Williams cleaned up Maryland basketball — his way

May 05, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

It still hasn't sunk in. Gary Williams retiring? And this was his idea? You gotta be kidding me.

I figured after 33 years as a head coach and 22 at Maryland, they'd have to literally drag him off the court, kicking and screaming and dropping F-bombs the whole way.

Sure, he's 66 years old. But can you picture this guy doing anything but showing up to practice every day with a whistle around his neck?

You know how some people can't fall asleep without a sound machine in the background? Williams has his set on: sneakers squeaking on a polished gym floor.

And now he's supposed to be staying on as assistant athletic director? And special assistant — whatever that means — to AD Kevin Anderson? And glad-hander and back-slapper for the fundraising campaign? Good luck with that plan. That'll last about six months until Williams tells some whiny booster to stick it and goes off to work on his golf game.

So what are we to make of the Gary Williams era at Maryland?

Let's start with the obvious: He totally resurrected the program.

In those awful days after the 1986 cocaine overdose death of All-American forward Len Bias, Maryland basketball was in shambles.

Lefty Driesell was forced to resign as Terps coach, accused of everything from being out of touch about the drug use of his players to covering up the Bias investigation. Bob Wade, his successor, was totally overmatched, compiling a three-year record of 36-50 before resigning under a cloud of NCAA rules violations.

In Wade's last season, the Terps won nine games and finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Players were grumbling. Fans were showing up to games with paper bags over their heads. Alumni were howling for Wade's head on a pike.

Williams arrived in the midst of all that and promptly won 19 games and took Maryland to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

And for the next 21 years, all he did was win. He finishes with a 461-252 record that includes a national championship in 2002, 14 NCAA tournament appearances, two Final Fours, two Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s — and a lock to make his game's Hall of Fame.

Here's the other thing about Williams: Love him or hate him, he ran a clean program at College Park.

He kept the slimeball Amateur Athletic Union coaches at a distance, and some said it hurt his recruiting. But that's the way Williams played it, and the result was not a whiff of scandal during his tenure.

There was never any doubt about his passion for the game, and his fierce loyalty to his players. But the disappointment of last season took a lot out of him.

The Terps finished 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA tournament. To make matters worse, they were also snubbed by the lowly NIT.

Privately, Williams was already telling friends he would coach only another two years and call it quits. But when the news broke Wednesday that his prize big man, sophomore center Jordan Williams, had hired an agent and was intent on moving on to the NBA, that might have been the push Williams needed to step down.

And maybe it wasn't a bad time for him to do it. Change is sweeping the Maryland athletic program. Debbie Yow is out as AD. Kevin Anderson is in. Ralph Friedgen is out as football coach. Randy Edsall is in.

Maybe Williams' leaving will be a breath of fresh air for the basketball program. We'll find out soon enough.

So now Maryland has big coaching shoes to fill, and it had better fill them fast.

You can bet star recruits like Nick Faust, Sterling Gibbs and Martin Breunig are nervous about who'll be coaching the Terps next year. By Friday, they'll be knocking on Anderson's door, wondering whether they can get out of their commitment in the wake of Williams' shocking announcement.

Which is why the Terps have to find Williams' replacement in a hurry. And they're probably going to have to shell out big bucks for the new guy — at least if he's an established big-name coach who will satisfy the alumni and season-ticket holders.

I'm hearing lots of names already. Shaka Smart, the sharp young guy who led Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four this year, is one. But the Rams just locked him up with an eight-year deal. (I know, I know … a highly successful coach breaking a contract? That would be shocking, wouldn't it?)

Sean Miller, who just led Arizona to 30 wins, the Pac-10 title and an Elite Eight berth, is another name that's been mentioned. And Jay Wright of Villanova and Mike Brey of Notre Dame are two other names I've heard.

Whoever it is, he'll have his hands full replacing an icon like Williams.

I can't believe I'll look over at Maryland's bench next season and not see the greatest sideline show in college hoops: the wild-eyed guy his fellow coaches call Wacko, hair plastered to his forehead, jumping up and down and sweating through his Armani suits as he coaches his heart out.

The game won't be the same without him.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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

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