Tonight over at BaltimoreSun.com; Maryland beat writer Jeff Barker has tracked down Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in Atlanta as the Terps prepare to open ACC Tournament play. With the Terps struggling again recently; many in the media (and a small number of area sports fans) have decided to re-open the “Should Gary Williams be fired?” question. Bisciotti; a known Maryland basketball supporter and friend of Gary Williams has refrained from public comment. When I approached him during the season, Bisciotti declined any opportunity to discuss Gary Williams’ future with me; as he felt that he wasn’t the person to make public comments.
Drew Forrester has spoken recently on The Comcast Morning Show about how Debbie Yow will have to make a tough decision about Gary Williams; choosing either to decide that “winning” is more important than making money. As I have rebutted each time; this isn’t a decision she can make. Unfortunately in major college athletics; making money IS winning. The school just cannot just make major decisions knowing it will direcetly alter their ability to obtain funding. Bisciotti is easily the most public monetary sponsor of Maryland basketball; and throughout the season I have heard rumors (from VERY reliable sources near the athletic department) that Bisciotti has made it clear that his monetary support is based only on Gary’s status as head coach.
While not speaking in direct details; Barker and Bisciotti allude to that in tonight’s story…..
Bisciotti says his connection to the school — he has donated more than $1 million even though he attended what was then Salisbury State — won’t be the same after Williams retires.
“I won’t be flying home from Florida on a Tuesday for a game. I do that to support my friend,” said Bisciotti, who holds four courtside seats at Comcast Center.
While Bisciotti himself has never told me differently; I can only assume that Bisciotti means more than just that he won’t come home from Florida. I firmly believe that Bisciotti wants it to be publically known that his support of Terrapin basketball is based entirely in the fact that Gary Williams is the head coach.
And Bisciotti can’t be blamed for that.
It is almost laughable to me to hear fans and less knowledgable media members compare Gary Williams at Maryland to Brian Billick with the Ravens.
Brian Billick is no Gary Williams.
Gary Williams is an ICON.
Gary Williams played basketball at Maryland. Gary Williams took a program out of probation and build a powerhouse. Gary Williams has LEGIONS of former players who rush to his support on a daily basis. Gary Williams almost single-handedly built the finest arena in the ACC.
And Gary Williams is struggling now; needing to pull a rabbit out of his hat or face his 4th trip to the NIT in the last 5 years.
But the University of Maryland cannot throw away one of the biggest celebrities this state has ever seen (as reminded to me by staunch Gary Williams supporter and former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich earlier this season). No matter the circumstances, a University cannot just toss that away. It just doesn’t work that way in major college athletics.
Lousiville couldn’t just fire Denny Crum when he struggled. Oklahoma State couldn’t just fire Eddie Sutton.
This isn’t the NBA. This is major college athletics. The entire University System in the state counts on money provided because Gary Williams is the head coach.
As I’ve said all along; those same boosters and major financial supporters may eventually decide that they don’t want to keep giving their money to a head coach and program that isn’t winning. But given Gary Williams’ status as a fundraiser; it just isn’t likely. These people count on their relationship with the legendary head coach to make money for their own business. Oliver Purnell wouldn’t give them that. Anthony Grant, Mike Lonergan, or Mike Brey wouldn’t give them that either. They get that because of who Gary Williams is. They count on a continued relationship with Williams after his retirement, and him continuing to be part of how they make money as a company.
This is all part of the reality that the University of Maryland faces every day. It isn’t JUST a case of them not wanting to pay to buy out Gary Williams’ contract. Even if the University had the money to buy out his contract, they wouldn’t necessarily just want to choose to fire the Head Coach.
He isn’t “losing.” He hasn’t had a losing season in over 15 years. He’s just not performing at a Championship level anymore.
Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College could all make the NCAA Tournament this season while Maryland could miss; but all would GLADLY trade places with the program in College Park.
That’s college athletics.
And Steve Bisciotti is a direct example of the REAL success Gary Williams is having at Maryland.
This isn’t about a love affair between fans and the head coach (although that exists as well).
This is about the bottom line in major college athletics. This is about how success is determined in major college athletics. No program can separate winning from making money.
In major college athletics, success IS making money.