At first glance, Bobby Ross does not seem the sort of football coach Maryland would trust against Joe Paterno and Jackie Sherrill. On the field calling plays or, more important, in living rooms recruiting players. Still, the longer Athletic Director Dick Dull looked, the more appealing Ross became.
"I wasn't interested in a Fifth Avenue, high-pressure advertising type that people could see through," Dull said yesterday. "I think recruits and their parents are very perceptive; I think they're gonna see him as being real."
They're gonna see him whenever possible. For nearly a month, Gib Romaine and the other aides who did not follow Jerry Claiborne to Kentucky have been pleading with recruits to wait, to keep Maryland among their six official visits, to give whoever is hired a chance.
"Some other schools have been saying: 'Hey, Maryland doesn't have a coach. Come with us.' They've been trying to cancel us out (of one of the six paid visits)," Romaine said. "You're limited now. It used to be you could live with a kid, sit on his doorstep, get to know him so well he'd have an awful hard time saying no.
"We've said: 'Honor the (visitation) commitment (made before Claiborne quit). At least talk to the new man, then do what you've gotta do.' Pretty much, the majority have stayed good (to their word). It hasn't been too bad.
"The next four weekends (up to the national signing date) are big for us, because the timing of the visitations was pretty good."
So Ross has a chance against Penn State now for the players needed to beat Penn State in University Park Sept. 11. It would be very helpful if he could devise a defense against time the next few weeks, for finding enough of it to recruit and also hire a first-rate staff will be next to impossible.
"On three of the five (Pennsylvania) kids I'm recruiting hard," Romaine said, "it's us or Penn State."
As Ross admitted, he is not assuming a program in the pits. Maryland does not need to be rebuilt, merely fine-tuned. And Ross was quite adept at embracing Claiborne, for whom he worked at Maryland in '72, and keeping his distance when each was helpful.
Ross' teams will pass, 50 percent of the time if possible. This is in stark contrast to Claiborne's teams, who ran on 500 of 800 plays last season and 70 percent the year before. It also is risky, for there is no better way to stay in a game than strong running and strong defense and no quicker way to get out of a game than mediocre passing.
And Maryland plays a terrific schedule next season. Its first road game is Penn State; its last home game is Clemson. In between are North Carolina and Miami. All four were rated among the top 10 in the final polls this season. West Virginia won the Peach Bowl and Virginia will be competitive under George Welsh.
Understandably, Ross has almost no knowledge of Maryland's returning players, to the point that he did not know the quarterback who played most of last season (Boomer Esiason) is left-handed.
"I think the quarterbacks we have are fine," Romaine said. " 'Course you always go after a great one. But that's not a priority, I don't believe. Receivers. We need speed, guys who can get cornerbacks to back-pedal. You have defenders waiting for receivers to make the break and you're in trouble."
Ross seems more openly candid than Claiborne. He will stress academics, but admitted that if the choice comes to offering a scholarship to a mediocre player who excels in the classroom or a wonderful player but marginal student, he'll take the stud.
So would Joe and Jackie.
Ross is ambivalent about athletic dorms, saying he will see how players assume off-the-field responsibility the rest of this year before deciding whether to allow them to live in a nonfootball environment.
"I know the players don't particularly like the dorm up there (Ellicott Hall)," Esiason said. "I know it hurts recruiting. I think most of the players kinda hope we can get out of there, but he's the coach. We have to live by whatever he decides."
Esiason likes the idea of maybe passing on first down, for a change. He attended Ross' press conference, and surely was aglow when his new coach said: "For us to line up and hammer the ball at somebody or even throw long against somebody who's got the secondary back deep is foolish. We're gonna try and take advantage of what the defense gives us.
"From the standpoint of the passing game, you can find quite a few things people'll be giving you."
Ross was up front from the start, admitting he called Dull from the Kansas City airport, where he was dropping off his son, a few minutes after reading about Claiborne's leaving. He sold himself to Maryland; he must sell both, in a hurry, to recruits. Here's part of the pitch:
"One of the things that really excites me is that the Atlantic Coast Conference is the No. 1 football conference in the country. Along with being the No. 1 basketball conference in the country. And I don't think there's any argument against that. It's in black and white; it's on the record right now; it's not my opinion, but what's there."
He insisted Maryland is not competing with the Redskins or Colts for the area's entertainment money. He said there were about 6 million potential customers available to Maryland, and sounded as though a man and his team with some flair and enthusiasm ought to be able to coax 40,000 of them into Byrd Stadium a half-dozen times a year.