Commentary

Jacobs: Maryland set for last ACC trip to Duke

February 14, 2014 

The end is near.

So near, the men’s basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday marks the last regular-season visit to the Triangle by the Maryland Terrapins, who plan to take the money and run to the Big Ten next season.

This is no amicable parting. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, at least, has declared he is washing his hands of playing the Terps, assuring an end to a series that ran virtually uninterrupted since 1930. ACC secession has previously spawned group shunning – every conference member except Clemson dropped South Carolina as an opponent as soon as it left the league in 1971. With rare exceptions, the cold shoulder has endured to this day.

“That’s what Maryland gets for leaving the league, which I thought was an awful, bad move. It was only done for money,” said Charles (Lefty) Driesell, who coached Maryland from 1970 through 1986. “I think it’s sad for Maryland and it’s sad for the ACC that they’re getting out.”

An exit in pursuit of a bigger payday is no departure from custom in contemporary college sports. This one, however, is accompanied by demands that Maryland pay a $52.3 million fee for leaving the ACC, and by a counter-suit claiming antitrust violations by the league. ACC folks still resent the stealth manner in which Maryland engineered its shift of allegiances. Those in College Park note a long history of alienation, and a 2013-14 ACC men’s basketball schedule apparently tweaked to deprive the Comcast Center of visits by North Carolina and Duke, its two predictably largest crowds.

Even an upcoming ACC tournament is an irritant. Bringing the 2016 tournament to Washington, D.C., is a way to reassert the ACC’s presence in a compromised market and, not incidentally, invades the Terps’ backyard. “Just to stick it to Maryland?” Gary Williams, the former Terrapin player (1965-67) and coach, asked rhetorically of the choice of venue. “Oh, good. Whatever. Come on. Grow up!”

Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, fans will miss the quality of the competition brought by Maryland, along with the outsized coaching personalities of Driesell and Williams.

To a large extent, the intensity of league rivalries traces to the coaches involved. Driesell was notorious for his desire to defeat his contemporary, UNC’s Dean Smith. “We’ve got to get that guy!” he proclaimed once at an ACC meeting after Smith left the room. As for the Blue Devils, “If it was a rivalry, I made it,” said Driesell, 82. “Duke was always a big rivalry because I went to school there.”

Series heats up

Driesell, who claimed he turned down the Duke coaching job in 1970, said he enjoyed both having his baldness mimicked by students wearing swim caps and being lumped with Richard Nixon as Duke’s “most infamous” products. Driesell was less amused in 1984 when Cameron Crazies greeted forward Herman Veal, previously accused of sexual assault, with a barrage of condoms and panties.

The Blue Devils were only sporadically the Terps’ equals during Driesell’s tenure – he had a winning overall record against four coaches at his alma mater, including seven straight victories from 1973 through 1977.

The Duke-Maryland series heated up after Williams arrived at his alma mater in 1989-90 and endured a severe, inherited NCAA probation. By then Krzyzewski, who at 67 is two years Williams’ junior, had won consecutive national championships (1991, 1992) and edged UNC as the ACC’s team to beat. Maryland and Duke often prowled the same recruiting turf, off and on the court, creating friction. Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, players integral to establishing Krzyzewski’s program in the mid-80s, were from the D.C. area.

Further stoking the competitive fires, Williams worked the sidelines with manic intensity. His passion reached a fever pitch against the Blue Devils, particularly at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He denies there was a personal component to that fervor, despite obvious indications to the contrary. Whatever fueled the rivalry, some of the greatest games of the modern ACC era matched Duke and Maryland.

“I was trying to get the program up where we could compete with Mike,” Williams said. “I wanted to beat Duke so that people would think we were a good program. That was my whole intent. It wasn’t to beat Mike Krzyzewski. I knew if we could beat Duke, that would put us in a different light, especially with our fans.”

For years Williams seemingly argued every call when facing Duke. Fans at College Park fed on his passion and echoed his periodically inappropriate language. “We were always made to be the bad guy in the conference,” Williams said, claiming “there were incidents at other schools” he declined to name that were comparably ugly to anything that occurred at Maryland. “None of that happens unless there’s a competitive situation. It has to be competitive, or nobody cares.”

Changing expectations

Williams also was an us-against-them motivator, whether protesting the unfairness of playing the ACC tournament in North Carolina or fighting what he and other coaches perceived as an abiding league bias in favor of the perennial leaders. “Everybody had that opinion – Duke and Carolina weren’t supposed to lose to other teams,” Williams insisted. “Whether they would admit it or not, subconsciously that feeling was there.”

So the always-demonstrative coach set about changing expectations. “When you’re not good you have to coach different, because you get no respect,” Williams said. “Yeah, I’d argue with the officials, but I was trying not to get blown out by 30 at that point. I’ll do whatever it takes. We started to win down there after I got thrown out.”

That was in 1998, when two technical fouls at Cameron caused a stunned Williams to be ejected at the 14:09 mark of the first half. Recollection notwithstanding, by then Maryland was a force within the ACC. The Terrapins made 11 consecutive NCAA appearances from 1994 through 2004, capped by the school’s first Final Four berth in 2001 and its only NCAA title in 2002. From 1995 through 2007 the Terps were 5-8 at Durham, matching UNC’s record there, and defeated Duke in overtime to win the ’04 ACC championship.

Eventually Williams stopped fighting so hard to influence officials, especially at Cameron. “I think that over the years, Gary learned that no matter how much complaining he would do, or we would do, about the officiating, we would be better off to just let it go and just enjoy the moment and coach (the players) up, and go down there and quit fighting the fight it didn’t seem like we could ever win,” recalled Billy Hahn, Williams’ longtime coaching sidekick.

Williams retired following the 2010 season, and now does radio work and appears on the Big Ten television network. The proud ACC product doggedly defends Maryland’s decision to cut enduring ties in order to address its financial situation. “It is a shame that both teams aren’t playing any more,” he said on the eve of the last scheduled meeting between Maryland and Duke, “but each school has to do what’s best for them.”

That leaves the rest of us to relegate the Terrapins, like the Gamecocks before them, to the dustbin of ACC history.

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