On Thursday night, the news came sudden and swift. Debbie Yow, who had been the athletic director at the University of Maryland since 1994, was leaving College Park to assume the same role at N.C. State.
The move came as a big surprise to most of the Terp community. But in retrospect, a lot of the signs were there.
In terms of her attraction to the N.C. State job, Debbie Yow is from the Raleigh area. Her sister, Kay, was the extremely popular women's basketball coach there for 34 years before succumbing to cancer last year. So in many respects, this is a Gary-Williams-Coming-to-Maryland moment; the hometown product making a triumphant homecoming to resurrect a storied, beloved, and troubled program.
In terms of the Maryland job she is leaving, perhaps some of this writing was on the wall. Over the past few seasons, she essentially organized shadow campaigns to buy out Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen during their times of struggle.
Obviously, those campaigns were not successful. To quote The Usual Suspects, “How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?” Well, Debbie missed. Bye, Debbie.
And what's more, university president C.D. Mote has announced he will step down this August. A new president has not yet been named, but there may be a feeling that the president may, understandably, wish to build his own leadership team.
But back in the present, following Yow's departure, two very different schools of thought have emerged on her tenure.
The first is epitomized by Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, who has catalogued Yow’s many accomplishments in her 16 years at Maryland. Twenty national titles in six sports. Great hires including Friedgen and men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski. Building Comcast Center and a Byrd Stadium expansion. She was in the position longer than the previous five ADs.
And, oh yeah, she was the first female AD in the ACC. Wise hints that the “Machiavellian survival tactics” she was known for wouldn’t have been a thing if she were a man.
This is in sharp contrast to the opinions held by fans and media members like John Feinstein, who on his blog yesterday tore into Yow like she was a camper standing in front of his cubs.
The headline said Yow “won’t be missed by many at Maryland,” and the article goes on to note that she had a pretty difficult personality, as “people came and went in the athletic department the way pitching coaches came and went when George Steinbrenner was still running the Yankees.” He goes into some pretty interesting details about her behavior behind the scenes, painting her as petty and prone to grudge-holding before concluding that her “honeymoon won’t last terribly long” at N.C. State.
There's probably truth in both of these viewpoints, which I believe illustrates a larger theme emerging here.
Despite the warning signs, and the feeling that both sides were probably ready to make a change, Debbie Yow’s departure came as a pretty big surprise. And that’s the thing: Yow’s entire tenure at Maryland seemed to happen behind the proverbial curtain. In the athletic department, infighting and conniving were standard operating procedures. Fans and media were viewed as necessary evils, not something to be embraced, but to be leveraged or dealt with. When you insist on operating in the dark, you relinquish to others the job of shaping your legacy.
That’s what is happening right now, for good and bad, to Debbie Yow.
Given that a new university president has not even been announced yet, Yow's permanent replacement could be several months away. Speculation on Yow’s replacement is already afoot, but right now, that's all it is. Whenever the search committee gets serious, here’s hoping they pick someone who is a fan of the Terps, and operates with his or her fellow fans in mind, in the full light of day.
After all, sunshine is the best disinfectant. And it seems like Maryland's athletic department could really stand to be aired out.
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