CHARLOTTESVILLE -- There was no Gatorade bath for Joe Krivak. There was a weak -- and quickly aborted -- effort to carry him off the field. There was all too little fanfare after the biggest victory of his career, one that just might save his job. A few minutes after it was over, Krivak ran the length of the field to the locker room past an unruly mob of Terrapins, their parents and fans. Two women standing on the balcony above the Maryland locker room screamed, "Five more years, Joe!"

That was it. The mob at midfield didn't even see him. It was as if nobody knew who Krivak was. He trotted, untouched, into the dressing room. No fist was thrust into the air, no finger wagged No. 1. Joe Krivak, the old pro, said he would celebrate on Sunday by going to church, reading the newspaper, then coming home to have a cup of coffee with his wife. Another day at the office for Joe Krivak. Only it could have been his last.

It shouldn't be.

You know the last time Maryland beat a team ranked in the top 20? Nov. 10, 1984, at the Orange Bowl, sixth-ranked Miami with Bernie Kosar and Eddie Brown. This victory over Virginia is the best thing that's happened to Maryland football since then. So the question had to be asked: Does beating eighth-ranked Virginia, headed for a New Year's Day bowl, save Krivak's job?

Krivak doesn't know. Andy Geiger, the new athletic director, probably doesn't know. One of the Maryland players, who preferred anonymity, said, "We certainly made Mr. Geiger's decision harder, didn't we?"

They did. Krivak had told the team not to play for him, the die had already been cast. "These kids will take this game with them the rest of their lives and so will Joe Krivak," the old pro said. "That won't buy you a cup of coffee, but they can't take it away from us."

It may, however, buy him some more time. Here's a partial list of what Krivak did Saturday to help his team first stay with the more talented Cavaliers, then beat them on their home field.

Down 14-0, from his 29, Krivak went for it on fourth and inches. On the same drive, confronted with fourth and two at the 3, Krivak went for it. After converting the first down, Maryland scored the touchdown to make it a game.

On fourth and two, down 28-21, Krivak called for Dan DeArmas to fake the punt and run, which resulted in a first down, which kept alive the drive to the tying touchdown.

On third and 14, with Scott Zolak deep in his territory and going against the wind, Krivak called for the deep ball. Marcus Badgett caught it for a 71-yard gainer that set up the winning touchdown.

On fourth down with 47 seconds left Maryland led, 35-28. The previous punt had traveled 10 yards, the one before that was returned for a touchdown. Krivak agonized.

"To take the safety or not," he said. "That was the tough decision. I figured I'd rather give up the two, then power-kick the ball because they had no timeouts. It worked, so I look smart. If it hadn't, I'd a been a horse's tail. . . . Why play it cozy?"

Finally, Krivak let loose with a smile. A big one. It had been maybe his most difficult week in 36 years of coaching football. He might not have a job for long. His assistants might be looking for work too.

"You don't sleep a whole lot," he said. "There was a lot of tossing and turning. I was trying to focus on coaching this football team. I told {the staff} that we're all professionals and we've got to give it one last shot. I don't live in a vacuum. If I told you it didn't affect me, I'd be lying to you."

Then Krivak did something completely uncharacteristic. He defended himself: "People say I'm not imaginative, I make dumb calls, I'm too low-key. I am what I am. I like myself and that's it. I didn't just come off the pickle boat. . . . If I don't feel good now, I'll never feel good."

And if Maryland doesn't feel good about Krivak now, it may be missing the boat.

Geiger and the people in College Park who oversee football matters are understandably concerned about the Byrd Stadium attendance. It was awful. They want exciting football, the kind that packs the stands.

Now is no time for short memories. From 1982 to 1986, the only teams with more exciting offenses in all of college football were Miami and BYU. That's it. You know who called those plays? Joe Krivak. You know who is largely responsible for Boomer Esiason going from a guy who handed off 50 times a game to the best quarterback in the AFC? Joe Krivak. You know who recruited Frank Reich, Stan Gelbaugh and Neil O'Donnell? Nobody besides Maryland, for the most part. All have picked up NFL paychecks, largely because of Krivak.

The point is, Krivak's system works when he has players. Yes, it's his responsibility to get the players, but Geiger and the Maryland bigwigs have to help. They don't have to rearrange their admissions standards, but they'd better decide how big-time they want the football program to be. If they decide to compete with Florida State and Clemson, they'll have to admit more "exceptions." Bobby Ross did a masterful job of finding super talents who were motivated enough to graduate.

A former Maryland player who knows the D.C. area says Krivak needs a chief recruiter who knows Prince George's County and the District, and get the kids from those two jurisdictions who qualify. Okay, we know Krivak isn't Mr. Excitement. Neither was Ross, but he made a big dent in D.C. and P.G. (Alvin Blount, Tommy Neal, James Milling) and Maryland football enjoyed its most exciting years under him.

Also, get Michigan off the schedule and a Kansas or Vanderbilt or Stanford on it. That means 7-4 and a minor bowl instead of 6-5. That's about what this newly reformed Maryland will be shooting for most years. Krivak can get it.

Since Len Bias died, the athletic landscape at Maryland has changed dramatically. The basketball team drowned; at least the football team has tread water. Krivak has seen that team through the worst times in the school's athletic history and still managed -- with very few exceptions -- to be competitive. He deserves at least two more years. Saturday's stunning, rejuvenating victory just underscores that.