Following a recent athletic tradition, Lew Perkins has walked the plank at the University of Maryland. He joins Lefty Driesell, Dick Dull, John Slaughter, Bobby Ross and Bob Wade thrashing about in cold, clammy waters somewhere under College Park.
Will Joe Krivak be fired before Gary Williams quits?
Will university president William Kirwan imitate Slaughter, the Occidental Tourist?
And who in his right mind will want to work at Maryland now? NCAA probation in basketball. Paralyzingly mediocre in football. On an austerity budget. Scholarships guillotined. It's been nothing but a series of catastrophes and embarrassments since the night Lenny Bias died four years ago. Maryland's State Senate President Mike Miller said, "We have sunk as low as any athletic program can sink." What's truly frightening for Maryland fans is Miller's disheartening evaluation might be wishful thinking.
Just as putting on a Celtics jersey under Red Auerbach or a Yankees uniform under Casey Stengel magically made players better, coming to College Park seems to tar you with buzzard's luck. Perkins isn't the villain of this piece, he's a victim. From the moment he arrived on campus, in May 1987, he wore a wounded expression. At the news conference to introduce him -- usually a benign event -- the first question he took was about his basketball coach's maneuvering to run off a player and pickpocket a scholarship.
The job Perkins accepted came with clipped wings; any new AD seeks to hire his own coaches for the glamour sports, but Krivak and Wade were just beginning their first years of multiyear contracts. Slaughter quickly hopped on the last train out of Dodge, leaving Perkins with legacy coaches and no one to turn to for support. Perkins has been criticized for not supporting Wade more. But Wade cheated, then lied to cover up. Indeed, if Perkins deserves blame, it's that he should have been more vigilant with Wade. Despite revisionist accounts, Wade is the reason Maryland is in a deep dungeon with the NCAA.
Perhaps Perkins could have outlasted the sniping from Wade's supporters -- the backbiting at Maryland is rancorous and pervasive; there's a Wade faction that claims Wade was scapegoated by Perkins, a Driesell faction that believes Lefty was scapegoated by Slaughter, and a Jim Kehoe faction that insists everything was hunky-dory in the old days, and everybody since Kehoe is a nincompoop. But Perkins was damaged by revelations that Williams, whom he'd handpicked to succeed Wade, conducted improper practices. Then the evasive Kirwan hung out Perkins to dry on the proposal to drop four varsity sports . Sources inside the athletic department say Perkins was following Kirwan's specific orders to draft a batch of alternative plans for carving $1 million out of the athletic budget. When the four-sport plan -- one of many options -- was leaked, Kirwan sat on his hands and let Perkins take the fall. "Kirwan should have backed him," a source said. "Lew was being a good soldier in the trenches, and Kirwan let him get shot."
But don't cry for Perkins. Getting out of Maryland is fine for him and fine for Maryland. The situation was festering. Perkins didn't have enough goodwill from people around him; he was the focal point of too much bad news. Whether he jumped or was pushed -- both views are accurate -- he'll be happier at Connecticut. It's close to Boston, his home town, far from the stinging criticism he got from Wade's loyalists. "We took a pretty rough personal beating here," Perkins reportedly told a friend last weekend. UConn welcomed Perkins warmly, like an old friend. Though the Big East is essentially a collection of demigod basketball coaches -- and underling ADs -- Perkins parachuted softly.
Maryland, however, is still adrift. There's far too much factionalism, far too many private agendas concerning athletics. The image is terrible. They've got to stop getting on Page 1 with scandals, and get on Page 5 -- with box scores.
What Maryland needs is stability, but what looms is more chaos. Krivak has this last season on his contract; it's generally assumed he faces beheading. Everybody loves Williams as a coach, but he's already embarrassed himself. And with Maryland facing two years of sanctions -- perhaps four years before becoming competitive -- friends say, if the right opportunity bubbles up, Williams is gone.
I think Maryland should keep both men. Krivak is too loyal, Williams too lustrous, to lose. In normal times Krivak would need to win seven games to retain his job; his record suggests he may be a better assistant coach anyway. But these aren't normal times. The new AD should extend Krivak's contract for two years, go to him and say, "Joe, I don't want any scandals. I want to hold you up as a symbol of someone who does it right, who believes in academics. I'm not asking you to win big; all I ask is you play entertaining football, maybe bring in someone to install the run-and-shoot. Make the team fun to watch." The new AD should extend Williams's contract also. Add a behavior clause, but give Williams whatever he needs, because basketball is the route to Maryland's athletic renaissance, and Williams -- who gave up a sure thing at Ohio State to answer alma mater's call -- is the right man.
As for the AD, he should be local. He should know Maryland, warts and all, and all in all, and appreciate the pain College Park has endured the last few years. He doesn't have to be a technician so much as a healer -- a man of intelligence, integrity, passion and compassion, whose first goal isn't to win a national title, but to help people on campus feel good about being Maryland Terrapins. Right away I can think of Ed Tapscott and Jack Kvancz.