Jim Kehoe refereed a football mutiny at Maryland five months before officially becoming athletic director. In all, he replaced the football coach, basketball coach and lacrosse coach in that period. He has admitted: "I've been ruthless. I've had to be." Did anyone honestly expect he could resign - after nine years - without a fuss?
Kehoe was exactly right for the job - and if there was a less attractive one in all of sports in February of 1969, it escapes memory. Maryland needed an athletic director with an obsession for victory and the organizational discipline to pull it off, a man with a Terrapin stitched to his heart and enough nerve to fill important positions with controversial winners.
As Kehoe might put it, let's look at the record: in the middle to late '60s, the Terrapin football and basketball teams were among the worst in the nation, with attendance swelling to five and four figures, respectively, if enough Boy Scouts could be coaxed in free.
In his first two years as athletic director, basketball season tickets increased from 225 to 3,000; football season tickets increased 50 percent, to 7,500. It is cause for alarm when Terrapin football and basketball teams are not in the top 20 now. When most other athletic departments in the country are crying poverty, Maryland is making money.
Kehoe gets credit for all of this because he hired the men who made it possible, following through on a theory he first uttered four days after accepting the position: "My job is having the right people doing the right job."
Some of the choices, Lefty Driesell for basketball, Jack Zane for sports information, Tom Fields for fund raiser, either were obvious or at least logical. It was a gamble to hire Jerry Claiborne as football coach; it paid off. Hiring Russ Potts as promotions director paid off nearly as handsomely.
Somehow, Potts managed to attract advertisers and customers to Maryland when it generally was conceded an event would go downhill shortly after the National Anthem. He was producing guady programs and steadily building a radio network before his teams justified them.
Potts knows more angles than Euclid. Once he was complimented on luring an especially large crowd for an especially dull game - Maryland vs. Villanova - and he looked toward the Byrd Stadium stands and said:
Then he explained that it would be a wonderful idea for local jails to allow their inmates to attend Maryland home football games.
"Of course, you'd have to take them back," he mused.
Former basketball aide Dave Pritchett phoned Potts at 3 a.m. once and wanted to hire a private plane for a quick recruiting trip to Moses Malone's home. Potts said a friend of his had a plane, but had his pilot's license suspended for flying under the Delaware Memorial Bridge twice.
Potts has been panting for an athletic directorship for some time. Ironically, he accepted an offer from SMU they day before Kehoe announced his resignation. Close friends say Kehoe has been seriously considering retirement for 18 months, so Potts being promoted at Maryland may have been seriously entertained only in his mind. He should do well as SMU.
Like many of the men he hired, Kehoe was taken too lightly by opponents he later often would overwhelm. His high-school track coach was one of the first to make that mistake.
In his first competitions as a distance runner, Kehoe was directed to set a fast pace so a more prominent teammate would be able to set a record for the mile. For the first half-mile, Kehoe led as expected. Then he surprised everybody by nearly maintaining that speed and winning by 150 yards.
As track coach at Maryland, he was immensely successful with no full scholarships. He was largely unknown even in national intercollegiate circles when he became athletic director, but brought a preacher's passion, a militarist's organization and an accountant's eye for detail.
He also spoke his mind - and that often caused trouble. Old fashioned enough to sport a crew haircut when over-the-ear length was stylish, Kehoe took the predictably hard-line position against women's athletics.
The bottom line was money and three years ago, he said," I see no income." Still, he complied and the Maryland women's basketball team finished second in the nation this season.
Kehoe can be abrasive and abrupt, given to filibusters when a phrase will do nicely. At times, his smile is overdone, his handshake too firm, his sport coat too loud.But he got Maryland athletics noticed and on firm footing - on the field and in the bank. ANd he had his moments of compassion.
This was evident very late on March 4, 1969, in a quiet corridor of Cole Field House. He had just orchestrated the final act of the mutiny against Coach Bob Ward, arguably the best football player in the school's history and a former member of Kehoe's track team.
Tension was thick; wounds that never would completely heal had opened. The next morning Ward would announce his resignation "in the best interest of the university" but this moment Kehoe walked alone near the football offices, in tears for his friend and his school.