Maryland Terrapins Football - History - Dark Years (1987–2000)

Dark Years (1987–2000)

Maryland athletics in general were marred by the death of Len Bias, and the football team was no exception. After Ross resigned, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Krivak was promoted to head coach. This was the beginning of a lackluster period for Terrapins football. From 1987 to 2000, the Terrapins went 55–88 overall (.385) with only two winning seasons and one bowl appearance. A controversial loss to Virginia in the final game of 1988 cost the team a sixth win for bowl eligibility. In 1989, Maryland tied Joe Paterno's 13th-ranked Penn State for the only time in the series' existence. The following season, the Terrapins beat 25th-ranked West Virginia and upset 8th-ranked Virginia. Maryland received a bid to the Independence Bowl and tied Louisiana Tech in what would be their only postseason appearance during this period. Athletic director Andy Geiger rewarded Krivak with a five-year contract extension, but the 1991 season unraveled after a rash of injuries, and Maryland had its worst finish in two decades with a 2–9 mark. After public criticism from several players, Krivak felt he lost credibility as the head coach and resigned on December 6.

Geiger named Holy Cross head coach Mark Duffner as Krivak's replacement. Duffner had amassed a 60–5–1 record and two undefeated seasons in his six years at Holy Cross. At Maryland, he installed a run and shoot offense which shattered many school records. However, his defenses were notoriously weak, usually giving up points so quickly that even his prolific offense couldn't keep up. For example, in the 1993 game against Virginia Tech, the Terrapins lost by 27 points despite gaining 649 yards of total offense. During this time, quarterbacks Scott Milanovich and John Kaleo set numerous school records for passing under Duffner, most of which still stand. In 1993, Maryland earned the dubious honor of most yards allowed per game, a record which also stands: in eleven games, the Terrapins surrendered 6,083 yards—an average of 553.0 yards per game. Maryland also gave up 236 more points than they scored, the worst point differential in school history. After the season, Duffner reorganized his staff by firing three assistant coaches. The team showed moderate improvement the next two years, and in 1995 finished 6–5, which was the first winning record since 1990. However, Maryland backslid in 1996 with a 5–6 record and a struggling offense. Duffner was fired after the season, having accumulated a combined record of 20–35.

Ron Vanderlinden was hired as head coach for the 1997 season under a five-year contract. Vanderlinden had helped engineer turnarounds at Northwestern as defensive coordinator and at Colorado as a defensive assistant. The 1995 Northwestern team in particular had shocked observers when it recorded a 10–2 season and the Big Ten championship. In 1999, Maryland showed signs of significant improvement, and a winning season appeared certain when Maryland possessed a 5–2 record. The Terrapins, however, then suffered a three-game losing streak. In their finale against Virginia, the Terrapins needed a win to garner a likely invitation to either the Aloha Bowl or Oahu Bowl—a Maryland alumnus was the chief executive officer of both events. The Terrapins came from behind and held the lead, 30–27, with 5:18 left to play. They regained possession with 1:40 remaining, but an inexperienced quarterback unintentionally stopped the clock by going out of bounds. After the ensuing punt, Virginia mounted a touchdown drive to win the game and end Maryland's bowl hopes. Despite narrowly missing a winning season, Vanderlinden was granted a two-year contract extension. In 2000, Maryland again fell short of a winning season and bowl game. The Terrapins entered their season closer with a 5–5 record, and again fell, this time in a rout by 24th-ranked Georgia Tech. Vanderlinden was fired the following day.

Despite the failure to deliver a winning season, Vanderlinden did oversee substantive improvement in the program. In 1998, the Terrapins were one of the most improved teams in defense, scoring defense, passing defense, and rushing. In 1999, Maryland allowed a conference low of 11 sacks compared with 56 in 1997. In that same period, Maryland also improved from last to first in the conference in rushing, due in large part to Heisman Trophy candidate and school career rushing leader LaMont Jordan. During Vanderlinden's tenure, Maryland also recruited several key players who were instrumental in the team's later success.

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