COLLEGE PARK ——On a warm spring day when the only thing Maryland students would have had to complain about was a strong, gusting wind, the school and basketball program were dealt another shocking blow in as many days. This time, the winds of change carried away coach Gary Williams after 22 seasons at Maryland.
A day after sophomore center Jordan Williams signed with an agent and officially left the men's basketball program without a viable low-post presence for the 2011 season, the coach resigned suddenly Thursday afternoon, casting an uncharacteristically quiet pall over the College Park campus on a beautiful spring evening. Usually a hub of activity, the Stump Student Union was barely a quarter full around dinner time.
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Outside Cole Fieldhouse, Joel Fienerman, 25, wore a 2002 National Championship t-shirt, a relic from Williams' best year at Maryland.
"I'm really shocked," Fienerman, a graduate student, said. A day after discussing Jordan Williams' departure with a friend, Fienerman didn't know what to expect when that same person called him several times this afternoon to discuss the team's most recent development.
"I was speechless," he said. "What a couple of days it's been. I really want to know why."
An Owings Mills native who also got his undergraduate degree from Maryland, Fienerman grew up rooting for the Terps and said Gary Williams was "all he'd ever known."
Caroline Mullin, a sophomore from Baltimore, started following the Terps after their 2002 title run, and sees a long way to go for the program to get back to that point.
"Now that Jordan and Gary have left, there's a lot of rebuilding to do," Mullin said. "Even just without Jordan, it was a lot. It's going to be a tough couple of years."
Marcus Riley, 19, told of mixed emotions from his fellow students.
"Some students feel let down," Riley said. "Others just think it's a joke, an indication of the direction the team has been heading for years. One student said Maryland has quietly been becoming a football school for a while now."
Personally, Riley understood Williams' decision.
"It doesn't seem like there's much more he could do, or at least he is willing to do," Riley said. "It seems like he's cutting his losses at this point."
Freshman John Hill echoed that sentiment.
"Gary was a great coach, but he hasn't really done anything since 2002," Hill said. "They should have gotten rid of him a while ago, back in 2008."
Despite a rough stretch in which the team missed the NCAA tournament in four of the past seven seasons, not everyone was ready to look back on the Williams era negatively. Shane Connolly, 21 of Trumbull, Conn., oversaw the men's basketball coverage for WMUC, Maryland's student radio station, and saw Williams from a different perspective than many students.
"I got to cover Gary for four years, and it was an honor," Connolly said. "No one has done as much for this university as Gary has. It's a truly sad day."
Hammad Rasul, 22, is proof of how much Williams enhanced the school's reputation. A senior from Montgomery County, he said Williams' success with the program factored into his decision to come to Maryland in the first place. But given the state of flux in the athletic department recently, he's not sure Maryland would meet those same standards four years later.
"At this point, we're not in good shape," Rasul said. "[Football coach Randy] Edsall brings certainty to football, but there's no back-up plan. We're losing a lot of stability."