Terps fans braced themselves this week to deal with the official realization that Jordan Williams would not be back with the program next year. The news that followed however…Well there was simply no way to prepare for the bombshell that head coach Gary Williams would be riding off into the proverbial sunset as well. That however is exactly where fans of the Terps find themselves today.
While the reasons behind the sudden move may never be altogether clear, it’s good to see Williams going out on his own terms at least…or so it would seem anyway. As the outpouring of respect comes down now from fans, media, contemporaries and adversaries alike it’s clear that whomever endeavors to take on this job has a lot to live up to. It’s also pretty clear that new Athletic Director Kevin Anderson can consider himself “all-in” less than one year into his tenure, having turned over alumnus head coaches now in both revenue sports whether fully by his own design or not.
Maybe enough was simply enough for Gary, and the Jordan Williams news was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Having watched his career play out for the last two decades plus though, I’m having a hard time buying that the fight just got to be too much for Gary Williams. It was the fight after all that seemed to bring out the best in Williams, and that same fight that defined team after team throughout his tenure. Moreover, there have been rumblings about Jordan Williams’ lack of class attendance circulating for weeks. If the news of his announcement wasn’t much of a surprise to most Terps fans, I doubt it was a surprise to his coach either.
It’s surely not inconceivable that the business side of college hoops may have ultimately broken Williams faith in basketball as he knew it, but given his dedication to doing things the right way and building for the long term with honor and integrity and commitment to his alma mater, Williams departure at this time, and the position that it potentially leaves the program in seems contrary to the way that he’s conducted business here for the last 22 years. Surely the Terps will be scrambling to find a replacement, and even getting big time coaches to risk their current recruiting classes by interviewing at this time of year should be tough. After taking complete care of the program for over 20 years, I’m having a tough time believing he’d depart, on his own terms at a time when it’s detrimental to the program.
I’m more prone to believe (100% speculation) that Jordan Williams departure may have led to a meeting of the minds between Gary Williams and Anderson that may have fractured the coaches footing with the new AD or vice-versa perhaps. Or maybe Debbie Yow’s accusations about Williams muddying the waters in her coaching search had a little more merit than Gary was willing to admit when questioned about it. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to think that Yow may have “advised” Anderson that she was set to take action against Gary and the Terps and did him the courtesy of allowing Anderson to clean his own house first.
If indeed that were anywhere close to true, it’d be a fitting irony that Williams got swept out in a housecleaning of that kind. Ironic because of all of the proverbial garbage that Williams had to clean up in his efforts to make his alma mater respectable again. The job that Williams did here is often spoken of as a restoration of Terps pride and tradition, but with all due respect, Williams’ achievements far surpassed any reasonable expectations or historical precedent in school history. He took the program over at its nadir and brought it to levels unimaginable even without the backdrop of the Wade and Bias scandals.
My Dad and I had a five game mini-plan back in the early Gary Williams days. I’ll never forget the Walt the Wizard and Everest Burns led Terps that helped to build the foundation that would eventually attract the likes of Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp and Joe Smith and maybe most importantly Keith Booth. That team led to an era of Terps hoops that I’m afraid may never happen again. And sadly for me, it’s also the realization that in the now less than 3-years since I’ve lost my Dad, all of “his guys” have been supplanted. This really is no longer my father’s’ sports town.
The coming weeks, and seasons for that matter, will be interesting. The last twenty plus years, have been truly unbelievable…unimaginable. Coach Williams, and Coach Keith Booth and Coach Rob Ehsan and Coach Bino Ranson were all great friends to my show during a trying season this year to say the least. I’m hopeful and confident that they’ll all land on their feet soon. I am equally hopeful but far less confident that the Terps will do the same anytime soon.