COLLEGE PARK -- The off-season never has been a favorite part of the job for University of Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams. As much as he likes to play golf and an occasional set of tennis, Williams feels much more comfortable in the gym, getting his team ready for its next game or an upcoming season.
"It's probably the best part of my job," he says.
Considering what has happened to Williams since the end of last season, the urge to get back into the gym must be even greater than in any of his previous 12 seasons as a head coach. It has been the most agonizing off-season of his professional life, a time spent trying to keep his team and his reputation intact.
That is why Williams is looking forward to the start of practice for the 1990-91 season, at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. The first official workout was delayed five days by new athletic director Andy Geiger because Williams and his staff admittedly violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules by observing pick-up games in an auxiliary gym at Cole Field House before last season.
There is a touch of irony to this penalty, considering Williams' affinity for being in the gym. But there is also a trace of bitterness in the 45-year-old coach. In recent months, Williams has had several blots, including a May arrest for drunken driving, for which he received a year's unsupervised probation, placed
on his resume, and he is measuring his words a little more carefully.
"This year, I feel we, as a program, and I, personally, went through a lot," said Williams, whose team lost several players, including leading scorer Jerrod Mustaf, after the NCAA put the Terrapins on probation in March for violations committed under former coach Bob Wade. "I'm just glad that we can get on with what I came here to do -- to make this a great basketball program.
"What I've tried to do is not let what happened this past year affect the way I am with my players. I don't want to change the way I am with them, in the office, on the practice floor, whatever. But I think, and I'm not exactly happy with this, I'm a little harder in terms of the way I feel about the job, some of the things that happened. I don't know if that's natural instinct, but it's the way I feel."
Junior guard Walt Williams, whose decision in late August to return rather than transfer made for brighter prospects this season, said: "I know it's been hard for him to take, but around the fellas, he's trying not to show it. I think he's done a pretty good job."
It will not be an easy job returning Maryland to prominence, but it won't be impossible, either. The NCAA sanctions, which took effect after an unsuccessful appeal by the university in August, mean that Maryland will not be eligible for postseason play the next twoseasons and will not be on live television or in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in 1990-91.
The feelings for the job that Williams coveted while building his reputation at American University, Boston College and Ohio State changed, in part, because of some incidents that have taken place during his 16 months at Maryland. Where the motivation for succeeding here once came from his roots as a former Terrapins captain and a 1968 Maryland graduate, it now stems from the same competitiveness that Williams took with him to other jobs.
"Before, it was like emotional,what-a-great-thing-it-is-to-be -back-at-Maryland, 9 Q coaching-in-the-ACC type of thing. It's now a determined attitude that we're going to be a very good basketball program in the ACC," said Williams, the first former ACC basketball player to be head coach at his alma mater.
Williams said he feels confident that Geiger's leadership will give the entire athletic program, as well as himself, new direction. Though not pleased with the five-day penalty, Williams was encouraged by the swift manner in which Geiger handled it, after being on the job for a little more than a week. In turn, Geiger said he believes that Williams' errors in judgment were momentary slips.
"Not to be flip, but I don't feel the illness is terminal,"said Geiger. "It was the first time something like that happened to him in 20 years of coaching. We need to get on with this thing. He should be evaluated on the kind of work he does from here on. Correction is so much more important than the penalty."
The job Williams did last season -- turning a team that finished 9-20 overall and 1-13 in the ACC under Wade the previous season into a 19-game winner with six ACC victories -- was one of the best in his career.
The troubles came off the court.
Williams realizes that some of his problems were self-induced, but said the athletic department infighting that took place during the last year of athletic director Lew Perkins' three-year tenure and continued after his departure in the summer made Williams second-guess his decision to come back and question his commitment to stay.