Gary Williams Stuns The College Basketball WorldPosted by nvr1983 on May 6th, 2011
The announcement out of Maryland that Gary Williams would be stepping down from his position as head coach to become a special assistant to the athletic director is one of the most stunning pieces of news we have come across this offseason. In any other offseason we would say it was the most stunning piece of news, but the Missouri coaching search saga probably trumps it due to its sheer lunacy. Still, the fact that Williams, who while not at the top of his game (that was back around 2000-02), would step down when he appeared to be building up the Terrapin program after a recent rough patch, is jarring.
Much of the talk regarding retirement this off-season has centered around UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who also has more well-documented history of medical problems, an impending three-game suspension looming, and, of course, the ability to go out at the absolute top of the game having just won a national championship. Looking at the announcement in retrospect it does make some sense as Williams is 66 years old and has accomplished just about everything that a coach could imagine accomplishing at this point in his career, but it still seems strange. Although his numbers might not seem like much in the era of huge win totals like those amassed by Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Calhoun, and Jim Boeheim, when you look at them in a larger historical perspective they are very impressive. While most fans associate Williams solely with Maryland, his career is more extensive. It includes stops at the following schools:
- American: 72-42 including two trips to the NIT (at a time when the school couldn’t automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament)
- Boston College: 76-45 including two trips to the Sweet 16
- Ohio State: 59-41 (the only blemish on his coaching resume)
- Maryland: 461-248 (1 NCAA title, another Final Four appearance, and another five Sweet 16s along with two ACC Coach of the Year awards)
While his stops at American and Boston College were impressive in their own right, Williams will be defined by his time in College Park. Coming off the worst stint of his coaching career, Williams took over a Maryland program in 1989 that was near its nadir as it was still reeling from the death of Len Bias and the imminent sanctions related to former coach Bob Wade. After a few very rough seasons, Williams was able to turn the program around and become competitive in the ACC, which was the best conference in the country at that time. Struggling to keep up with the Dukes and UNCs of the world, Williams was able to build the Terrapins into one of the premier programs in the country by the end of the 90s culminating in a Final Four appearance in 2001 followed by the crowning achievement of his career, the 2002 NCAA Championship. Like many programs the Terrapins were never able to recreate that same magic again and spent most of the past decade as a fringe NCAA Tournament team, but that should not diminish what Williams has accomplished at the school. In Maryland basketball history, Williams stands with Lefty Driesell as the two preeminent figures and with his national title may be considered the single most important figure by some analysts. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame should be all but assured with his aforementioned accomplishments along with the fact that he has the third most wins by any ACC coach ever behind two guys you may have heard of named Smith and Krzyzewski. This is not to say he was perfect, as many of his critics will point out the school’s inability to recruit well and the program’s abysmal graduation rate, but all but his most strident critics would agree that the good far outweighed the bad.
To us the characteristic that defined Williams was his competitiveness. Surely some of that was his profuse sweating that bordered on unhygienic, but it was also his demeanor and approach to the game. We can’t imagine that he will be able to stay away from the sidelines as it seems like his competitive spirit and drive that at times appeared to border on hatred towards Krzyzewski in particular was what made Maryland the powerhouse that it was. It is hard to believe that Williams would willingly sit behind a desk all day shaking hands to bring in money from boosters and posing for pictures with a fake smile across his face. We imagine that Williams will struggle to adjust to his new life in administration given what we have seen of him and just how competitive he is. Perhaps they can get make his special appointment one where he spends his days trying to crush NC State and its new athletic director Debbie Yow (former AD at Maryland, and Williams’ nemesis). Now that is a job that we could see Williams fitting into very well.