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."
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).