Maryland head basketball coach Gary Williams announced his retirement suddenly yesterday. He was a player at Maryland back in the 60’s, and has been the coach there for 22 years, now. As I didn’t start rooting for the Terps until I went there for graduate school in 1993, he’s the only coach I’ve really seen them have (though I am, of course, aware of the Lefty Driesell years).
This comes as a surprise, but then, he is 66, and has been doing this for a long time. And in recent years there have been a number of stories about his distaste for the AAU system that has become such a shady and important part of recruiting, so it’s not that big a surprise.
As for his legacy, I agree with what Michale Wilbon said last night on PTI: they ought to put his name on the court. Not only because he took the Terps to the only two Final Fours in school history, and the only national championship, but for what happened before that. When he took over the program, they were reeling from the death of Len Bias a few years earlier, and were slapped hard by the NCAA with probation for violations under Bob Wade (whose troubled tenure came after Driesell was forced to resign following Bias’s death). His first few years, they were banned from tv and the post-season, and more importantly, nobody in Baltimore would give him the time of day, as Wade had come from there, and many people in the basketball scene felt he’d been badly treated.
The sanctions were far more severe than he’d been led to expect when he was hired, and a lot of coaches would’ve cut and run at that point. Williams stayed, and rebuilt Maryland into a relevant program in the ACC, and then into a national power. There was a stretch of six or eight years in the early 2000’s when Maryland vs. Duke was the biggest game on the ACC schedule– UNC-Duke was a bigger rivalry, but Maryland-Duke was a better game.
Yeah, the wins have fallen off in recent years, possibly because of the AAU recruiting thing. But most of the Maryland fans complaining that Williams has “lost it” have no memory of just how bad things were when he got there. As far as I was concerned, he had tenure– not for the national title, but for saving the program at its lowest point. You don’t have to look that hard to find once-great programs that suffered lesser shocks than Maryland did at the end of the 80’s, and have never recovered. Hell, within their own league there’s NC State, who had some great teams in the 80’s, and have been almost completely irrelevant for the last decade and a half.
It’s not all wine and roses, of course– the graduation rate for the basketball team has been pretty disgraceful (though the official stats for that are kind of bullshit), and there was an extended period of public sniping between Williams and former AD Debbie Yow that didn’t reflect well on anybody. But on the whole, Williams has been a great coach, and run a solid program for the last 22 years.
I have no idea who they’ll get to replace him– it’s kind of late for a coaching search, and they’re not exactly loaded with talent now that Jordan Williams has declared for the NBA. In principle, it’s a really good job– good history, good league, good location– but you never can tell with these things. Whoever it is will look weird on the sidelines, though. I’ll miss the excessive sweating, the obscenity-laced tirades (Williams has always been a great one to lip-read in reaction shots), and the general frantic intensity on the bench.
And like Wilbon said, they should put his name on the court. Because if anybody in the ACC right now deserves it, he’s the guy.