College Park -- The telephone kept ringing behind Gary Williams as he sat in his office. A coach from South America wanted to come watch Williams run his University of Maryland basketball team through preseason workouts -- for a couple of weeks. The business school needed Williams to speak at a breakfast meeting. A fan was trying to secure tickets.
"It's getting a little crazy around here," said Williams.
Williams wasn't complaining. In fact, he is slowly firing up his own internal engines, moving from the semi-relaxed mode of late spring and summer to the steady, purposeful pace of fall to the frenzied and sometimes frothing-at-the-mouth style that will find its way to the team's sideline this winter.
Going into his sixth season at Maryland and his 17th as a Division I head coach, Williams and the Terrapins have re-entered the spotlight after last season's Sweet 16 surprise. It is certainly brighter than it ever has been since Williams, 49, returned to his alma mater. It is, in fact, more intense than at any other time during his career.
"When I went to Boston College in 1982, there were some really good players in the program -- guys like Michael Adams, Jay Murphy and John Garris, who all played in the NBA -- but the attention just wasn't there," Williams said.
"I don't know if it was because I was a new coach, or just that college basketball wasn't as pressurized as it is now. This is different. The thing that's interesting is how quickly it's changed, from where we were two years ago to having such high expectations."
The expectations are not only there for the Terps, but also for Williams. After years of coaching overachievers to heights few thought they could reach, after years of seeing his Maryland teams being picked to finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference, satisfying the masses this season will be a little more difficult for Williams. Or a lot more.
The expectations have been building since Maryland, after fading badly down the stretch in the ACC last season, upset Massachusetts and lost to Michigan in the NCAA tournament.
Evidence comes in the fans who congregate as the Terps scrimmage informally among themselves at Cole Field House. Or in the crowd of more than 10,000 that is expected to show up Friday night, counting down the minutes to Midnight Madness as if they were Times Square revelers on New Year's Eve.
"For me personally, I always try to be as realistic as I can," said Williams. "If you measure your success only by how many games your teams win or lose, especially in a league as competitive as the ACC, you could go crazy. I like to focus on the job I'm doing with that particular team. 'Am I doing a good job teaching?' 'Is the team improving?' That's what's important to me."
Williams said that he has more patience now than when he arrived from Ohio State, when he routinely drop-kicked basketballs at practice, frustrated by talented players who didn't have his work ethic. He learned it during a three-year period when Maryland was shackled by the NCAA sanctions he had inherited, and the level of talent fell off dramatically.
But Williams also realizes that his patience could wear this season as the pressure grows. No longer will playing Duke tough be good enough; this is the season the Terps should finally end their six-year, 15-game losing streak to the Blue Devils. No longer will Maryland fans be happy with finishing in the middle of the pack in the ACC; this is the year the Terps could challenge North Carolina for the top.
"If we start feeling like we don't have to work as hard as last year, we could be in trouble," said Williams, who will get that message across when the team meets for its first practice Saturday.
This season is important to Williams for another reason. If last season's strong finish resurrected his reputation as one of the country's best coaches, the coming season could put him in a position similar to the one his longtime friend, P. J. Carlesimo, found himself in last spring: facing a decision on whether to stay as a college coach or taking the money and running to the NBA.
Williams said he is curious to see how the former Seton Hall coach does in his first year with the Portland Trail Blazers. So are a number of NBA general managers, who have been hesitant to hire college coaches without any pro experience.
Last spring, Williams was on a list of college coaches being considered by Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West, but said it was "nothing serious."
The $1.5 million-per-year contract Carlesimo signed certainly piqued Williams' curiosity, but that's as far as it went. "I'm not worried about the money; I have a good contract," said Williams.
Still, Williams and his attorney, Rob Ades of Washington, have been talking with Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow about the coach's compensation. Williams confirmed that he received a significant boost from Nike in his shoe contract after last season, but that it only makes up for the money he lost from Reebok after that company sharply reduced his deal when the Terps went on probation.
According to sources familiar with the overall package, Williams went from the mid-$300,000 range to mid-$400,000, which is a little more than he was making when he left Ohio State six years ago. Those familiar with the pay structure of coaches in the ACC say that Williams is somewhere in the middle, behind North Carolina's Dean Smith, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins and Florida State's Pat Kennedy.
"Security is probably more important than any more money I would make," said Williams.
Williams said last spring that he would like to sign a long-term deal at Maryland, and receive the kind of commitment from the university that would keep him there the rest of his career. A number of coaches with Williams' experience and success have been given seven-figure annuities as well as free housing. Williams reportedly was promised an annuity by former athletic director Lew Perkins when he came to Maryland, but it never materialized.
"Gary wants to finish his career at Maryland," Ades said yesterday. "It's his school, his home, and he's happy there and he's looking forward to leading Maryland for many years to come."
Yow is reluctant to discuss the negotiations publicly, but is trying to keep the school's most high-profile coach happy. Yow has heard all about the "Garyland" signs that fill the student section at home games, and realizes that the basketball team is the only program making money for a department nearly $7 million in debt.
"He's committed to getting the job done here," said Yow. "He's focused on the challenge."
The spotlight has been turned on -- and up.
ON THE WAY UP
How the Terps rate in some publications' polls:
College Sports Magazine 3
ACC Handbook 5
Sporting News 7
Basketball Weekly 10
Dick Vitale's Yearbook 12
Street & Smith's 18
@6Season ... .. School .. .. .. .. W-L .. .. Postseason
1978-79 .. .. American U. ... .. 14-13
.. .. American U. ... .. 13-14
.. .. American U. ... .. 24-6 ... NIT
1981-82 .. .. American U. ... .. 21-9 ... NIT
1982-83 .. .. Boston College ... 25-7 ... NCAA
1983-84 .. .. Boston College ... 18-12 ... NIT
1984-85 .. .. Boston College ... 20-11 ... NCAA
1985-86 .. .. Boston College ... 13-15
1986-87 .. .. Ohio State ... ... 20-13 ... NCAA
1987-88 .. .. Ohio State ... ... 20-13 ... NIT
1988-89 .. .. Ohio State ... ... 19-15 ... NIT
1989-90 .. .. Maryland ... .. .. 19-14 ... NIT
1990-91 .. .. Maryland ... .. .. 16-12 ... Not eligible
1991-92 .. .. Maryland ... .. .. 14-15 ... Not eligible
1992-93 .. .. Maryland ... .. .. 12-16
.. .. Maryland ... .. .. 18-12 ... NCAA
Totals ... .. 16 years ... .. .. 286-197