A career that featured raucous on-field celebrations after bowl game victories and conference championships, humbling defeats, and significant personal challenges, ended unceremoniously when former Bowling Green State University head coach Gary Blackney retired recently, closing the book on a college coaching career that spanned nearly 40 years.
Blackney, the defensive coordinator at Maryland the past five seasons, used a brief prepared statement issued by the Terrapins athletic department to announce his departure, following a season-ending 20-14 loss to North Carolina State that saddled Maryland with a second straight 5-6 season. He has declined further comment.
"Coach Blackney decided he would prefer to just quietly ride off into the sunset," a spokesman for the Maryland athletic department said.
In his statement released to the media, Blackney said his five years on the staff of close friend and Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen were "fulfilling."
Blackney, who turns 61 today, is generally credited with significantly improving Maryland's defense.
"I let him do his thing and I had tremendous confidence in him," Friedgen said at the time Blackney's departure was announced. "He loves game day and he loves the preparation, but these are long hours we're working and I just think that he wants to enjoy some of his life, and I can see how he would feel that way."
Before closing out his career at Maryland, Blackney had a rollercoaster 10-year stint as the head coach of the Falcons, the only head coaching position he held. He went 60-50-2 while running the Bowling Green program from 1991-2000.
Blackney had a meteoric start, taking over a once proud program that had floundered for the five previous seasons, when a
5-6 mark was its best effort. He led Bowling Green to an 11-1 record in his first season, a Mid-American Conference championship, and a win over Fresno State in the California Bowl.
Blackney's 1992 Falcons lost only to Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road, giving the Buckeyes all they could handle in a physical 17-6 defeat. Another MAC championship was followed with a second bowl victory, this time over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.
His 1993 team went 6-3-2, and only a stunning 36-33 loss to Central Michigan in the finale of the 1994 season prevented Blackney from taking the Falcons to a third bowl in four seasons and winning a third MAC crown. In that game, a circumferentially challenged Central Michigan punter named Craig Fischer was able to rumble and slog his way 73 yards for a surreal game-winning touchdown on a fake punt, a score that cost the Falcons the MAC championship, and, Blackney suspected, much more.
"That Central Michigan game, no matter what anyone says, changed the whole psyche of our team," Blackney said in 1996.
Blackney's first four years at Bowling Green were historic - he led the Falcons to a 36-8-2 record, and a 28-2-2 (.906) mark in MAC play during that stretch. He was the first Bowling Green coach to record back-to-back seasons of at least 10 wins, the first to win a bowl game, and he took the Falcons to a MAC-record 19 consecutive conference wins and crafted a 22-game unbeaten streak in conference play to begin his time at Perry Stadium.
Things quickly went sour following that dramatic success, however, as Blackney suffered through six straight losing seasons with the Falcons. Four games into the 2000 season, he resigned after an 0-4 start and a 20-17 loss to Buffalo, a program that had not beaten a Division I-A opponent in 30 years. Blackney stayed around to finish out a 2-9 season that left him 24-42 over the final six years at BG.
Blackney, a native of Plainview, N.Y., played running back and defensive back at Connecticut, then served as an assistant coach at Ohio State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Brown, and UConn before coming to Bowling Green. He endured personal tragedy in 1986 when his wife Lauretta suffered a basilar artery aneurysm that left her in need of 24-hour care, and left Blackney in charge of the household and caring for their four children.
When Friedgen addressed Blackney's retirement, which had been rumored during the 2004 season, he said Blackney had expressed a desire to have more time for his family.
"He's a great coach who wants some time for the other things in his life," Friedgen said. "He is going to be difficult to replace."
In his prepared statement, Blackney indicated family concerns played a big role in his decision.
"I see this as a time to start another phase of my life," Blackney said, "and a time to focus on my family."
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