Eisenberg: Deconstructing Yow-Williams feud

Eisenberg: Deconstructing Yow-Williams feud
April 11, 2011, 11:30 pm
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Monday, April 11, 2011 7:30 p.m.

By John EisenbergStaff WriterCSNwashington.com

Since everyone in this situation seems to be laying their various cards on the table, I will put mine out there: I thought Debbie Yow did a pretty good job during her 16-year run as the athletic director at the University of Maryland.

Yes, she made some mistakes, and yes, she overplayed her hand at times, but heres the big picture: She inherited a department in the doldrums, awash in red ink, and she cleaned up its finances, oversaw the building of a new generation of facilities and saw her teams win 20 national titles in six sports.

Make no mistake, things in College Park picked up on her watch. Big time.

Nonetheless, she developed adversaries because she expected more from football coach Ralph Friedgen, who was a mediocre 44-42 in his last seven years at the school; and because she didnt get along with basketball coach Gary Williams, who is a legend on campus because he won a national title in 2002, but hasnt been to the Sweet 16 since 2003.

Her inability to get along with her football and basketball coaches probably paved the way for her departure for North Carolina State last summer. She simply didnt have enough support. But that doesnt mean she was wrong to deny the coaches permanent exemptions from scrutiny and accountability because of what they accomplished almost a decade earlier.

She was tough, but hey, its tough out there for everyone these days, and Yow didnt think big-name coaches should be excluded.

Her detractors always painted her as power hungry and borderline irrational, but I admired her for having guts and standards. And I certainly didnt think she was irrational. To the contrary, I thought her opinions were usually bottom-line based. A bean counter at heart, she grasped the importance of keeping programs moving in the right direction instead of watching them tread water.

I bring all this up as way of trying to determine what led Yow to lash out angrily at Williams in a news conference announcing Alabamas Mike Gottfried as the new basketball coach at N.C. State Monday. Out of the blue, she accused Williams of trying to sabotage her search.

Several coaches reportedly had turned her down, including VCUs Shaka Smart, and when a reporter asked Monday if she felt she had a reputation for being difficult to work with, she said: "I don't have a reputation across all of men's basketball of being difficult to work with. I have a reputation of not getting along with Gary Williams, who has tried to sabotage the search. Come on. We all know that, OK? So whatever. It's not a reputation. It's Gary Williams out there doing his thing. Whatever."

Williams immediately issued strong denials in both a statement and an interview with Comcast SportsNet, telling CSN: I never talked to any athletic directors or coaches and no one ever called me. I didnt talk to Shaka Smart or Mark Gottfried. How would I know who she wanted to talk to?

Theres no way for anyone on the outside to know for sure what transpired here. What unfolds behind the curtain in college sports can look quite different and smell worse -- than what unfolds in front of the curtain.

A lot of Maryland supporters are going to be quick to roll their eyes at Yow, and unless she presents hard evidence, they have the right to do so. By picking this fight, she has made herself into an easy target. But I keep trying to envision her making up the whole thing without any basis whatsoever, just going strictly on old bad blood alone, and, well, it's not easy to do.