Jim Kehoe spent a somewhat sentimental weekend at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C., reminiscing about the days when his crewcut was stylish.
"Why did I ever give up being a track coach for this?" mused Kehoe the day after announcing his retirement after nine years as athletic director at the University of Maryland.
Meanwhile, at College Park, a silver-haired lady named Betty Francis monitored 60 phone calls before taking a lunch break. Francis, Kehoe's secretary throughout his reign, kept a box of tissues nearby. The overwhelming sentiment of the calls, she said, was for Kehoe to reconsider.
B. Herbert Brown, chairman of the university's Board of Regents, said he expected the board to formally ask Kehoe, 59, to reconsider and withdraw his resignation.
The hubbub amused Kehoe, who in his 39-year career at Maryland angered, built up and rolled over many individuals and finally sought an early retirement because of a split with University Chancellor Robert Gluckstern.
"I thought my retirement would be a low-key event," said Kehoe. "There are plenty of capable people available to row a boat or drive a train. You know that. I know . . . my decision is final . . . I don't make snap judgments.'
And that is why his decision to retire at Maryland was anything but low key. Also, there's the timing factor: the bombshell occuring one day after Russ Potts, supposedly the heir apparent to Kehoe, took the athletic director's job at Southern Methodist University. That assured that the guessing game wil go on for some time about Potts' departure, and Kehoe's announcement the next day.
Some Maryland alumni and athletic observers are worried. Other athletic officials are retiring, or moving to other jobs; a new president, John Toll, is coming to the university soon; Gluckstern is difficult for athletic types to gauge.
"Toll is an unknown and Gluckstern is less than desirable because of how he handled the athletic department this year," said one influential booster. "The (athletic) operation is losing its institutional memory with so many people leaving at once."
What Kehoe accomplished in returning Maryland athletics to national prominence is as rare today as his crewcut: He operated the Maryland department, with its $3 million budget, in the black. Only 3 percent of the nation's athletic departments can make that statement, according to NCAA statistics. And he accomplished it with methods that only recently became standard operating procedures: in merchandising, marketing and cost-monitoring.
"You have to spend money to make money," Kehoe often said to critics who maintained he was building a bureaucracy.
And, in Maryland's case, its metropolitan location prevents its football team from being the only game in town. Schedules formulated a decade or more in advance, during lean years, preclude the box-office appeal that Maryland basketball can generate with its Notre Dames, North Carolinas and Nevada-Las Vegases.
But Kehoe's authoritarian methods and Potts' commercial talents were a successful mix. Kehoe demanded loyalty and got it throughout his department. He hired people dedicated to Maryland, and many of them worked at wages lower than comparable jobs elsewhere.
The top people make good money, like Kehoe's old friend and former roommate, Tom Fields, the man who raised athletic scholarship contributions from $29,000 to $700,000 annually. He is both a salaried employe and a commissioned fund raiser, "The more money he makes, the more money we make," Kehoe has said.
The costs of running a 23-sport athletic program are staggering, with no ceiling in sight. And that is why Maryland boosters and the coaches of the non revenue-producing sports are so concerned. The balanced budget that Kehoe maintained is so delicated that the department may have trouble overcoming another year or two of what was considered average revenue-producing teams last season - a 15-12 basketball squad and an 8-4 football team that lost three of its first four games.
The on-the-field performance effected declining revenues at the gate and it appears unlikely that the Terrapin Club will reach its $800,000 fund-raising goal this year. Maryland has attained its goal each year in the past under Kehoe and Fields.
Maryland officials from Gluckstern to Brown have said in recent days there will be no changes in the emphasis of the Maryland athletic program. Yet, boosters who would like to see the women's programs and minor sports continue at their current level are worried.
One of Kehoe's proudest accomplishments was that Maryland won 40 ACC team championships during his reign, 16 more than runner-up North Carolina. In programs losing money today the trend is to balance the budget by cutting back on the minor sports.
Last week Kehoe sent a letter to Terrapin Club members. Its message was that Maryland is not close to its $800,000 fund-raising goal. Kehoe mentioned the trend of cutting back minor sports at other colleges. He closed the letter by observing that, without track scholarships, neither he nor Fields would have attended college.