"I've always had this thing about wanting to come back to Kentucky," Jerry Claiborne said yesterday after he was named football coach at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky.
Claiborne, 53, told The Washington Post that he had accepted a five-year contract. Claiborne's income package as coach is expected to approach $200,000 annually with a $50,000 base salary from the university, plus revenues from radio, television and a summer camp.
The salary doubles what he earned at the University of Maryland, where he compiled a 77-37-3 record in 10 seasons.
"It's good to be back home," Claiborne said at a news conference in Lexington a few minutes after Kentucky's athletics board unanimously approved the choice of a selection committee.
"This is something I've had in the back of my mind," Claiborne, a Hopkinsville, Ky., native, said in a telephone interview shortly before he began a recruiting meeting with the staff left behind when Fran Curci was fired last month. Asked how long it had been in the back of his mind, Claiborne replied, "When I started coaching." That was 1950.
In College Park, Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director, said he will begin a "wide-open search" for a new coach who uses a pro-type, passing offense and who can fill the 45,000 seat Byrd Stadium. "We must look at football as entertainment . . . The bills have to be paid," he said. "You've got to have good defense, but as far as I'm concerned, wide-open football may transcend defense."
Dull said he will consider coaches from both the pro and colleges ranks, both head coaches and assistants. But one man with considerable influence at Maryland said, "It has to be somebody who has a track record. In the university's position, we can't afford to take a look at anybody else."
Dull will serve as a one-man search committee and needs only the approval of Robert Gluckstern, chancellor of the College Park campus.
In a letter to players Maryland currently is recruiting, Dull said: "Fully cognizant of the wide appeal that professional football has both to the players and the spectator, I intend to search for a coach who can integrate that appeal and excitement into the college game."
Three names mentioned Tuesday by Maryland officials and boosters appeared yesterday to be unavailable. LaVell Edwards, the coach at Brigham Young, said he was not interested. George Allen, the former Redskins coach whose name alone would help fill Byrd Stadium, was called "not a viable candidate" by Dull yesterday. A source close to John Mackovic, quarterback coach of the Dallas Cowboys and formerly head coach at Wake Forest, said he did not believe Mackovic wanted to return to the college ranks.
Dull said once he heard that Curci might be fired, "I always knew this phone call was coming . . . I made no effort to convince Jerry to stay. It was obvious he was drawn to his alma mater and his family."
At Kentucky, Cliff Hagan, the Wildcat athletic director who chaired the selection committee, said, "We considered well over 30 candidates. We're sure our recommendation came as no surprise. We think we've selected the best man available."
Hagan listed these factors involved in Claiborne's hiring, after Howard Schnellenberger told the selection committee he was staying at the University of Miami:
Claiborne is a Kentucky native and knows the state.
He has had no major disciplinary problems in 20 years as head coach, a backhanded reference to problems incurred by his predecessor.
He has not been investigated at either Maryland or Virginia Tech.
"One thing about this program," Claiborne told the news conference, "We're going to abide by the rules of the NCAA, the SEC and the University of Kentucky. I expect the players to abide by that. We won three conference championships at Maryland without cheating and I think we can do that here."
In the telephone interview, Claiborne, asked to look back on his decade at College Park, said, "I had 10 enjoyable years at Maryland. Football-wise my biggest moment was riding on the shoulders of those kids (his team) after that 11-0 season (in 1976). Another big one was winning the Gator Bowl."
Asked to draw similarities between Maryland and Kentucky, Claiborne said, "The big thing is that they both were losing. The big thing is that we had to get a winning attitude." Maryland had had seven straight losing seasons when Claiborne took over; Kentucky has had four.
Claiborne, a former player and assistant coach at Kentucky, took note of the fact that he was leaving one school where basketball was bigger than football for another, in fact the only school in the Southeastern Conference at which that is so.
"My goal," he told the news conference, "is to get the football program on the same level of excellence as the academic program and some of the other athletic programs such as basketball."
Claiborne, whose wife also is a Kentucky graduate, was contacted by Kentucky the day Schnellenberger took his name out of the picture. He met with members of the screening committee Thursday and came back with what he called "a good feeling. If I wanted the job, (I thought) I was going to get it."
Claiborne said he had let it be known he only wanted an interview from the committee if it was "dead serious" about him. "I told them to talk to whoever they wanted to and if they got somebody before me, go ahead and hire them."