Williams doesn't sound ready to walk away yet

March 04, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — Gary Williams made his entrance a little before 9 p.m., which is when they should have flashed " Showtime!" on the video board.

He stalked out of the tunnel like a middleweight fighter entering the ring, gave the student section his trademark fist-pump and heard the roar of the crowd and the chants of "GARY! GARY!" as he headed to the Terps' bench.

Then it was game on, Comcast Center electric with anticipation, first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference on the line and Williams doing what he loves most: coaching another big game, this one on Senior Night with the incomparable Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne being honored, along with reserve Jerome Burney.

The final score was Maryland 79, Duke 72, and what you saw for two hours Wednesday night was vintage Williams in full wacko mode.

He raged at the refs. He screamed at his players. He sweated like a stevedore and waved his hands like a traffic cop and looked like he was suffering from an ulcer during that maddening 10-minute delay to fix the net early in the game.

You watched it all, the great passion play he puts on game after game, and thought: How much longer can he keep this up?

He turns 65 today, an age when a lot of college coaches have either retired or are staying up nights thinking about the possibility.

Even the great ones get worn down by the demands of the job: the long hours, the time away from family, the travel, the kissing up to spoiled 17-year-old high school recruits who think they should be treated like NBA first-round draft choices.

And when the great ones call it quits, they often do it abruptly.

The legendary John Wooden hung up his whistle at age 64, not long after winning his 10th national championship in his last 12 seasons at UCLA.

Bob Knight, the winningest Division I coach of all time, lasted until he was 67, then walked into his office at Texas Tech one day and announced "I just can't do it anymore" to his stunned assistant coach, Pat Knight.

Dean Smith, with 879 wins and two national championships, shocked the North Carolina Tar Heels when he retired at 66 a month before the 1997-98 season was to begin.

Me, I don't think Williams is going anywhere for a while, even though he often looks more drained than Terps Nation has ever seen him.

But even in his 32nd year as a head coach, even with 647 career wins, a national championship and 13 NCAA tournament appearances in the past 16 seasons, he doesn't look ready to hang it up and lie around the pool for the rest of his life.

A lot of people, in fact, think Williams is doing some of his finest coaching right now, seeing as how the Terps were picked to finish fifth in the ACC.

But I'd argue he did his best coaching last season, when he took a team with one senior, an undersized big man named Dave Neal who preferred to shoot from the outside rather than bang inside, and somehow willed it into the second round of the NCAA tournament.

This much we know: Williams is still passionate about the game. And he still has a chip on his shoulder the size of a Ponderosa pine, and maybe that's what drives him these days more than anything else.

Even after 21 seasons at Maryland, Williams has convinced himself that the Terps get no respect from the rest of the ACC - or the rest of college basketball, for that matter.

Case in point: Maryland finally re-entered the Associated Press Top 25 rankings a few days ago - at No. 22. But Williams, who has seethed about the rankings methodology for years, felt his team should have been ranked much earlier.

The Top 25 voters, he said, make early judgments about teams and tend to stick with them.

"Opinions are formed," he told the media this week. "It's tough to break opinions."

So when the Terps flew to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational in November and lost to Cincinnati and Wisconsin, Williams felt AP voters saw Maryland as an underachieving team and carried that image with them throughout the season.

But it was fun to watch Williams put aside all that and coach the Terps in another big game Wednesday night, fun to watch him and his three gritty seniors, Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne, in their last home game.

"They're a special team," he told reporters a day earlier, growing emotional at the thought. "It's not the wins and losses. You judge your team a little bit differently than people on the outside."

Win or lose, he sure didn't sound like a guy walking away from it all anytime soon.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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