When Gary Williams abruptly retired in May, I set my all-time speed record for blog writing. The moment that twitter-bomb detonated, I had so many different thoughts racing through my normally traffic-less head that I didn’t even know what I wanted to say. I just knew that I wanted to say something.
Because after Bob Wade left this program face down in a gutter somewhere, Gary came in and did what he does best. He built. Not just some very good teams, but a program that surpassed the glory of the Driesell years, and one that could contend for a national championship. This is what I wrote about replacing a legend.
Before getting into who has to step into the large, sweat-soaked shoes that have been left over, it needs to be noted what Gary did for Maryland. The critics will say that Gary was a disinterested recruiter who shunned quite possibly the most fertile recruiting ground in the country right in his back yard.Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, and Rudy Gay are just a few of the names he missed out on, but take a look who got those kids. Durant went to Rick Barnes, who I’ll get to in a minute, but the next two coaches are Jim Calhoun and Bob Huggins (who didn’t coach Beasley, but he recruited him).Huggins and John Calipari have coaching careers that closely mirror the idea of “dine and ditch” (althought Cal usually racks up a bigger tab). Calhoun’s unquestioned success has covered for some major indiscretions (recruiting violations, and the possibility of UConn being ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament).It’s impossible to deny that Gary didn’t strike it rich in a veritable gold mine, but he won a national championship and fielded a competitive team every year of his tenure, and he did it without having to sign a deal with the devil (boosters, certain AAU coaches) as the aforementioned names did. Because of him, plenty of Maryland fans were shocked to find out yesterday that this job is as highly regarded in the coaching industry as any because of the pristine condition Gary left it in.What cannot be questioned was Gary’s coaching acumen. When it came to game day, there is no coach that I can think of in college basketball (with the possible exception of Coach K) I would rather have commanding a team. With Gary at the helm, Maryland got to the NCAA tournament with DAVE FREAKING NEAL STARTING AT THE 5. AND THEY WON A GAME.In the most important nationally televised games, games where some teams would be blinded by the spotlight, Maryland was almost always game. There are a few blemishes, including some thumpings at Cameron and the Dean Dome, but there were also games like the 2007 win at Carolina, the 2006 win at Duke, and the unquestioned dominance of all things Comcast Center and Cole Fieldhouse under his reign. From 2006-2010, the Terps were 3-2 against North Carolina whose yearly McDonalds intake resembles that of Morgan Spurlock. Why? Because Gary Williams could run tactical circles around Roy Williams, and just about anyone else you put in front of him.Lastly, and I’ve said this before, the worst thing to see as a fan is a team or coach with a sense of apathy. The prime example that comes to mind for me is the 2005-2006 UConn team with five first round draft picks that lost to George Mason. Although Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong didn’t end up really lighting the world on fire in the NBA, they were both more than adequate college basketball players. Marcus Williams was a dazzling point guard with outstanding court vision, Denham Brown provided a long distance threat, and Rudy Gay was a continuously running highlight film.That team should have won the national championship running away, but there were games where they simply did not show up. Part of the blame goes on the players, but part of it definitely goes on Calhoun for not being able to get such a talented group to play to their potential.I can not think of one time when I was at Maryland where I thought that the basketball team was just going through the motions during a game. Every game was always the Duke game to Gary Williams, and if a player didn’t believe that, then he was pulled off the floor and given a few choice words by the coach.Every single player to a man that played under Williams will say that they respect him, and all the players that I saw improved dramatically in every year under his tutelage. He was a brilliant tactician, and a better motivator, and no matter who comes in, it will not be the same without seeing that predatory crouch on the sidelines during games.
In the four and a half years I was at Maryland, Gary continued to do what he always did. He screamed himself hoarse at his assistants, he built teams from the ground up, and he won games.
I watched the last season of a very good Maryland team (Strawberry, Jones, Ibekwe), and spent three years watching the coach build another from scratch. Gary oversaw the maturation of a great practice shooter, a tweener lefty, and an athletically limited unconventional point guard into a dead eye three specialist, a senior leader, and the 2010 ACC player of the year. He may have never had the sturdiest material to build with, but there was never a question that he got the most out of what he had.
Being a fan of three teams with frequent head coach openings (Mets, Jets, Knicks) I’ve seen a lot of them come and go. I’m a Rex Ryan guy, and I was sad to see Bobby V get a raw deal in Queens, but Gary Williams is my favorite coach I’ve had of any team, and it’s not even close. Turgeon may turn out just fine, but not seeing that sweaty, surly, sixty-something year old giving credence to the idea of earmuffs on the sidelines is still strange.
And that’s what gives an extra meaning to tonight’s game. For all of the grief I’ve given the athletic department, they were smart enough to recognize what was plain to see to every Cole or Comcast denizen for the past 22 years. That even though he looks so damn miserable, and even at an age where his crouch will probably tear a groin muscle, Gary Williams belongs on a basketball court. Tonight will ensure that he’ll always be there.
— Follow me on Twitter @patguth321 —