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Why Did Yow Make the Move and Where Does Maryland Go From Here?

Former AD Debbie Yow.
Former AD Debbie Yow.

After officially resigning as Maryland Athletic Director, Debbie Yow accepted the same position with NC State, electing to move back to the state she grew up in and to serve at the school that has many ties to her family. It seems the primary reason for Yow's departure was so she, at the age of 58, could jump to what will likely be her final job, one which allows her to move back to her home state of North Carolina and to serve at a university where two of her sisters are legends. In case you're interested, Patrick Stevens did a detailed breakdown of Yow's new contract with NC State here.

There are several other ideas out there as to why Yow might have made the move to State, which many people consider a downgrade from Maryland. Patrick Stevens presents one of those ideas here, detailing that the uncertainty in who Maryland's next president will be and the certainty in that Yow was able to meet and relate to NC State's new chancellor could have been a contributing factor in the decision. Others, such as Don Markus at the Sun and John Feinstein, think there are other reasons why Yow might have left, including her alleged inability to have Gary Williams fired in 2009 and her head coach in waiting deal with James Franklin.

From Markus:

Debbie Yow's imminent departure from the University of Maryland is tied directly to her relationship with, and the future of, the school's most prominent head coaches.

It means that Yow's long-running feud with basketball coach Gary Williams, which dates back nearly to the day Yow arrived from Saint Louis University in the summer of 1994, is over.

It means that Williams, coming off two straight NCAA tournament appearances, isn't going anywhere - at least not by his own choosing.

It means that Yow has left Ralph Friedgen without any kind of lifeline and that his future will be in the hands of a new president, a new athletic director and a football team coming off a 2-10 season, the worst in modern school history. It means that Friedgen -- and coach-in-waiting James Franklin -- are unlikely to be back in 2011 barring an unforseen turnaround.

Clearly, Yow saw that her own 16-year tenure, highlighted by unprecedented overall athletic success with 16 national championships but marred by fractious relationships with Williams and others, was in trouble with this summer's retirement of school president C. Dan Mote.

No matter how she paints it in Raleigh Friday - or whenever she is introduced as the school's next athletic director - this was at best a lateral move and, considering the mediocrity of the Wolfpack in football and men's basketball, a step down.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Yow in College Park. That decision won't be made until the new president comes in this fall. But you know that Williams will be part of those discussions and that Friedgen, given his lame-duck status, probably won't.



I've heard from various people, many of which seem to know about things happening in the athletic department, that Yow tried, unsuccessfully, to buy out Gary and have him fired during the 2009 season. Feinstein touches on that in his piece, which I'll get to in a second, but some have been left wondering about how rocky Yow's relationship was with Gary after she apparently nominated him for the basketball hall of fame earlier this year and apparently asked the University to have the Comcast Center floor named after him. But Feinstein seems to think that is Yow trying to whitewash her relationship with the head coach. From Feinstein:

She always had a bad relationship with the most important person at Maryland, basketball coach Gary Williams, and her relationship with football coach Ralph Friedgen went straight downhill just as soon as Friedgen stopped winning on a regular basis. She went from taking bows for hiring Friedgen—whose hiring she had little to do with—to acting as if she’d never heard of him and putting a ‘coach in waiting,’ in place which, even though she insisted Friedgen had ‘signed off on,’ clearly didn’t make the coach happy.

Her downfall—and believe me she’s getting out of town ahead of the posse here with a new president taking over the school on September 1—came when she thought she saw an opening to get rid of Williams in 2009 and the notion blew up in her face. The basketball program was struggling and Williams made the mistake of taking a frustrated public swipe at Yow when asked about some recruiting efforts that hadn’t panned out. Yow saw an opening and tried to pounce only to find that most Maryland people remembered what Williams had done to rebuild a fallen program into a national champion and also believed he could still coach.

Williams’ players rallied behind him to make the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and then had a very good year in 2010. Yow was forced to retreat. She even went so far as to "nominate," Williams for the basketball Hall of Fame last month, an absolute grandstand play if there’s ever been one. Debbie Yow nominating Gary Williams for the Hall of Fame is the equivalent of Tiger Woods nominating me for The Pulitzer Prize. No one bought that act—especially Williams, who was as close to speechless as he ever gets when the subject came up.

Those are pretty harsh words from Feinstein. But he goes on...

From that point on Yow, who used to love to stop me at Maryland games to point out to me that Gary had switched to a zone defense (wow, really Debbie, I never would have noticed) made a point of looking the other way whenever I saw her. Which was actually fine with me. I figured someone else could let me know if Gary switched to a zone.

What was most interesting was her behavior the night of The Children’s Charities Foundation banquet in December. I was seated at a table with the coaches who would be playing in the BB+T Classic the next day, including Gary and Villanova’s Jay Wright. Yow was at the next table. At no point during the evening did she acknowledge the presence of her basketball coach or say hello to him. Within seconds of his getting up to leave—I mean SECONDS—she raced back to our table to lavish a warm welcome on Wright. It was stunning.

Feinstein also details a spat he had with Yow over an article he wrote and it appears he's still a little upset/bitter from Yow's response to the article, but Feinstein seems to make a valid case that Yow's relationship with Gary certainly wasn't peachy. And, as a result, this was the perfect time and situation for Yow to move on. You can read the full piece here.

Why Yow decided to leave - whether it was the ties to North Carolina and NC State and the ability to work where she'd likely want to retire or had more to do with her relationship or lack there of with her revenue head coaches, isn't entirely know. Both sides will argue that their reason is why she made the jump. But Maryland is left searching for a new Athletic Director for the first time since 1994. And they likely won't hire a new one for several months, since the person who would make that hire, the University President, is retiring in the coming months. And since a new Presidential hire has yet to be announced by the University, we'll likely have to wait until that hire is made before a new AD can be selected. In the meantime, outgoing President Dan Mote will appoint an interim AD some time next week. And the rumors are already flying about who could replace Yow at Maryland. The top two names that I've seen so far are both Maryland alums. The first is Jeff Hathaway, currently UConn's AD. I'd think jumping from UConn to Maryland would good enough to pry him away from UConn, especially since he'd be returning to his alma mater. The other name floating around, and I think this is much less likely considering the school he's currently working for, is Joe Castiglione, I think the only reason he'd come to Maryland is because it's his alma mater, but I don't think that could even pull him away from a program as big and successful as Oklahoma. If we could get him, it would be a fantastic hire for the University. Unfortunately, I think it's a pipe dream at the moment. 

We'll have more on Yow in the coming days, including her legacy at Maryland, the search for a new AD, the interim AD, and the reactions from Maryland's head coaches. 

At least we have something to talk about until football season...