Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti knows that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the moment they become eligible. With former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, who was nominated last week for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Bicsciotti feels that a little politicking for his longtime friend couldn’t hurt.
Realizing that the 68-year-old Williams is as resolute about not lobbying for votes as he was unwilling to deal with certain AAU coaches when it came to recruiting their players, Bisciotti is confident that he and others -- including some of Williams’ former competitors -- will to take up the fight to get Williams honored later this year.
"I go to these Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournaments every year, and there’s just this genuine affection for Gary because he’s such a gym rat kind of guy," Bisciotti said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Monday. "I think these guys [other coaches] view him as one of the best in-game coaches of their generation."
Bisciotti said he believes Williams' candidancy has been impacted because he was a contemporary of the two winningest coaches of all time, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. Both are in the Hall of Fame. This is the first time Williams was nominated.
“I think it might have been a hindrance to him that he was chasing guys like Krzyzewski and Boeheim, who had more wins than him. So when you start to measure accomplishments, there were active guys who were churning out wins all the way he was 150 behind those guys,” Bisciotti said.
Along with an overall record of 668-380 in 33 years that included leading his teams to 16 NCAA tournament appearances, two Finals Fours and a national championship in 2002, Williams retired in 2011 with the second-most ACC wins behind Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Dean Smith.
“When Maryland made 11 straight appearances, it got to the point where we’d get to the end of the season and our friends would just decide ‘Let’s skip the first round and we’ll go to the Sweet 16,’” Bisciotti said. “He spoiled a lot of us.”
Those who were critical of his recruiting toward the end of his 22-year tenure in College Park have gained a new sense of appreciation for his coaching, given the struggles his successor, Mark Turgeon, has endured in three seasons despite a highly rated recruiting class going into last season and the arrival of two high-profile transfers, Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, over the past two years.
“Like anybody who’s a bit of a scraper and a clawer like Gary was, you’re never going to be appreciated until there’s some hindsight,” Bisciotti said. “I think the same people who were criticizing Gary for his inability to recruit. It wasn't an inability to recruit.
“He specifically went after kids who were not being dealt like pawns by the AAU coaches. He knew the AAU coaches wanted donations, trips being covered by boosters and stuff like that. I would have felt uncomfortable if I was looked upon as a money purse for the basketball program.”
Bisciotti said he feels Williams should be rewarded for the loyalty he showed his alma mater. After coming from Ohio State in 1989, where he had just put together one of the best recruiting classes in the country, Williams inherited a program that was about to go on NCAA probation.
Later on, Williams had a chance to go to Kansas and also talk to a couple of NBA teams, but he remained at Maryland and rebuilt the program into a national champion despite never having as many McDonald’s All-Americans as Duke and North Carolina. His only two losing seasons came when the Terps were on NCAA probation.
“It’s one thing to get screwed, it’s another thing to take it on the chin like he did and stick it out,” Bisciotti said. “People remember, a guy goes back to his alma mater and gets absolutely hammered [by the NCAA] and out of those ashes builds one hell of a program.
“I think if you ask, ‘Does he deserve it?’ If there’s a tie breaker, that’s it. He could have turned around and said, ‘I’m not putting up with this’ and nobody would have blamed him. He was the one left holding the bag. Part of his legacy is that not only did he not cheat, he took it on the chin for somebody who did.”