Maryland – or Garyland?

March 11, 2009 | Drew Forrester

Miracle notwithstanding, it looks like fans of Maryland basketball will not get to watch the Terps participate in March Madness again this year.

Some speculate the Terps need at least two wins in the ACC tournament to have a chance at the NCAA tournament, while others feel they will have to win three or, perhaps, even four games in this weekend’s ACC title finale in Atlanta in order to dance on Sunday when the brackets are announced.

But, if two wins winds up being all it takes, than wins over North Carolina State and Wake Forest don’t constitute a miracle.  

Let’s just say it’s highly improbable that the Terps can work their way through a 4-game stretch of the ACC tournament when they couldn’t even go 2-2 in the final four regular season conference games.

Then again, Maryland’s team has done some improbable things this year, like beating Michigan State, losing to Morgan State, beating North Carolina and losing to the lowly Virginia Cavaliers to close out the season.

Here’s what’s NOT improbable if Maryland doesn’t make this year’s NCAA tournament:

Gary Williams will be the subject of hot-seat discussion again.  

Justified?

Sure. 

When you’re the coach and your team doesn’t win – or reach a relatively attainable goal 4 times in 5 years – you have to be accountable.  I’ve said and written this a bunch throughout the ’08-09 season:  when the team wins, everyone heaps praise on the coach.  ”Picked the right players” – “pushed all the right buttons” – “led the team to a championship”.  When the team loses, the coach has to account for that, too…regardless of their championship accomplishments.

Just ask Brian Billick.  Or Jon Gruden.  Or Mike Shanahan.

In Gary’s case, his staunch defenders will point to his coaching accumen and lean on his early-this-decade run of success that culminated in Maryland’s NCAA title in 2002.

As S.E. Hinton wrote:  That was then – this is now.

This – 2009 – is time to take another close look at Gary Williams and his tenure at Maryland and decide if the program would be better off going in another direction.  

Maryland – barring a surge in this weekend’s ACC tournament – will miss the dance for the 4th time in 5 years.  That’s “another direction” too.  The wrong way, in fact.

And, ultimately, that’s why the hot seat gets planted on Gary’s chair in College Park. 

Williams still has three more years left on his current contract and there’s an academic-accomplishment clause that is just about a certainty to kick in later this spring — giving him FOUR years on his deal.  At roughly $2 million a clip, that’s $8 million worth of guaranteed money coming Gary’s way.

It’s tough to fire a guy when you owe him $8 million for sitting at home.

In Debbie Yow’s case, she’s been relegated to a position of “acquiesced compliance”.  She’s going to give in and keep Gary around – comply, if you will – but she’s probably doing it against her good judgement. Perfect world:  She’d rather give Gary a month’s severance, a lifetime four-pack of season tickets to every Maryland sport, and go hire a new basketball coach.

College Park, however, is not the “real world” when it comes to Gary Williams.

He’s changed the culture of basketball down there.  His team this year – filled with underachievers and players who look good one half and look lost the next – won 7 games in the conference when 4 or 5 would have been justified based on the talent.  Gary won some games himself, just by coaching basketball.  

It’s not time to fire Gary Williams.  I wouldn’t fire him right now if I ran the Maryland athletic department.

He took a burned down row home, gutted it, and rebuilt it into the best house in the neighborhood.  It’s not looking so good these days…it needs new siding, a new roof and the lawn needs a lot of care.  But Gary, in all fairness, should have the chance to make that home look good again.

But — it IS time to give Gary the big talk.

It’s time for Debbie Yow to bring Gary in (boy, to be a fly on the wall, eh?) and give him the ultimate 30-minute warning.

“Fix this thing — or we’ll have to make a change.”

Don’t beat around the bush.  Don’t drop hints.  Don’t back down at the moment of truth.

Be honest with him.  Don’t send your 2nd in command to do it.  Don’t let him read in the newspaper.  

“Fix this thing — win some games — get back to the Tournament – or we’ll have to make a change.”

And if the cash-kicking Boosters don’t like that, so be it.

They write checks to the University of MARYLAND, not the University of Gary-Land.  They wear red sweaters to the games that have UM and a Terps logo on them – the sweaters don’t have GW and a photo of Gary’s gray hair and $80.00 tie on them.  

If the Boosters are upset that Gary’s on the hot seat, put them on notice too.  

“We appreciate your support – but you can’t run the Athletic Department for us.  That’s not our agreement.”

If Debbie Yow allows the folks donating millions of dollars to make the call on who gets to coach the team, she should just fire herself and let those people run the programs at College Park.  I’d tell Debbie to lower the boom on the Boosters by throwing this one at them:  ”If you love Gary THAT much, let’s just fire him now, you guys pay the $8 million we owe him — and then, you all can give him another $100,000 a year to be the spokesman for your company — you can surround yourselves with Gary every day in the office and we’ll go hire ourselves a new coach and start fresh.”

At some point – and this has been my Maryland basketball mantra all season – winning will become the #1 priority at Maryland and the money they owe the coach will have to become #2.  Right now, #2 seems to be more important than #1.  Four years missing the NCAA tournament — out of five — might change that around a bit though.

Of course, if the Maryland basketball program starts winning again, the money they owe the coach won’t be an issue.  Neither will his recruiting woes, his sniping at the media or any of the other Gary-traits that have led many to say, “it’s just time for the guy to move on.”

They’ll be happy to pay for a winning coach.

Just ask Steve Bisciotti.  It cost him $8 million to win in 2008.  $2 million of that went to his new coach, who won, and the other $6 million went to the guy he fired.  That’s easy, or easier, I guess, when the money you’re shelling out belongs to YOU and not the State of Maryland.  

Firing a coach is never as easy as it looks.  It’s an expense line item that you’d rather not have to pay, but sometimes, as Bisciotti said, “you have to let your gut guide you.”  Debbie Yow might be listening to her gut right now, in fact.

So – let’s all sit back and watch Maryland win three straight this weekend and then shock North Carolina in the ACC title game on Sunday afternoon.

Gary will stand up in the press conference afterwards and say:  ”Anyone see a hot seat I can borrow?”

It’s the Gary way.  Don’t be surprised if it happens.

He’s a fighter.

And, ultimately, he needs to have the opportunity to keep fighting until it’s clear he can’t fight with the best of them anymore.

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