Jerry Claiborne was born to be a coach. Growing up the next to youngest of nine kids in rural Kentucky, Jerry took right to the notion that a family ought to be organized. You had to get it straight who would chop the weeds, who would milk the cows even if it was snowing in the black of the morning. With a crowd of folks in the house and a daddy usually off working as a country cop, which is a profession that can get personal and serious in a hurry and doesn't pay much, you didn't have time to argue about motivation in any abstract sort of way.
When Jerry Claiborne was hired to be the football coach at the University of Maryland four years ago, he walked into a deal where the crops had not been paying off for a long while. Some good men, successful at other places, had failed at the job for one reason or another. The football program was a mess. A fan could rise rattling splinters from a wood bench at Byrd Stadium. There were more people looking at stuffed ducks in the natural sciences exhibit on a Saturday afternoon than there were gazing down at the action in the grassy bowl sunk in the earth behind the basketball field house.
In Claiborne's first season at Maryland, the football team turned around from seven straight years of losing to a 5-5-1 record. In the next three seasons Maryland won two Atlantic Coast Conference championships and went to three bowl games. This year Maryland is undefeated and, as eight of the 11 teams ranked above the Terrapins at the season's start have lost or been tied, Maryland has moved up and up, ever higher in the Top 10. Its strength to a considerable degree lies in the weakness of its opponents (among them, Richmond, West Virginia and Wake Forest). Last week while Maryland was plundering lowly Syracuse 42-28, second-ranked Ohio State was upset by Missouri (page 52). Georgia, also ranked above Maryland, could be the next to fall in the ratings, for surely its opponent this week, Alabama, is a sterner foe than Villanova, which Maryland meets at home.
Claiborne admits there are certain dates on the schedule that might tend to put his players to sleep. "This schedule was made years ago," he says. "We're shopping for games with the Big Eight, the Big Ten, the biggest we can get. But our guys had better believe anybody can jump up and knock us off. We can't allow this Top 10 stuff to go to our heads."
October 3, 1976
Claiborne's special talents are organization, motivation and hard work. His blue Chrysler is parked in front of his office from early morning well into dark of night. As he did as a boy, Claiborne works zealously and urges everyone around him to do the same, lest another Great Depression should fall across the land.
So it is no longer necessary for a gray-haired, red-faced Maryland alum to lift his right hand to the left breast pocket of his blazer and mention Jim Tatum or Bear Bryant or other Maryland football heroes of the past. The glory days are all at once no mere faded memory.
The resurrection of University of Maryland athletics began in 1969 when Jim Kehoe, the track coach, took over as athletic director. Kehoe, who did an extraordinary leap from private to lieutenant colonel in the 81st Infantry in the Pacific in World War II, hired Lefty Driesell as basketball coach and Bud Beard-more as lacrosse coach. Maryland soon became a winner in those sports again, kept on winning in track and field and came to the fore in less reported games like women's basketball. Football, however, continued to flounder until Jerry Claiborne proposed his name for the job in early 1972.
Claiborne had some strange ideas. For example, he thought that how a person carried on in private reflected how he would perform before a multitude, and he thought the Russians knew better than anyone how to build strength and speed. You could learn to run fast like the Russians by running downhill while leaning forward—the leg motors would speed toward their potential and the brain motor would not get in the way. Claiborne thought lifting free-standing weights, as the Russians did, created more muscle power than isometrics or elaborate machines. Furthermore, Claiborne thought contemplation of the act—a brain picture of the right way to do it just before you do it—would help you bring off the act correctly.
The barbells for football players at Maryland used to lie on the concrete at one end of Byrd Stadium. You could lift them if you wanted to, if it wasn't cold or raining. To see football game films, the players had to go to the zoology building. It had a room big enough. The quickest shower after practice was a garden hose stuck through the window.
A better program would cost money. Kehoe hired an old friend, Colonel Tom Fields, to head the Terrapin Club. In 1969 the club donated $30,000 to Maryland athletics. This year the goal is $700,000. Maryland has 105 players on football scholarships at a cost of more than $350,000 a year. Seven seasons ago there were 290 contributors to the Terrapin Club. Now there are 1,650, less than half of them Maryland alumni. Football players and coaches have a new building that includes weight and meeting rooms and a dressing room with piped-in music. One practice field has an artificial green carpet that is used in wet weather or in preparation for games on the vile stuff (Byrd Stadium has a field of grass that by next year will be solid Bermuda).
Kehoe had the splintered wooden benches covered in plastic and aluminum, and he had the stadium painted to make it a bright place to sit and enjoy. Byrd looks like a college football stadium now, curled in a hollow below Ellicott Hall, where the football players live. To say that Byrd looks like a college football stadium means that it does not brutalize the campus. At the Universities of Texas and Nebraska, and many others, the football plants stand like factories above company towns. Byrd fits in with the red brick and white trim of the older buildings. But it will hold 59,000 people, and there are only two open dates on the Maryland home schedule until 1990.
Below the stadium and off to one side are the football building and the practice fields. On a portable tower 50 feet above the practice fields you can find Jerry Claiborne on weekday afternoons. He will be wearing a red outfit and will have a bullhorn at his lips. He will be watching practices on at least two of the fields. Every few minutes the bullhorn will blare words of advice. Claiborne is up on that five-story-high tower by himself. Watching.
Claiborne keeps a good Baptist eye on the players. On Wednesday nights at about nine, he appears at Ellicott Hall. He goes straight to the top two floors. On the lower floors a resident may entertain a visitor of a different sex. None of that business on the top two floors. Except for the very few that are married, the football players live in isolation. On Wednesday nights at about eight they scrape the debris out of their rooms and load it up for the dump. They don't want Claiborne to see any trash. Claiborne does not come in with white gloves and a Marine master sergeant but he does come in looking around. His theory is if you've got a trashy room you've probably got a trashy life. And if you're trashy, you won't be on the first team.
The same thing goes for face and head hairs. You can look like a werewolf from January until the end of August. But there will be no werewolves on the first team come September. The players don't complain about it much. They buy Claiborne's rules because his teams have been winners. "I guess he's trying to make all of us a little like himself," says Defensive Back Ken Roy. "He's a Southern gentleman and he's happy being one. He must figure we can be as happy as he is if we do the same things."
Claiborne is 48, keeps his sideburns clipped to the tops of his ears, meticulously follows printed schedules, has been seen watching game films at 4:30 a.m. Sunday and confesses to being a workaholic. During the season he tries to have dinner with his wife Faye at home on Wednesdays and at a restaurant on Thursdays, A couple of years ago Claiborne was quoted as complaining that Faye left her shoes lying around the bedroom in a disorderly fashion. When he got home that night, Faye and their youngest daughter, Eileen, had strewn the house with shoes.
Claiborne's success at Maryland is based on the confidence he has instilled. "The winning attitude was the main thing I brought," he says. "There were some good athletes here. But they were worried that a mistake might beat them, rather than thinking they were going to make something good happen that would win. If we'd really had the winning attitude, we'd have beaten Alabama, Florida, Penn State. Then we did beat Florida in the Gator Bowl [13-0] last December, and I think that got us over the hump."
Since he has been at Maryland, Claiborne has passed out to each freshman football player a copy of the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Blanton Collier used to urge the Cleveland Browns to read that book. If you were a guard you would picture in your mind wheeling smartly out, churning past the tackle and wiping out the cornerback. Then you would do it in real life just as you imagined it. Some of the Maryland players have never read the book, but others claim it has power. "It's uncanny," says Fullback Tim Wilson. "You visualize throwing a block. Then in the game you throw it. It's like a dream."
Claiborne picked up his notion that football players ought to lift weights from Alvin Roy, who started doing weight programs for Louisiana high schools and went on to introduce them in the pros. The prime living example of what a weight program can do is Randy White, who was a No. 1 draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys. White came to Maryland as a fairly ordinary 212-pound freshman who could bench-press no more than 260 pounds and could run the 40 in 4.9. When he graduated as everybody's All-America and the Outland Trophy winner, White was 251, could bench-press 460, could whistle the 40 in 4.6 and seldom faced a team that would venture a ballcarrier in his direction.
Many of the Maryland players now hang around the weight room for hours, huffing, grunting, pushing, lifting, doing "curls for the girls." The pervading opinion is that a first-teamer who does not lift all the weights he can will discover himself muscled aside, perhaps even falling so low that he must take part in the "Alamo," a Wednesday scrimmage for players who are not up to playing in the Saturday game.
Claiborne was a defensive back for Bear Bryant at Kentucky and an assistant coach for Bryant at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama, as well as working for Frank Broyles at Missouri and Eddie Crowder at Colorado. For 10 years he was head coach at Virginia Tech. "There's really no comparison in the strength of football players now, with the weight programs, and 20 years ago," Claiborne says. "Players are much stronger. That's one reason for all the injuries. You take a big powerful fast guy with his muscles hard from weights, and put him running full speed on artificial turf, and have him hit a guy like himself, and you truly have a blow passed."
So weight lifting has become at Maryland, at least in the mind, a matter of self-preservation. But it doesn't guarantee survival. A week before this year's opening game, Quarterback Larry Dick, who had started and played most of the Gator Bowl before missing spring practice for a knee operation, was tackled in a scrimmage and fell on his right elbow. He arose with an ailment that is known to millions as "tennis elbow" and has not played so far this year.
That left the quarterback job open for Mark Manges (pronounced man-guess), who was the starter at the beginning of the 1975 season, got hurt and lost his position to Dick. The two of them spent most of last year replacing each other and were running even this fall until Dick's right arm went lame.
"Mark has been outstanding since then," Claiborne says. "He's a little bigger [6'3", 220] and stronger than Larry. They're both good throwers and good leaders. When Larry gets well, we'll have two fine quarterbacks again."
Manges finds that kind of talk disconcerting, but it is typical of his coach, whom the Terps refer to as "The Bone" because he is such a hard, demanding man. Manges is something else—casual and headstrong. He dislikes the way he and Dick are shuffled. "I came here with a lot of confidence," he says. "I've been first-string ever since I played football. So has Larry. So we don't joke about this. My confidence suffers if I don't know whether I'm starting or not."
With Dick's right-arm in a sling, there was no question about it last Saturday as Maryland took its now lofty position—eighth in the nation, first time in the Top 10 in 20 years—up to Syracuse as an 18-point favorite. Syracuse had already lost to Bowling Green and Iowa, and Coach Frank Maloney had described his team as playing "some of the worst football in the country."
Sophomore Tailback Steve Atkins, a 6-foot 225-pounder who may become the best runner in Terp history before he is through, scored the first Maryland touchdown, taking the ball in from the one after a fumbled punt. Then Atkins' favorite blocker, the 215-pound Wilson, scored from the one and Maryland looked well on its way to another smashing victory. "I hope we are not going to take Syracuse too lightly," Manges had said. It appeared that would not be possible.
But Syracuse Quarterback Bill Hurley came back with a running show of his own to move the ball to the Maryland 16. Freshman Ron Farneski entered for one play and threw a touchdown pass. Playing with a strained right wrist, Atkins fumbled on the next series, and Hurley wriggled into the end zone from five yards out. Suddenly the score was 14-14.
Manges, facing a surprisingly tough Syracuse pass rush, found Vince Kinney for a 29-yard touchdown pass, and at halftime the Terps stood seven points up. Maryland did not score in the third quarter but managed two quick touchdowns in the fourth on an interception return by John Stanford and an 11-yard run by Atkins.
But Syracuse fought back, striking for two scores on runs by Bob Avery. With the score 35-28 and a little less than four minutes to play, Atkins, who has rushed for 517 yards in Maryland's first three games, tried a counter-play. Syracuse linemen grabbed for the ball, but Atkins pulled away and dashed 76 yards to put Maryland safely out front 42-28. In all, Atkins gained 215 yards on 29 carries, breaking the single-game school record.
Back at his home in Maryland that night, Claiborne paced nervously, picking things up and putting them down. He sleeps like a lumberjack the night before a game, but the night after he jangles and frets and sometimes must resort to sleeping pills. "We were not ready," he said. "Our minds were not right. We can't afford any more games like this."
Life surely would have been easier for Claiborne if in 1946 he had followed the advice of his high school coach who told him to go into the air-conditioning business, but Jerry never wanted to do anything but coach. "I loved to teach and put things together," he says. "I like to see things working in harmony."
At the moment, despite the ratings, the football team at Maryland is no better than second in the hearts of the university's athletic fans. Maryland students for the most part do not live on campus. They travel to school from the crowded Washington-Baltimore area. The basketball team captured their fancy long before the football team began to get interesting. "It's great that we're winners in basketball and the other sports," Claiborne says. "And now we're winners in football, too. You can bet we're not going to quit working at it." With a family like the one Claiborne has now, it keeps him hustling to be sure the weeds are chopped and the cows are milked, even on the blackest of mornings.