The debate over whether to name Maryland's basketball court for longtime coach Gary Williams was more complicated than the public knew and included discussion of a possible large donation to the university, according to Board of Regents members.
As they privately discussed whether the Comcast Center floor should be named for the recently retired coach, members of the university system's board were informed in September that the prospect of a significant gift could be tied to the outcome, regent John L. Young said in an interview. Two other board members also said there had been talk at various times — but nothing firm — of a major contribution that could be forthcoming if the court were to bear Williams' name.
Maryland has consistently said the decision to name the court for Williams rested solely on his achievements. Williams was 461-252 at the school and won the 2002 national championship. But the prospect of a large donation raises the question of whether financial considerations could also have been a factor — a scenario Maryland strongly denied on Friday. The school could have tried to sell naming rights to the court, as it did with Comcast Center.
The decision was made by Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan and announced on Sept. 13 — four days after the regents had met in executive session and talked about the issue.
"The approval of the naming of the University of Maryland court at Comcast Center in honor of Gary Williams was my decision alone, under my authority as chancellor," Kirwan said Friday in a written statement to The Sun.
"A possible gift was not a factor in my consideration," Kirwan's statement said. " As men's basketball coach from 1989 through 2011, Coach Williams brought an enduring legacy to Maryland basketball that helped lead to greater national visibility and enhanced stature for the College Park campus overall. As a result, I felt it appropriate to approve the strong recommendation coming from the campus to honor Gary Williams in this fashion."
Young said he and other regents heard about the potential gift at their September meeting from Brodie Remington, vice president for university relations.
"I remember him saying there is a strong possibility [the naming] will be linked to a substantial donation," said Young, a Montgomery County physician and businessman.
Young said he believed there was consensus on the board that Williams deserved such recognition. He said the potential to add a significant donation "was sugar on top of that. That makes it even more compelling."
Neither the donor's identity nor the size of the prospective gift has been disclosed.
Williams' court-naming ceremony will be Jan. 25 — the night of the Maryland-Duke game. He will join other coaches who have been honored this way. There's a "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" at Arizona, a "Bobby Cremins Court" at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum and a "Coach K" court at Duke.
Williams' backers have long pushed for such an honor. Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, Williams' former Maryland assistant, promoted the plan when Williams was honored before last season at the Sports Legends Museum's Hall of Legends. When Williams announced his retirement in May, former athletic director Debbie Yow — with whom he had frequently clashed — said in a statement that "his name should be on the Comcast Center floor, as was proposed a year ago."
"Gary was a Maryland-first guy. His impact is on the total institution," said Barry DesRoches, a longtime Williams friend who cited the former coach's fundraising on the university's behalf.
Williams continues to earn $400,000 per year from Maryland. Athletic department officials have called Williams an "ambassador" and "high-level closer" in working with prospective big donors. Maryland president Wallace D. Loh and athletic director Kevin Anderson both publicly endorsed naming the court for him.
Maryland also intends to honor former men's basketball coach Lefty Driesell, who won 348 games in 17 seasons in College Park before being forced out following the 1986 death of star player Len Bias.
Driesell's supporters believe such recognition — raising a Comcast Center banner for Driesell is among the options — is overdue, particularly in light of Williams being honored.
"I'm glad for Gary," said John Lucas, the former Maryland star who played for Driesell. "I think something should have been done for [Williams and Driesell]. People don't remember the past as much as they remember the latest past."