I was born a Maryland Terrapin fan. It’s in my blood. It all truly began with Joe Smith’s freshman year back in 1993 and my support has not wavered since that time. Throughout that span, I have known only one head coach: Gary Williams. When Gary was hired by his alma mater in 1989, the program was in terrible shape. NCAA probation and the tragedy of Len Bias still haunted the program. He took a job that no one really wanted. Fast forward to 2002 and Gary had led the Terps to the promise land. The Terps had won their first National Title after having made their first Final Four the season prior. As a fan, being able to witness this was the highlight of my sports life. And to the older Maryland fans who had to suffer through the close calls of the past and the sadness of Len Bias’ passing, it was even sweeter.
So, with his stunning announcement yesterday that he is retiring, I face for the first time a future with no Gary Williams as the Head Basketball Coach at the University of Maryland. It is a weird and sad feeling that surely won’t sink in until next fall when he doesn’t come out that tunnel and give that fist pump to the fans. I owe all my best basketball memories to him.
Like I said before, his announcement definitely came as a surprise. Despite being 66, Gary looked about a decade younger than that and is in good health. I thought for certain that he would coach another 3-4 years. Many thought that not having to work for the world’s worst boss in Debbie Yow anymore would re-energize him. However, Gary has said that it really isn’t in him anymore. I give him credit for stepping down when he knew the time was right. It was only a couple years ago when Yow tried to get Gary fired, so it is especially satisfying that he outlasted her and was able to leave on his own terms. (and to see her embarrass herself as Athletic Director of NC State).
Since 2002, it has been an up and down road for Gary and the program. Some decent years mixed in with some NIT years. As the college basketball landscape changed, Gary wasn’t sure if he wanted to adapt. The underworld of AAU basketball and its influence was something that he didn’t want to be a part of. While many (myself included), have criticized his efforts in the recruiting game, he should be commended for not sinking to the levels of coaches like Calipari and Calhoun. In the new era of pay for play and AAU handlers, Gary always stayed above the fray.
I don’t believe there is one single factor that was cause for his retirement. It was a combination of things. Being 66, recently married, not wanting to be a part of the new College Basketball world, the departure of Jordan Williams. All of these were factors. Jordan Williams leaving for the NBA draft may have been the final straw though. Many believe Gary would have stayed had he returned. Without Jordan Williams, the team is in rebuild mode and Gary may have felt that it was the perfect time to go.
Whatever success Maryland has in the future can be attributed to Coach Williams and how he brought back the program from the dead. Hopefully the court at Comcast Center will soon be named after him. It truly is a sad day for Terp Nation.
-Tomorrow I will have thoughts of the future prospects of Terps Basketball and information about potential coaching hires. For now I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures and videos of Gary.