A Gary-departure would be costly – but so is losing…

January 26, 2009 | Drew Forrester

If the Gary Williams era at Maryland could be juxtaposed with a game of “horse”, Gary would have H-O-R-S at this point.

Make no mistake about it, the panic button is blinking and fans of the Terps basketball program have their fist in place, ready to pound on it.

Gary has been maligned for several years now at College Park, as his program has retreated from one of the best in the ACC to one of the most inconsistent.  Williams, naturally, doesn’t like to hear that kind of talk when folks around the Baltimore-DC corridor discuss his level of success and the condition of his program – but there’s no sense in running from the truth:  Maryland basketball is hurting.  Big time.  

Unless something dramatic happens in the next six weeks or so, Gary’s team is going to need a blazing run through the ACC tournament to make into the NCAA’s 65-team field for March Madness.  That’s not a pessimistic view – that’s the reality of a situation marked by three eye opening losses over the last four weeks.  The Terps blew a 14-point lead at home while losing to Morgan State – they squandered a 17-point lead at Miami in the second half and lost there – and last Saturday at Duke, Gary’s boys were humiliated by 41 at Cameron.  It’s ALMOST fair to wonder if the Lady Terps could have played and lost by less.  

I’m not a “fire the coach” kind of guy.  I never have been.  Good coaches (some would say Gary is a great coach) are hard to find.  And, overall, I’ve always preached patience when it comes to coaches because they tend to outlast the players, particuarly at the college level.

Now, though, on the verge of missing out on the big dance for the 4th time in 5 years, Gary Williams is under fire – again – and it might be time to bring out the hose and douse the Gary-flame. 

Notice the word “might” in that sentence above.  I’m not advocating that Gary be fired at Maryland.  But, I do think it’s time to up the magnification level to 10x on the Williams-microscope and watch what happens between now and the end of March.

Anytime you talk about firing a coach, especially in college, funds and finances always come into play.  It’s one thing for a football owner to fire his coach and be contractually bound to pay him $15 million over the next 3 years.  It’s a totally different  set of circumstances when you work for a state institution that is in the process of a hiring freeze, demanding non-paid furloughs to employees and reducing expenses in whatever manner necessary…and you decide to fire the coach despite the fact you still owe him roughly $6 million. 

That’s the case at College Park.  Gary’s contract is guaranteed through the ’11-12 season and 20-year employees don’t generally have “buyout” clauses in their deals.  Gary’s gettin’ paid if Gary gets fired.  

It’s easy for us to say, “Pay the man and get another coach in here and fix the program…” – But it’s not our $6 million.  That said, at some point, the school and the Athletic Department have to put winning ahead of everything else – and that includes: fund raising, who gets their feelings hurt, marketing dollars and having to pay off the $6 million you owe the guy you’re firing.

At some point, winning has to be priority #1.

The uncomfortably-evident (frosty) relationship between Athletic Director Debbie Yow and Gary Williams surely can’t be good for either of them with this kind of results-oriented “issue” at hand.  The fact that Debbie and Gary don’t get along isn’t a big deal because they don’t chat much – or often – even when the team wins.  It’s hard, though, for the two of them to steer this sinking ship together when they’re – well…not together.  If they had a productive relationship, they could bunker down together and figure out a way to make this work since they’re both responsible for the program’s drop-off.  Gary is the coach of the team that is struggling.  Debbie extended the contract of that coach.  They’re linked in ways they don’t want to be, although Debbie ultimately won’t fire herself if the Terps can’t turn things around on the hardwood.

As I always say anytime someone calls or writes “fire the coach!”: “who are you going to hire?”

That’s probably not a subject that needs to be detailed right now, mainly because Gary is still the coach, with a contract, and the position isn’t open to be filled.

Make no mistake about it, though:  If Gary Williams is relieved of his duties, there are some outstanding young, proven coaches in and around the mid-Atlantic who would be worthy of consideration, including Anthony Grant of VCU, Todd Bozeman at Morgan State and, perhaps, even ex-Terp assistant Mike Lonergan who has done such a good job reviving the University of Vermont program in a short period of time.

Finding a high-quality coach to come in and take on the challenge of returning Maryland basketball to its glory years wouldn’t be hard.  Returning Maryland to its glory years might be, though.

Gary’s program has lost its energy.  They’ve been on the wrong end of too many late game collapses in recent years and the “bad losses” have far outnumbered the “good ones”.  

In this year, particularly, Gary doesn’t have many good players.  It’s hard to win that way, at the level that is the ACC.  And, since Gary recruited those players, he gets the brunt of the backlash.  

Time might be running out on Gary at College Park.  Wasn’t it just two weeks ago that I wrote this same thing?  Well, four games later, it’s not any better…and a 41-point loss at Duke probably makes it worse.

Winning has to be the #1 priority at College Park.

If they can’t win, they have to make a change.

That’s a shame, but Gary Williams’ legacy at Maryland is stamped in concrete.  He’ll always be the guy that returned Maryland to its glory years and took them on a trip virtually no one could have ever dreamed in 2002.  

He’s the best coach they’ve ever had.

But when you can’t win anymore…someone has to pay the price.

Debbie might have to pay it.  Gary might have to take it.

It won’t be pretty, that’s for sure.