Jerry Claiborne is expected to leave the University of Maryland to become football coach at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky.
Barring hitches in Lexington, Ky., sources there and in College Park said they expect Claiborne to be offered the job officially within the next 48 hours.
Before Claiborne can officially be offered the Kentucky job, replacing the fired Fran Curci, a screening committee chaired by Cliff Hagan, Kentucky's athletic director, must ask the 21-member athletics board for approval.
It was learned that members of the athletics board were notified late yesterday afternoon to stand by for a meeting today. One member of the board said yesterday that unless "something is abhorrent to the board," the approval will be a formality.
"There will not be a lot of discussion at that point," said one board member, who asked for anonymity. "It should be that way. Somebody has to do the work."
Attempts to reach Claiborne and Hagan were unsuccessful. A member of the screening committee said, "A decision will be made soon."
Sources close to the Kentucky athletic department and its boosters said some people had been briefed yesterday and came away with the impression that Claiborne had been unofficially offered the job and his hiring would be announced today. They said they understood that if Claiborne turned down the Wildcats, the selection committee would return to work.
In College Park, Claiborne's office reported that he had gone home at midday. When a reporter knocked on his door, Faye Claiborne said she did not know where her husband was.
When the reporter said he had come to offer the Claibornes congratulations on the coach's new job, she replied, "No, that's premature . . . I don't know what he's decided . . . Even if I did, I couldn't say, because Jerry's particular about the way things are done."
At Maryland, where Claiborne compiled a 77-37-3 record in 10 seasons, these names have been mentioned by Maryland boosters and officials as possible successors:
George Allen, the former Redskin coach whose name alone would help fill Byrd Stadium; LaVell Edwards, the coach with the high-powered offense at Brigham Young, or a coach like him; and John Mackovic, the quarterback coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who previously led Wake Forest to its first national ranking.
Asked if he considered Allen a candidate, Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director, said, "We would be happy to entertain his name if it came up . . . If Jerry did leave, we'd be looking for somebody with the same credentials as Jerry Claiborne."
"I'm flattered when my name comes up," Allen said last night from his home in California. "But I'm probably more suited to the pro game than the college game. I've had several college offers in the past, and have turned them down. I doubt if I would be interested, although I do think Maryland could compete very well for attention against the Redskins and Colts, particularly if those teams are not winning."
Claiborne, 53, became Kentucky's leading candidate after Howard Schnellenberger told the screening committee last Wednesday he was remaining at the University of Miami. Later that day, Hagan telephoned Dull and asked for permission to talk to Claiborne. Thursday, Claiborne met with the screening committee in Lexington, and Friday Hagan encouraged officials of the Kentucky Network to telephone Claiborne and discuss the revenues available for three coach's shows.
Between radio, television and a salary believed to be in the $45,000 to $50,000 range, Claiborne's total package at Kentucky would be $150,000 to $200,000 annually. There was no indication yesterday what the length of his contract would be there. Sources at Maryland have said that Claiborne makes about $100,000 a year as Terrapin coach.
It was learned yesterday that Kentucky's screening committee interviewed both Mackovic and Gene Stallings, another Cowboy assistant coach, following its interview with Claiborne. Sources at Kentucky had said Saturday that Claiborne appeared to be the leading candidate for the job unless "a bigger name" was available. At that time, the possibility was considered a long shot.
Claiborne, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky., was voted the outstanding senior on Bear Bryant's 1949 Kentucky team that played in the Orange Bowl. He was an assistant coach under Bryant for two years there. Claiborne's wife is a former president of Kentucky's national alumni association.
This year's Maryland team had a 4-6-1 record for Claiborne's only losing season at College Park. In his 20 seasons as a major college coach, Claiborne has a 138-76-5 record, including 61-29-2 in 10 years at Virginia Tech.
When Claiborne came to Maryland with his wide-tackle-six defense, the Terrapins had a 9-42 record for the five previous seasons. His first Maryland team was 5-5-1, then he took the Terrapins to seven straight bowl games, including an appearance in the 1977 Cotton Bowl after an 11-0 regular season.
He has won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships and 21 straight conference games, a record. Nevertheless, the Terrapins were not able to fill 45,000-seat Byrd Stadium with regularity. Meanwhile, other schools in the conference improved their football teams, and Claiborne has said that the Terrapins' talent had declined.