News broke a couple Fridays ago that Maryland head coach Gary Williams would be opting to retire, ending a 42 year coaching career, the last 22 of which spent as the head coach at his alma mater. At age 66, you figured Gary didn’t have a ton of years left in him, but this was still a bit of a surprise to most Terp fans. Williams’ slightly abrupt retirement coupled with the fact that Maryland tried to make a fairly quick hire–he retired on a Friday and Mark Turgeon’s hire was announced on a Monday night–have seemed to overshadow a significant legacy left behind.
Let’s pause and examine.
Gary’s .637 career winning percentage in a head coaching career spanning 33 years speaks for itself. He ended his career as third all-time in ACC head coaching wins and the winningest coach in Maryland history. Add a national championship, a couple of Final Four appearances and ACC Coach of the Year awards, three ACC regular season titles, and an ACC tournament title, and that sounds like a Hall of Fame career to me. The ACC was always kind of like playing in the AL East with Duke and North Carolina being like the Red Sox and Yankees, making his numbers all the more impressive and possibly all the more underrated.
After his first year at the helm, Williams and the Maryland program were penalized for major violations that occurred before Gary took over. Besides taking away scholarships for years to follow, the NCAA also banned the Terps from postseason play for two years and took them off live TV for one. Despite being saddled with limitations that would set some programs back a decade or more, Gary had his team back in the Sweet 16 in four years. He would build the Maryland program into a national contender for years to come.
Williams was known for his intensity on the sidelines. There was rarely a game where he didn’t sweat through his suit jacket, and he could often be seen in with his back turned to the bench in a tirade. But, his players always responded to him. Gary was always known for winning without superstars. Walt Williams, Joe Smith, Steve Francis, and Juan Dixon probably rank as the top four players he ever had in some order. Certainly not bad, but in 22 years as the Maryland head coach with as much success as he had in a conference like the ACC, you might expect some more star power. Of course, that can be seen in two ways. On one hand, it makes his resume that much more impressive, especially given that two of those four players I just mentioned only played in College Park for one year. On the other hand, it begs the question of why he couldn’t get more big-time players to come to campus.
Some, probably most, Maryland fans would tell you that Williams intentionally avoided the All-American type guys because of his resistance to associate with AAU coaches. Still, some others have rumbled that Williams was not the most aggressive recruiter, especially after winning his first championship. This became a more common gripe in the years after the departures of key recruiting guys like Jimmy Patsos and Dave Dickerson. In reality, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. In any case, it proves how good Williams was when he was on the sidelines. Williams undoubtedly coached with a chip on his shoulder and his best teams always mirrored that trait. That chip on his shoulder might have played a part in his famously contentious relationship with Debbie Yow, but with Yow moving onto NC State and Williams continuing at his alma mater and now retiring there, I think it is obvious who won that battle. Williams has always been beloved by fans, and maybe more importantly (depending on your perspective) the boosters.
Williams can say all he wants about it just being the right time in his life to call it quits, and I am sure there are many elements of truth to that–he is 66 years old, after all, and has been doing this for over two-thirds of his life. However, you can’t tell me that this decision didn’t have a whole lot to do with Jordan Williams’ announcement that he would be declaring for the draft officially and hiring an agent earlier in the week. The Terps would have been a very interesting team to watch next year had (Jordan) Williams returned, and I’d bet my house that Gary would have come back for one more year had Jordan returned to school. If you look at his best teams, his flex offense has always run the smoothest when he’s had a great big man. The timing of his decision was certainly no coincidence.
I wouldn’t cry for Gary quite yet. After notifying the Terp faithful of his plans to retire, Williams was given a cushy Special Assistant to the Athletic Director job in Maryland’s athletic program. Basically, Williams will be called in for spot duty but mostly be getting paid to play golf. Not bad.
Williams, however, was very much a part of the decision-making process when it came to making a new hire. Gary will absolutely be a significant voice in all things Maryland basketball in the future years.
Maryland will undoubtedly miss the steward of its basketball program, but early reports seem to indicate that they are in very good hands with Mark Turgeon. Not only has he had a track record of success, which Hughes profiles here, but he has the stamp of approval of the man that will go down as the greatest coach in Maryland history of any sport.
Now, he just has to replace Jordan Williams…