Gary Williams is a man full of passion and perspiration. His basketball teams at the University of Maryland played with bulldog intensity that reflected his toss-the-suit-coat-into-the-stands style. His announcement this week that he was retiring from coaching was stunning, and since more Marylanders probably know the name of basketball coach than the president of the university, a big deal for University of Maryland.
He will be missed. His accomplishments during his 22 years at College Park were substantial. He resurrected the men's basketball program, led the team to national championship in 2002, compiled an impressive 25-13 record in NCAA post-season play and set a Maryland record of 461 wins. Equally impressive was the way his teams went about winning. Instead of relying on "glory boys," highly recruited and often demanding national high school stars, his better teams were composed of lesser known players who played tough defense and ran the court. Regardless of where they stood in the national rankings, his squads had an uncanny ability to knock off a top-ranked team. This year, however, when his team failed to earn a bid to post-season play, was a distinct disappointment.
He could be combative, both during a game and while fielding calls on sports talk radio shows. His replies, for instance, to fans who suggested that he should play more zone defense or teach his players how to shoot free throws could be withering. It made for interesting radio. On the academic front, the graduation rate of the Maryland players was not stellar but was steadily improving.
Replacing him will be a challenge. Many basketball players approach college with a "one and done" mentality, planning to play one year and then vault to the National Basketball Association. Accordingly they and their handlers look for programs with a coach who has a record of landing players in the pros. It is regrettable, but it is reality. There is plenty of homegrown basketball talent in the Baltimore-Washington region; perhaps Maryland's next coach could harvest more of it. An even happier scenario would be if the new coach can convince players to stay in college. Seniors tend to make better basketball teams and more mature citizens.
This afternoon Gary Williams held his final press conference as Maryland's coach. For most of his tenure at Maryland, the most common expression on his face was a scowl. But as an appreciative College Park crowd chanted "Thank you Gary" and his considerable accomplishments were recounted, he held back tears. And once or twice, Gary Williams smiled.