Former Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Wlliams reflected on his career during an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. Read more about Williams' impending induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame here.
On when Maryland turned the corner
“The first year [1989-90] was the NCAA investigation, and the next two years [1990-92], we couldn’t play in the NCAA tournament or on live TV [for one]. That next year, I guess it was 1993-94, we weren’t very good. We won [two] games [in the ACC]. But Walt Williams kept it where we could recruit locally. We couldn’t really get people interested in us nationally. But locally we had Duane Simpkins, Exree Hipp and Johnny Rhodes (Dunbar) in that first class. That same year, we were able to recruit Joe Smith and Keith Booth (Dunbar). Those five took us from three wins to the Sweet 16 the following year. … From that point on, I knew we could be pretty good.”
On the pressure he felt early on to rebuild the program
“People have short memories. I got the job in ’89. If you don’t win [by] ‘94-'95, that’s five years. People don’t want to hear what was going on during those five years. They just know it’s five years. I figured we had to start winning. I didn’t think we could get to the Sweet 16. We didn’t play like freshmen and sophomores. They played like juniors and seniors.”
On his chance to leave Maryland early in his tenure
“I had a situation where I could have gone as an assistant coach because [former Big East Conference commissioner] Dave Gavitt had become CEO of the [Boston] Celtics [in 1990]. Not as a head coach, but with the idea that I was young enough where if we were successful, I could get there. That was the only time I even wavered in terms of thinking about it. That was good that situation occurred, because after that, I said: ‘To heck with that.’ "
On the team that followed the national championship in 2002
“That’s the forgotten year. People never talk about ’03. They talk about ’01, ’02 and 2010, when Michigan State beat us on that last-second shot. Here comes Steve Blake [in 2003], a guy who’s going to play in the NBA for 12 years, and Michigan State’s afraid to get near him and he gets right to the top of the circle and takes a jump shot with two seconds left. If it goes in, we go to the Elite Eight again. But it doesn’t go in. I was really proud of that team because it was really hard to play after going to the Final Four, win a national championship and lose a Juan Dixon, a Lonny Baxter, a Chris Wilcox, guys like that, and still be good enough to get to the Elite Eight if that shot goes in.”
On the criticism he endured toward the end of his career
“Things change. It used to be that if you got to a Final Four, you had job security for the rest of your life. It’s not that way anymore. I understand that. The patience isn’t there. The money coaches make changes the way people look at coaches. Two of those years when we didn’t make the NCAA tournament, Chris McCray was declared ineligible under a new NCAA rule that was put in. D.J. Strawberry tore his ACL one year and we didn’t make it. I don’t think there’s too many teams in the country — maybe a Duke, when they were loaded — that could have survived those two injuries. I heard things. You get to a certain age in coaching, people look at you if you don’t win.
On coaching again in the pros or college
“I’ve never been asked to be on a pro staff. I’d look at it. I’m not going to go out and campaign for it. I enjoy my lifestyle now. When you coach, you’re in a job, in terms of competiton, where you can be at that level in whatever else you do. I miss practice and I miss just the locker room and hanging out with the players, because that was always the fun part of the job. The games are great. I didn’t like the day of the game. You couldn’t eat. Nine o’clock games were torture. But once the referee tossed the ball up, that was a great time, too."