the possibility of his scholarship being lost was being considered," Slaughter said. "But we had not taken any action to do that. And would not have. If it came up here for doing, I would not have."

In essence, that has been what the more than 11 months of tragedy and transition at Maryland seemed to be about: something was always off the track.

"One of the first comments I made when I became chancellor {in 1983}," Slaughter said, "was that no one should take such a job unless he or she likes football and basketball. Because you're going to spend a lot of time at it."

Never did he imagine such prolonged concentration over sport.

"I'm looking forward," he said, "to the year being over."