Timing of Williams' retirement from Maryland is befuddling

May 05, 2011|Peter Schmuck

Longtime Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams explained his sudden decision to retire Thursday in terms that anybody could understand, and — with all due respect for his Hall of Fame-worthy career — I still don't understand it.

"It's the right time,'' he said in a news release.

Frankly, I can't think of a worse time, either for the coaching legend that is Gary Williams at Maryland or the Terrapins men's basketball program that he pulled out of the ashes 22 years ago and maintained at a level of national prominence for nearly a generation.

Don't misunderstand. Williams owes no one an apology for his decision to get on with his life at 66 years of age. He owes nothing to the university or its basketball fans, who loved his intensity but probably didn't fully appreciate what it took to run a clean program and compete year after year in the elite Atlantic Coast Conference.

It's just hard to imagine an evening of Terrapins basketball without Williams sweating through his suit, and it's even harder to understand how Williams decided to walk away after a season in which the Terps missed the NCAA tournament and were snubbed by the National Invitation Tournament. He always struck me as a go-out-on-top kind of guy.

He told ESPN.com on Thursday that he considered retiring after the Terps shared the ACC regular-season title with Duke in Greivis Vasquez's final season in 2009-10 but was drawn back by the teaching challenge presented by his young 2010-11 squad. Then would have been better than now.

There probably will be some dot-connecting since Williams announced his decision so soon after Terps big man Jordan Williams opted to leave school for the coming NBA draft, but only Williams knows whether the prospect of another developmental season played a role in his abrupt exit. More likely, he just reached a point where he no longer enjoys dancing with demanding recruits and constantly swimming upstream in the ACC. Maybe things will be clearer after Friday's open-to-the-public news conference at Comcast Center.

Here's what is not in dispute: Williams becomes the third major figure in the Maryland athletic hierarchy to step down or be fired in little more than 10 months. Athletic director Debbie Yow, whose rocky relationship with Williams was a poorly kept secret for years, resigned in June to become AD at North Carolina State. And coach Ralph Friedgen, who revived a moribund Terps football program a decade ago, was pushed out by new athletic director Kevin Anderson at the end of the 2010 season.

That's a lot of change in a very short time for one high-level athletic program. The case could be made that it was a logical time to replace Friedgen, who was nearing the end of his contract, though his dismissal certainly could have been handled a lot better. There is no apparent upside to the loss of Williams, who is one of the cornerstone coaches of the ACC along with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams.

Complain all you want about his supposed inability to recruit the country's best high school stars. He went to the Big Dance 14 times in 22 years, reached the final four twice and won the national championship in 2002 without a hint of scandal.

He ruffled plenty of feathers with his tough exterior and intense on-court demeanor, but he was a great teacher who got the most out of his players and often took his teams beyond their preseason expectations.

Now, Maryland is going to have to embark on another national search for a big-name coach, and the timing is far from optimal. It has been a month since the NCAA tournament ended, and some of the top candidates have already jumped to other schools or signed contract extensions. There will be plenty of coaches interested in this highly attractive coaching position, but it would have made Anderson's job a lot easier if Williams had made his decision after the ACC tournament.

That way, there would have been a lot of buzz about it in March and Anderson could have been on some doorsteps right after the title game.

Instead, the replacement of Maryland's two most visible coaches in the space of five months leaves the athletic program with a bit of an identity crisis that will force Anderson to dig deep into the budget to lure a well-established, high-profile coach away from another successful program.

Williams will be very hard to replace, but he gave enough of himself to the university to deserve to go out on his own terms, whatever his motivation.

It may be the right thing. It just isn't the right time.


Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and WBAL.com.

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