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COMMENTARY : Geiger Heads to Maryland for the Challenge

September 23, 1990|MICHAEL WILBON | WASHINGTON POST

PALO ALTO — The campus drives are lined with palm trees and eucalyptuses. There is a lake on the backside of the campus, and a boathouse. More days than not the sky is a deep, seductive blue, the temperature in the 60s and 70s. San Francisco is 30 minutes north. San Jose is 20 minutes south, past Santa Clara and heading straight toward the mountains. The student body here at Stanford University is one of the most carefully selected anywhere. Their jocks are actually students and athletes.

Of the private institutions that are committed to big-time athletics, only Duke plays at Stanford's level. No fewer than 10 of Stanford's teams started this school year with a legitimate chance of winning a national title, including men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's tennis, baseball and women's basketball. Last year seven of Stanford's teams finished either first, second or third nationally, including women's basketball, which won the national title. John Elway, John McEnroe and Jennifer Azzi, player of the year in women's basketball, have all walked the yard here.

Okay, tuition, room and board ($20,700 this year) make the athletic department difficult to fund, and Stanford's own band occasionally contributes to the loss of a big football game. But if what you do for a living is oversee college athletics, Stanford, all things considered, is the job. Andy Geiger has had that job for 11 years. So we have, really, only one question for Mr. Geiger:

How in the world can you possibly justify leaving all this to take the same job at the University of Maryland?

From all indications, Geiger was not an easy man to work for; some members of the Stanford staff found him difficult. But he is good at what he does and he could have remained in his job at Stanford indefinitely. This isn't the first time he has been asked, "You're leaving here to go where?"

When Maryland first asked him to become more than a consultant in its search for an athletic director to replace Lew Perkins, Geiger called an alumna who is very active on the Stanford athletic board.

"I told her, 'I want you to know before you read it in the newspapers that I think I'm going to take the job at Maryland.' "

The alum chuckled. Nice joke, what do you want?

Geiger recalled saying: "No, I'm really serious, I'm really going to do this."

Earlier in the summer, probably when Perkins resigned, Geiger thought to himself, "Boy, can you imagine anyone going into that Maryland situation? It's a monster."

The other day, as he sat in his office pondering the question one more time, he admitted: "There are going to be days when I say to myself, 'What the hell did you do? You had it all. What are doing?' "

What he is doing is going to a school whose athletic department has been in a free fall for four years; a school whose basketball team will produce no television revenue for one season, no NCAA tournament revenue for two seasons; an athletic department that is thinking about survival, not national championships in most sports; an athletic department still digging itself from underneath the rubble caused by the June 19, 1986, earthquake that was Len Bias's death and subsequent three-year NCAA probation.

Geiger will tell you that going east is going home. He attended Syracuse and was AD at Penn. His wife lived in the District of Columbia when they met. Her mother is in a retirement home in Alexandria, Va. Personal economics are involved. But more than anything, Geiger chose College Park because Maryland's athletic department is in trouble and Stanford's isn't.

"Stanford is just an extraordinary place," he said, sounding very wistful. "There's not a single sour note in the music. But I've been restless for the last year. For the last six months I've been thinking, 'What am I going to do next?' A lot of people who know me have said Maryland is the perfect place for me right now, in that I'm a builder. I have a sense of direction and I think I have some leadership ability. And those that have observed Maryland think that's what Maryland needs right now."

What he is saying without saying it is Stanford doesn't need him. Sure, the football team struggles. But no AD in the world is going to cure that by himself. At least immediately, football losses are going to be the least of Geiger's problems.

"The Maryland job," he said, "is absolutely perfect for me. I really love intercollegiate athletics and that vision needs to be expressed at Maryland. I need to bring the athletic department out of the defensive shell it's been in and get it open and aggressive and collegial and accomplishing things.

"I think they feel like they're under siege. They've been forced into a position on managing that, rather than managing programs. I have to get them to the point of saying, 'Let's go, let's get on with it.' I'm not going to wallow in recent history. Let's list what we have, what's wonderful about this place and go."

He was part of a team of consultants the University of Maryland called upon in 1986, and he was called again after Perkins left, to help develop a profile of what an athletic department should be. He isn't going into this naively.

Another question to be asked is, how fortunate is Maryland, considering its circumstances, to get an AD this accomplished, one at the very top of his profession? Geiger, as it turns out, wants and needs Maryland almost as desperately as the school wants and needs him. Geiger has stopped talking about his reasons for leaving. "I prefer to call them my reasons for arriving," he said. "I can't wait to get there."

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