I've seen many coaches in my almost-25-year existence, even more over the last four years since becoming part of the college basketball media. Far too often in this world do we see coaches that are overshadowed by other legends that have become synonymous with their institutions that are part of the same conference; but sometimes the coach living in relative anonymity goes on to have the more respected career, even if his own success (which is nothing to sneeze at) does not rival some of his adversaries.
Gary Williams is Exhibit A of such a coach. The man who spent the last 22 years at his alma mater of the University of Maryland as the head man in a league filled with luminaries the likes of Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski, Williams carved out a career at Maryland unlike any other; amassing a school record 461 wins in College Park and 668 overall between American, Boston College, Ohio State and his alma mater, where he brought the school to its first-ever Final Four in 2001 and won Maryland's first and only national championship in the following season. The third-winningest coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history behind the aforementioned Smith and Krzyzewski, the 66-year-old Williams today announced his retirement in an emotional sendoff at the Comcast Center that was attended by students, administrators, alums and former Williams players that included former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Joe Smith and 2010 ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez.
"This is my decision," said a visibly shaken Williams shortly after being introduced by longtime Terps play-by-play man Johnny Holliday. "It's a decision I've thought about for a while. This is one of those things where I feel like I can still coach, but you realize there's other things out there." Williams will remain at Maryland as a special assistant to athletic director Kevin Anderson, a nugget broken last night by veteran scribe Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News. It is unclear just who will succeed Williams at this time; and while the list of rumored candidates include Mike Brey, Sean Miller and Shaka Smart, Williams was confident that whomever decides to undertake the daunting task of succeeding a legend will do just fine in his new line of work.
Many had assumed that the decision of sophomore forward Jordan Williams to remain in the NBA draft was what sent the coach over the edge, but Gary Williams emphatically denied such rumors. "Jordan Williams had no effect on my decision," said the outgoing icon. "I appreciate Maryland giving me the opportunity to coach for 22 years, and I've seen coaches who just stayed too long." Williams also revealed that he briefly flirted with retirement after capturing the national championship in 2002. Shortly before the coach was introduced, Maryland administrators announced that the court at the Comcast Center will be renamed in honor of Williams, a classy gesture for a true nice guy.
As a North Carolina fan, I always knew Williams' teams would give the Tar Heels a fight every time the two took the court. It was because of that and his positive demeanor that I never hated Maryland. I always respected the Terps. That and the fact that Maryland always took it to Duke the same way they did against Carolina didn't hurt either.
"I've had my time," stated Williams shortly before reopening the floor for questions from the media in attendance. "I've had a job for 43 years. Not many coaches have been able to do that. I'm grateful for what I've had."
I wasn't as fortunate as some of the other media members to have covered you, but so am I.
Thank you, Gary Williams.