As a reminder of what kind of work he's in, Lee Corso, the football coach at Indiana University, used to have two newspaper clippings taped to his office wall, there above the telephone where he would be sure to see them often. The clippings told a story about Jerry Claiborne, who is a genius today but was ignorant beyond hope in 1970.
One clipping, dated 1969, told how the wonderful folks at Virginia Tech had talked Claiborne out of leaving for the head coaching job at Baylor. In two of the previous three seasons, he had taken Tec to bowl games and people around the country knew him to be a nice guy who created skilled teams of strong character. So the sweetie-pies at Tech said, Stay here forever, coach, we love you.
Claiborne stayed. Didn't even a contract. He'd been coaching almost 20 years. An honorable man, he'd never seen a need for a contract. You shake hands. That's enough. But in 1969 Virginia Tec won only four of 10 games and in 1970 it won five of 11, and the second clipping on Corso's wall, dated 1970, told how Claiborne had been fired by Tech. Forever is no long if you lose more games than you win.
"In athletics, it's not what you did yesterday than courts," Claiborne said. "Like I told my players the other days, that 11-0 season last year doesn't mean one thing now. It was nice over the winter, but now it's gone. We have to go out there and win now?"
Yes, the man canned by Virginia Tec won all 11 games in the regular season last year. His University of Maryland team went to the Cotton Bowl, losing to Houston, 30-21. If Claiborne did nice work at Virginia Tec - and he di, winning 60 per cent of his games for a school in the middle of nowhere playing big-time opponents - he has accomplished a wonder at thedge of the nation's capital. And the best may be yet to come.
The man who couldn't coach forever at Virginia Tech is thinking about winning a national championship for Maryland.
Coaches believe that any school that has won a national championship can do it again. Such success is seen as proof that the basic ingredients are there: the fan interest, administrative support, a supply of players, first-class facilities. Maryland won a national championship in 1953, going undefeated until losing to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The polls then decided who was No. 1 before the bowl games, not after as they do now.
Jim Tatum coached Maryland then. In nine season, he took the Terrapins to five bowl games. His last seven years, Maryland had a 60-9-2 won-lost-tied record. Tatum quit Maryland in 1956, going back to his alma mater. North Carolina and five coaches - Tommy Mont, Tom Nugent, Lou Saban, Bob Ward, Roy Lester - never could get Maryland back to bowl game.
Told to get lost by Virginia Tec. Claiborne worked a year as an assistant coach at Colorado, where his boss, Eddie Crowder, said he was largely responsible for the team's No. 3 national ranking. At the same time, Lester was suffering through a second straight 2-9 season. Only 12,600 persons came to Maryland's last game in 1971, and Lester soon was gone.
Claiborne was hired. He had another offer, but he chose Maryland because he liked its location; he could recruit from major metropolitan areas. The chancellor of the university, Dr. Charles Bishop, told Claiborne a winning football team was important to student morale, to alumn morale, and, perhaps to the chancellor's morale. The atheltic director, Jim Kehoe, said to Claiborne. Tell me what you need, coach.
Big-time football programs are not self-sustaining. Without Bear Bryant, Alabama might win or it might not. There are no guarantees, and winners are those schools that work the hardest at winning with the best people available. Take away Woody Hayes, replace him with a mistake, and Ohio State becomes Northwesters.
After Tatum, Maryland's next five coaches produced a total of three winning seasons in 16 years. In 1967, Maryland, the national champtionof 1953, did not win a game. Seven straight losing seasons - and average of 2 1/2 victories a year - preceded Claiborne's arrival, and he found little to remind him of the past glories.
"We didn't even have a room big enough for a team meeting," Claiborne said yesterday. "We had to life weights outside because there wasn't enough room inside anywhere. To see,a film, we hung a sheet cover backboard."
He also found a football team full of 200-pound weaklings.
"Only one guy could bench-press 330 pounds," Claiborne said. For your average man on the street, 330 pounds is a small mountain; a football player at the big-time level needs to mova mountains. Claiborne arranged that. "Now we've got 40 or 50 guys over 330."
A spiffy weight room, new offices, meeting rooms and film room have been built for Claiborne's team, and he say's it's all evident in the team's performance. After a 5-5-1 beginning in 1972, Claiborne has directed Maryland to seasons of 8-4, 8-4, 9-2 and 11-1. Where Maryland had never won an outright Atlantic Coast Conference championship - it shared two under Tatum - the Terrapins now have won three straight undisputed ACC championships and a record 20 consecutive ACC games.
Claiborne is proud that.And modest, too. To suggestions that Maryland has separated itself from the ACC - for instance, only one player, a fifth-year man, has ever lost to an ACC team - Claiborne said, "Its almost an impossibility, what we've done. It don't think to be lucky, and we have been."
Then Claiborne doesn't think Maryland is too good for the ACC?
"Oh, Lord, no," he said, amazed at the questions some people ask. "We'll be fighting for our lives every time we line up. We've won, but we've had close games. There are five or six plays in every game that if they go your way, you win; it they don't you lose. Sor far they're going our way."
The Cotton Bowl defeat last year dropped Maryland to eighth in the final Associated Press rankings. With 12 starters back from that team, with the only major problem the reconstruction of the offensive line, Maryland was ranked 10th in today's preseason poll by the AP. Could Maryland win the national championship.?
"That's always our goal, of course," Claiborne said. "You want to be the best at what you're doing. But when you start talking national championship, you're talking a lot of intangible things that have to happen. You have to be real good - and real lucky."
One thing more, That Virginia Tec episode taught Claiborne something. "I've got a contract now," he said, smiling.