When the University of Maryland football team takes the field at Byrd Stadium Saturday to open its season against Tulane, Jerry Claiborne will be starting his seventh season as coach of the Terrapins.
His record is 49-20-2, including five consecutive bowl game appearance.
In question-and-answer session last week with staff writer Betty Cuniberti, Claiborne discussed a variety of topics. Below are excerpts from that interview.
Q: Where does the Maryland football program stand, where is it headed?
A: We hope our program remains competitive in the conference and in the country. We think right now that we have one of the better programs in the country. I think we have proven that. But you can go down just as quickly as you can go up if you quit working. We think we are there and we hope to stay there.
Q: With the inflation we have today, is money a major concern?
A: Money is always a major concern, especially with the women's programs now going into effect. There's only so much money to go around and we're kind of self-sustaining. The money has to come from somewhere. It's not going to come from the women's programs. So money is a problem.
Q: Perphaps you read the series in Sports Illustrated about the future of football being threatened by increased injuries and brutality. How do you feel about this?
A: I don't think football is brutal in the college ranks. I think there could be a few rules that could be better. One I tried to get in was not being able to physically attack the trail man on an option below the waist. Personally, I don't think you should be able to tackle him at all. We try to teach our players when they are blocking on a blind-side block to hit the man high. I don't think there is malicious hitting in college football, spearing I don't think it's there. If everybody would quit lifting weights, everybody would be on an equal basis, and people wouldn't be as big and strong as they are now. But I don't think anybody's going to give it up. I think, the big thing is that players have gotten bigger and stronger and faster. Now when contact is made with the knee, shoulder and elbow joints, you can't strengthens them as much. I don't think it's malicious. I don't think it's brutal. I think it's a contact sport. I don't agree exactly with that, article is Sports Illustrated.
Q: Do you think something more should be done to protect the quarterback?
A: A quarterback can raise the ball up and throw if and or raise the ball up and run it. If you start stopping when you're a defender going in, and he raises the ball up to throw and then runs for a touchdown, that's not part of the game. I don't think that's been a problem in college football. None of our quarterbacks were hurt by late hits, or malicious hits.
Q: Do you feel something should be done about the helmet to make it safer?
A: I advocated taking the face mask off. But you're sure as heck not going to take them off until everybody takes them off.
[Some of the most serious injuries, causing paralysis, occur when a facemask is shoved upward, pushing the back of the helmet into the neck].
Q: Why is that?
A: It gives you a little more courage with that facemask on.
Q: What is your feeling on shoulder and head blocks?
A: We teach the shoulder block. But if the defensive man moves, then you start out with a shoulder block and end up hitting him with your head - that's not the offensive man's fault. Therefore I think you'd ruin football if you tried to put in a rule that you can't hit with your head.I think maybe a padded head gear would help. This I don't know. It hasn't been proven in a scientific experiment, I don't think. We don't teach hitting with head gear, because that's the way you can hurt yourself the most.
If you tackle properly, you'll never have that problem. And we'd like to think we do things correctly.
Q: Do you think college players emulate the pro?
A: Oh, yeah, when they have to pass the ball down. We have a rule against spiking. I think between their legs when they score a touch that's bush league. Maybe the crowd likes it. Maybe that's why the pros do it. There's no reason for it.
Q: Do you see any other effects of the pros on colleges? Are the players overly concerned about money and signing contracts?
A: I haven't noticed it in our program too much. I think maybe when they become seniors if the big money is in their face they might slip a little academically. But as far as their football I haven't seen it affect them.
Q: How has the whole experience of being a college football player changed since you played?
A: I don't think it's changed any. We never lifted weights. But there was no rule about how much you could practice. We'd just practice all the time. During the summer.
Q: So then you practiced more than you players do. You probably don't feel, then, that it's harder now to be both a student and an athlete?
A: Oh, no, it's harder. Lord, no. We had meetings three nights a week when I played at Kentucky. We never have a night meeting here.
Q: Do you think players have changed as people?
A: I think they've changed with our society. There's more give-away. Sometimes it's a little tougher to get some players to work harder and pay the sacrifice. They're still good people. Sometimes you might have to explain things a little more than you used to. Now they want to know why. Just like we had a lot of people in the Vietnem war who wouldn't follow orders, but back in World War II when you were fighting for your life and fighting for our country everybody did it. Now everyone has cars and things of his nature. I guess they're not 'in' if they don't have cars. Maybe that's right. Maybe that's what they need. I don't know. We're a lot more liberal with our morals and what we think is right and wrong. Things that years ago were considered wrong nowadays is commonplace.
Q: Are you sad to see those changes?
A: Yes, I really am. I'm very upset with the liberalism of some of the morals we have, the freedoms. I'm a pretty good man of the Ten Commandments. I believe they have a purpose. And yet, boy I'll tell ya, there's a lot of them now that people just don't pay any attention to. I think that's bad for our country. I try to learn from society and if you trace the history of all the great nations and see how they deteriorated and what caused it - we're on the right track. And this is what I try to point out to our players. We're going to try to give them discipline and set of values. That's the reason we have our rules. I tell them if any one of our rules doesn't make them a better person, a better student or better player, to come talk to me about it and we won't have the rule. They haven't been in to see me. Our football program is one place where we're going to try and give them some discipline. Because that's about the only place they're getting it.
Q: What kind of relationship do you have with your players?
A: You'd probably have to ask them. But I think I'm closer to the players than most head coaches. But again, you have to have a boss. There can't be all Indians and not chief. We have rules and regulations and we have to work. Football is not easy. It's privilege to be able to participate in college athletics. If they're going to play, they should want to be the best they can be. If not, that's why there are intramurals, for people who want to participate but don't want a lot of rules and regulations and don't want to practice.