Gary Must Stay (For Now, At Least)

January 28, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

For those who like to contemplate such things as whether it hurts more to be blown out, or to lose a heartbreaker, the Terps have provided you a case study in the past 4 days. For those who look to the Terps to get them through these doldrums in each calendar year between the end of Ravens’ football and the beginning of Orioles’ baseball, the past 4 days have been excruciating to say the least.


In a town that doesn’t have a lot of big time options when it comes to sports, and where the baseball team is a perennial write off, another year of disappointment for the Terps is tough to take. But when the wheels seems to be coming off the cart as rapidly as they have been in recent days, it may be time for an all out panic.


It’s hard for me to imagine Maryland basketball without Gary Williams, and impossible for me to say a bad word about the man who left a pretty decent situation, to return to his alma mater where the resources were much more limited. I will never be able to forget the job that he did in not only returning Maryland to its pre-Bias fiasco luster, but in taking them far beyond respectability to consistent national prominence.


Maybe this is where Williams is at his best. Maybe he needs the impossible odds in order to get motivated. Maybe he always did. He took over the program in dire straights after all. His relationship with athletic director Debbie Yow has seemingly always been tempestuous, and he’s always seemingly shied away from the area’s top recruits and maintains a graduation rate that is bound to keep him on the hot seat. Even Gary’s first Final Four appearance was preceded by a stretch where the Terps lost 5 games out of 6. He seems to thrive on adversity, maybe even need it.


It would seem that with his recent comments regarding his recruiting handcuffs, etc. that Gary is taking to the defensive just a bit. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months his team will follow suit. Some defense, and general toughness seem to be sorely lacking from this squad.


It’s unlikely that the current bunch is going to do much to redeem Williams this season, outside of a few big performances, this team doesn’t appear capable of consistency, and is much too thin up front to be a contender. But Williams can clearly see that the writing is on the wall. His recruiting is in question, and it’s possible that the game is passing him by from that standpoint. But he’s certainly earned the right to fix it.


It worked with John Harbaugh, but firing a coach in any major sport is risky business, and there’s no guarantee that the next man up will be an improvement at all. And coaches with championship resumes don’t come along everyday. I disagreed with the Billick firing when it happened, and in hindsight I may have been wrong, but time may still tell differently.


What Williams achieved however, in my estimation, is far more impressive. Especially when you consider the circumstances under which he had to start. Maybe the game, and particularly the recruiting end of it, has passed Williams by. Clearly things seem to be a mess right now. But Williams has earned the right to get a shot a cleaning it up. It worked for Joe Paterno.