Terps coach Williams has groups of steadfast supporters

Friends of Gary, Fastbreak, totaling a few hundred members, have always had his back

March 11, 2010|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

GREENSBORO, N.C. — — Gary Williams measured his words carefully.

"You have people that are there all the time for you," the Maryland basketball coach said in an interview this week after being named Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. "And some people," Williams began before pausing, "aren't there all the time."

As streaking Maryland - seven wins in a row - prepared for its game Friday in the ACC tournament, Williams, 65, was quick to acknowledge the supporters and friends he says were always behind him: his band of loyalists.

They include the people who pitched in thousands of dollars to refurbish the coach's old office in Cole Field House, the team's home before Comcast Center opened in 2002. "The offices in Cole were not even the equal of an auto-repair shop," said Bob Mitchell, a Rockville-based home builder who chairs FOG (Friends of Gary), which funds special projects and a scholarship for the team. "There were cinder-block walls and pipes extending out of the ceiling."

Williams' devout backers also include fans who printed up T- shirts with "Garyland" and "We [heart] our coach" last season because they believed the coach, whose team was struggling, had been undercut by the media and athletic department. The loyalists - acting independently and not under the auspices of a Williams support group - distributed the shirts at Comcast Center before a February 2009 game.

One of the red T-shirts was worn during the game by Ravens coach John Harbaugh, eliciting a giant roar from the crowd. Harbaugh's boss, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, considers himself a Williams loyalist and says he and Williams are "best of friends."

Rick Furlough, president of Fastbreakers - another support group for the basketball program dating to when Lefty Driesell was coach - said Wednesday that it pained him to see the athletic department publicly sparring with Williams last season over the circumstances that led two former recruits to enroll at other schools.

"It gives the university a black eye," Furlough said. "My belief is if you have issues, you do it behind closed doors. It makes us look bad when that [public bickering] happens."

Together, FOG and the Fastbreakers have a few hundred members. They raise money for a variety of projects - from scholarships to moving the old center-court circle from Cole Field House to the Wall of Fame at Comcast Center. Athletic department officials have final approval over the funds.

The groups' members can occasionally be seen walking through airport lobbies on Maryland road trips wearing apparel in the school's red or black.

Today, Furlough and Mitchell say they are resisting telling those who questioned Williams' recruiting last season, "I told you so." The Terps, ranked 19th nationally, are the second seed in the ACC tournament and begin play Friday night against Georgia Tech or North Carolina.

"I don't know if we would be as blunt as to say, 'I told you so,' " Mitchell said. "It's more of an inner self-gratification. In the last few years, he's sort of pulled a rabbit out of a hat."

Issues remained after last season between the university and Williams and his supporters. In December, a survey in The Washington Times concluded that Williams' assistant coaches were collectively the lowest-paid among the ACC's eight public schools.

This week, the athletic department indicated that it was able to find additional compensation for the assistants by working within state-system guidelines governing such increases during a state pay freeze. The amounts were not available because of privacy considerations.

"We're determined to do whatever is necessary to be a Top 25 basketball program," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "Building Comcast Center was part of that strategy, and being competitive in other areas like compensation also matters."

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