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Sleepless Nights Are Increasing for Maryland's Ross

November 28, 1986|SALLY JENKINS | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Bobby Ross has a couple of film projectors for bookends and a coffee table stacked with canisters. Maryland's football coach, who looks sort of sorrowful anyway, is bleary-eyed and tired after a season of burying himself in his work. Still, he figures it beats the alternatives.

"Does he do anything else?" asked Gib Romaine, a former Maryland assistant. "I know he jogs, but other than that, his interests revolve around football. It's his recreation, too."

But football has not been fun this year, and the real question about Ross is whether he will be at Maryland next season. He's gotten hate notes on his car and boos in the stands. His team is 4-5-1, 1-3-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and will not go to a bowl game for the first time in his five-year tenure.

When the Terrapins meet Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville Friday, they will try to avoid a losing season for the first time since 1982, Ross's first season at Maryland.

But that is nothing compared to Maryland's problems off the field in the wake of the cocaine-induced death of basketball star Len Bias June 19.

Ross has been frustrated by off-field distractions and angered by what he considers unfair maligning of his team. He added to the controversy when he grabbed an official after a loss to North Carolina and was sanctioned by Maryland and the ACC.

"I'm just trying to keep my name out of the papers for the rest of my Maryland career," he said at one point.

That career could end next week. Last Tuesday Ross revealed that acting athletic director Charles Sturtz has given him until Monday to decide whether he will return to Maryland.

It seems every year at about this time Ross is contemplating going elsewhere. Last season it was Minnesota; the year before, Missouri. He has acquired a reputation as someone hard to please.

Sources at Maryland say they have not been contact by any of the schools in the market for a new coach, among them Texas, Wisconsin and Purdue. As Ross himself said, "There may not be much interest in a 4-5 coach who's drawn the attention that I have."

Ross says this has been his most difficult season. Always a coach who devoted an inordinate amount of time of game preparation, he has shown even greater determination this season. He rarely gets home before 10 or 11 p.m.

He has dealt with an inordinate number of injuries, including a couple of mysterious ailments to players. Defensive back Keeta Covington suffered from migraines, and for a brief time Ross feared defensive back Irvin Smith had a heart problem.

In addition, many players streamed into his office complaining of alienation from the student body. This year, athletes and coaches have had to defend the virtues of sports against a skeptical faculty and student body. That football has been maligned is something of a personal front to Ross, a lifelong devotee to the game.

"There's no question this has been a hard year," Ross said. "I haven't slept nearly as much; I get about four hours. I wake up, with things on my mind. . . I've spent a lot of time with individual players. More this season than in others, they've been coming in.

"One said the other day, why is it that when he takes a test and there are 100 people in the class, the professor stood over him the whole time? We've have additional responsibilities this year, and we've gone through hard times. We've been under a microscope more than ever before."

But if this has been Ross' hardest season, he might have made it more difficult on himself as well. Said former Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason, "He could burn himself out. H's not just had to deal with football, he's had to deal with the publicity, answering all the academic questions. Bobby Ross takes it a lot more seriously and a lot more personally than most guys."

Ross concurs. "I'm a human being too," he said. "I guess I get a little sensitive about things."

A major part of Ross' troubles this season has been concern over his image. He is a coach who prides himself on winning "the right way," and the idea that his honor has been challenged offends him.

He was particularly upset with a university statement when he was suspended from the sidelines for one game for confronting an official after losing to North Carolina. In the statement, Sturtz called Ross' actions "an embarrassment."

Ross was confined to the press box, along with Clemson's Danny Ford, who was being sanctioned for confronting officials in last season's game against Maryland. Ford was able to joke about it; Ross saw little humor in the situation.

"Bobby Ross has a great sense of humor, but not when you're fooling with the way he looks," Esiason said. "He has an image he wants to project. When you tarnish it by punishing him like that, he doesn't like it."

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