Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Deborah A. Yow
MSA SC 3520-14067

Brief Biography:

B.A., Elon College (English).

High school English teacher and basketball coach.  Women's basketball coach, University of Kentucky, Oral Roberts University, University of Florida.   Associate Athletic Director, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Director of athletics, Saint Louis University.  Athletic Director, University of Maryland College Park, 1994-, overseeing 25 teams, 600 student athletes and a 43 million dollar budget.  Elected President, National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, 2001.  Named to Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal sports executive "dream team."  Recipient, Carol Maddox Sport Management Award, presented by the United States Sports Academy for excellence in athletics administration.  Chosen to serve on the federal government commission reviewing the operation of Title IX anti-discrimination law in college athletics.  One of 15 commissioners appointed to the U.S. Department of Education's new commission on Opportunity in Athletics.  Author of numerous articles and books on athletics management and human behavior.  Inductee, Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, 2003.

Extended Biography:

In a field dominated by men, Deborah A. Yow has broken new ground for women.  Her success story demonstrates what can be accomplished with hard work and an open mind.  As the first female Athletic Director at the University of Maryland College Park, Yow has taken a struggling department mired in disappointment and transformed it into a top-notch athletic machine with twenty-five teams, hundreds of student athletes and a balanced budget of $43 million.  During her ten years in this position, the Maryland Terps have won nine national championships, including one by the Men's Basketball team in 2002.1   One of only four women athletic directors at NCAA Division-I schools, Yow is a leader in her field and an inspiration to young women.

Deborah A. Yow is best known for her many accomplishments at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Her hard work and direct manner have earned her a reputation as one of the finest athletic directors in the country.  Her many achievements include a balanced budget, better graduation rates, a loyal coaching staff, more private gifts, and a new state-of-the-art athletic center.  With her contract extended through 2008, Ms. Yow is committed to even more improvements in the future.  Her first priority when she began in 1994 was to balance the budget for the athletic department.  Maryland's athletic departments do not receive any income from state taxes and are required by law to run a balanced budget.  When Yow took over, the department was millions of dollars in debt.  She decided to cut costs and look for more revenue to balance the budget and start paying down the debt she inherited.  Yow's first move was to cut costs by looking for the fat in the department, like cleaning services.  She discovered that the athletic department spent more on its janitorial crew than the President's office did, so she reduced service from five days a week to two and told employees where to find cleaning supplies if it bothered them.2  Her direct manner may have irritated some, but her actions led to a balanced budget.

Another of Yow's top priorities was to increase graduation rates among student athletes.  Since 1998, almost 86% of all student athletes who stayed at Maryland for their full careers graduated.  That was a 10% increase in five years.3  Recently, the athletic department moved into the new $125 million Comcast Center, which includes a $1 million academic support unit.  Yow is incredibly proud of this facility, saying "I want it to be that if you compete at Maryland and stay at Maryland, you graduate."4  Long known as a "coaches' director," Yow has paid careful attention to Maryland's marquee sports -- men's basketball and football.  She took a risk and hired Maryland alumni Ralph Friedgen in 2001.  Friedgen had never had the chance to run a major football team; his success with three straight bowl games has put Maryland football back on the map.  Yow was able to secure both coach Friedgen and basketball coach Gary Williams in long-term contracts.  Their winning seasons have helped Yow direct fundraising as well.  Private gifts are up 240% and corporate revenues are up 275%.5  The 2001-2002 school year was one of the finest in the University of Maryland's history.  The field hockey team advanced to the NCAA championship game, the football team won the ACC title and played in the Orange Bowl and the men's basketball team won the NCAA championship.  Soon, the athletic program as a whole broke into the top 20 in the nation according to U. S. News and World Report; after ten years, Deborah Yow had a lot to be proud of.6

Yow was raised in an athletic family and took to sports from a young age: "My mother, Elizabeth, played basketball, and I think that's where I got it from."   The athletic talent that she inherited from her mother has served her well, starting with high school basketball and softball in her hometown of Gibonsville, North Carolina.7  After high school, Yow went to Elon College and majored in English.  While she was there she played basketball with her sister, Kay, as her coach. Yow left college for a while, but returned and graduated with honors in 1974.8  Then, she landed her first job as a high school English teacher and coached the school's women's basketball team.  While she started her career, her family continued its' athletic spirit.  Kay went on to coach the gold-medal women's basketball team in the 1988 Olympics.  Yow's other sister, Susan first became an assistant coach for the Cleveland Rockets, a WNBA team and now coaches at Providence and her brother, Pete, was a scholarship football player at Clemson University.9  

Debbie Yow made a daring career move in 1976 by taking over as head coach for the women's basketball program at the University of Kentucky.  After success there, she then moved on to Oral Roberts University in 1980.  During her last season there, the team finished with an impressive 26-1 record.  Yow finished her coaching career with the Lady Gators at the University of Florida and retired from coaching with a winning percentage of .700 and a career average of twenty wins a season.10  Yow was the first coach, male or female, to put three teams in the Top 20 who had never been there before she coached them.11  After coaching, Yow moved to the administrative side of things by joining the University of Florida Gator Booster, the most successful fund-raising group in the country at the time.  She was thirty-three and raised $6.5 million in her first year.  From there, she moved up to the athletic director position, first at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro and then at Saint Louis University.  While her career was busily on track, she married her second husband, William Bowden.  Bowden moved to Maryland with Yow and works as an accreditation consultant.  Yow routinely works 65 to70 hours a week, but the couple still finds time for fun, like eating out or seeing a movie.  The couple does not have children, but Yow jokes "all the students I have coached and worked with are like children to me.  They call up all the time, with all sorts of problems - even to ask for money."12

While the athletic teams at the University of Maryland have thrived under Deborah Yow's leadership, she has also garnered important professional accolades.  In 1998, her department ranked 19th out of 306 Division I schools for the Sears Directors' Cup.  This is the only award to honor an athletic department as a whole.13 Yow is also featured in the 1999 book, Cool Careers for Girls in Sports by Ceel Paternak and Linda Thornburg.  The book is one of a series aimed at girls aged 11 to 14 that encourages girls to aim high and examine unexpected career choices.14  Yow received one of her most prestigious honors in 2000 when she was named "Female Sports Executive of the Year" by the editors of Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal.  In 2001, Yow was elected president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, an organization with over 6100 members representing 1600 colleges and universities.  She has also been an member of the NCAA management council and the NCAA Division I budget committee.15   Also in 2001, Yow was awarded the Carl Maddox Sport Management Award which is presented each year by the U. S. Sports Academy "to a sport professional for his or her contributions to growth and development of sport through effective management practices."16  Yow served on the commission on Opportunity in Athletics, formed by U. S. Education Secretary Rod Paige to examine Title IX in 2002.  That year, she was also named one of Washingtonian Magazine's "People of the Year."  Then, in 2003, Yow was one of three recipients of the "Woman of the Year" award by Women in Sports and Events, and she was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame that year.  

Deborah Yow has accomplished more than most do in an entire career, yet she is still strives to imporve.  Yow aims to place University of Maryland athletics in the Top 10 consistently because she believes that "athletics are important to any university because they are like the front porch of a university.  Outsiders see them first."17  The university is thankful to have such a fine leader on the "front porch" and women everywhere can be inspired by her dedication and professionalism.


1.  University of Maryland.  "Deborah A. Yow, Athletic Director, 10th Year."  Maryland: The Official Site of Terrapin Athletics.  2004.  return to text

2.  Millar, Evan.  "Forging a Dynasty: Athletics Director Debbie Yow on her 10 Years as a Terp."  The Diamondback, 5 May 2004.  return to text

3.  Preston, Mike.  "Yow at Work, Helping UM Rise Toward Top."  The Washington Post, 16 August 2003.  return to text

4.  Washington Magazine.  "Washingtonians of the Year 2002."  Washingtonian Online.  January 2003.  return to text

5.  Ibid.  return to text

6.   University of Maryland.  "Deborah A. Yow, Athletic Director, 10th Year."  Maryland: The Official Site of Terrapin Athletics.  2004.  return to text

7.  University of Maryland.  "Top of the Terp Ladder: Athletic Director Debbie Yow Credits Family, University for Her Success."  UMD Outlook Online.  March 16, 1999.  return to text

8.  McMullen, Paul.  "Steward of the Terps' Success; Turnaround Raises Debbie Yow's Profile Beyond Gender."  The Baltimore Sun, 30 December 2001.  return to text

9.  Ibid.  return to text

10.  Hoyer.  return to text

11.  McMullen, Paul.  "Steward of the Terps' Success; Turnaround Raises Debbie Yow's Profile Beyond Gender."  The Baltimore Sun, 30 December 2001.  return to text

12.  University of Maryland.  "Top of the Terp Ladder: Athletic Director Debbie Yow Credits Family, University for Her Success."  UMD Outlook Online.  March 16, 1999.  return to text

13.  Hensley, Jamison. "Terps Crack Top 25 in Athletic Excellence."  The Baltimore Sun, 17 June 1998.  return to text

14.  Holmes.  return to text

15.  University of Maryland.  "Deborah A. Yow, Athletic Director, 10th Year."  Maryland: The Official Site of Terrapin Athletics.  2004.  return to text

16.  University of Maryland.  "Top of the Terp Ladder: Athletic Director Debbie Yow Credits Family, University for Her Success."  UMD Outlook Online.  March 16, 1999.  return to text

17.  Washington Magazine.  "Washingtonians of the Year 2002."  Washingtonian Online.  January 2003.  return to text

Extended Biography by 2004 summer intern Amy Hobbs

Return to Deborah A. Yow's Introductory Page

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