- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

By taking a step back, Gary Blackney is helping Maryland move forward.

The Terrapins defensive coordinator resigned as coach at Bowling Green after last season to close a stretch of several disappointing years at the Mid-American Conference school. The 56-year-old grandfather of three was ready for a new outlook on life and football after spending a decade leading the Ohio program.

"It kind of got stagnant," said Blackney, who resigned a day after the Falcons finished with a 2-9 record. "I wasn't going anywhere. The program wasn't going anywhere. Frankly, I just got tired of the day-to-day goings on. I was looking for a new challenge."

Blackney now enjoys his lower profile in Ralph Friedgen's program as he teaches and molds his unit. He doesn't miss the demands of a coach. The early returns are good; the defense was the catalyst in Maryland's season-opening defeat of North Carolina. The unit is looking strong as the Terps head into tonight's home game against Eastern Michigan as heavy favorites.

Maryland shut out the Tar Heels for the final 58 minutes, allowing just 190 yards of offense after Willie Parker's 77-yard touchdown run on North Carolina's first offensive play.

Blackney inherited a group that surrendered 440 yards and 25.8 points a game last season. However, the Terps returned seven starters on defense. The aggressive defensive scheme, with its regular blitzing, is built around returning starting linebackers E.J. Henderson, Aaron Thompson and Mike Whaley.

"They are so athletic and have excellent speed and quickness," said Blackney, who last was a defensive coordinator at Ohio State under John Cooper from 1985 to 1987. "The best way to use that is to put them on the move and attack."

The Terps applied pressure last Saturday that left Tar Heels quarterback Ronald Curry routinely terrorized in the backfield and forced to rush throws. Maryland blitzed out of the 3-4 scheme from five different positions.

"It's a lot more blitzing from different angles," said Henderson, the middle linebacker and defensive centerpiece. "It's basic stuff we used to do, but it's coming from different places. Linebackers are switching a lot, and offenses don't know what we're doing."

The linebackers could roam thanks to an improved front line led by nose tackle Charles Hill and cornerbacks able to handle one-on-one coverage. It also helped last week that punter Brooks Barnard boomed seven punts of at least 50 yards to pin the Tar Heels deep in their own territory.

The defense even scored the go-ahead points last week when safety Tyrone Stewart dropped Parker in Carolina's end zone for a safety to make it 9-7 in the second quarter.

"In the past, they would've started a drive and gained momentum," said Thompson, who had three sacks. "That showed we've improved because we capitalized on the situation."

It's those kinds of strategic decisions that have re-energized Blackney.

"When it comes down to it on game day, you're the one making the chess moves," he said. "You're moving the pawns and king and everything. That's neat."

Blackney finished his career with a 60-50-2 record at Bowling Green and led the program to its only bowl win, over Fresno State in the 1991 California Raisin Bowl. Under Blackney, the Falcons posted a 19-game conference winning streak in the early 1990s. But the early success couldn't be sustained; Bowling Green's last winning season came in 1994.

Friedgen became interested in Blackney when his old boss strongly recommended him. Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary coached alongside Blackney at Syracuse in the early 1980s.

"I think he just got frustrated [at Bowling Green] and football wasn't fun anymore," said Friedgen, who was impressed by Blackney's teaching skills. "Gary seems to be happier not to have all the things I have to deal with."

Blackney won't rule out a possible return as a coach but doesn't seem overly enthused by the idea. He likes the anonymity that comes working under the coach and having a job that deals more with teaching than running the whole operation.

"I lived my dream of becoming a head coach," he said. "I was really looking forward to coaching and teaching and not having some of the problems on the periphery that a head coach has to deal with."


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