Recruiting Aside, Gary Williams Can Still Coach

March 12, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

There’s No Question That Gary Williams Has Had A Tough Time Getting Talent Out To College Park, But Let’s Not Overlook The Job That He’s Doing With What’s There


The Terps last-ditch effort at making a run at the NCAA Tournament begins today at the ACC Tournament against the NC State Wolfpack, and will in all likelihood end in disappointment. The failure to get to the dance for the 4th time in 5 seasons will certainly give the critics plenty of ammunition in their calls for the head of head coach Gary Williams.


There’s no doubt that Williams has allowed the program to fall backward in recent years, and failed miserably at capitalizing on any hype and recognition that came in the wake of their national championship. The arena was supposed to be a big recruiting advantage too. Five years ago, it would have been unimaginable to most fans that the team would have fallen as quickly and sharply as they have in recent years.


Williams has to do a better job at recruiting; that much is for sure. If Williams himself can’t acknowledge that fact, the battle may have already been lost. If Williams is on board with fixing that end of things though, then who could fans or the administration possibly look to that would have a better chance at getting things right than Williams?


Hopefully he is on board with getting the recruiting end of things on track. He’s earned the right to fix it, based on where he found the program, and justifying not giving him that chance would be almost impossible at this juncture. For all of the positives that have happened in the tenure of Debbie Yow as Athletic Director, firing Gary Williams at this point would trump everything else that she has accomplished. It could still work out to her advantage if the replacement were successful, but the strides made in football, women’s basketball, and anywhere else in the athletic department would be overshadowed by one single act. Yow’s identity would simply be, as the one who fired Gary Williams.


Lost in the hoopla too, of all of the recruiting failures and in-season disappointments that this year’s team has had to deal with, is one of the finest on court coaching performances of Williams already impressive career. Consider for a second, the teams that Williams has coached since arriving here at Maryland, even going back to the team that he inherited depleted as it was. Now ask yourself, how many of those teams would have had minutes in the rotation for Dave Neal? How many Maryland teams would Neal have started for?


That’s to say nothing negative about Neal himself, who has been a workhorse and an inspiration for this team. In fact, the modest success that the team has had this season wouldn’t have been nearly possible without Neal’s efforts on the court.  Still, it’s tough to look back over the last two decades of Maryland basketball and find too many minutes for Dave Neal.


Yet this year’s team has not only had to rely on Neal to start and play valuable minutes, but they look to Neal, at all of 6’6”, for toughness inside. The Terps are simply too small up front to be considered real contenders, and the fact that they even find themselves in the conversation at this point is a testament to Gary Williams and his coaching, in addition to the character of his players. On the court, in terms of X’s and O’s only, this may be as fine of a job as Williams has ever done.


They likely won’t make the big dance, but they have nothing to be ashamed of as a team. And as their coach, Williams can be sorry for the lack of overall talent that he’s managed to accumulate, but should be mightily proud of the coaching job that he’s done.


Williams out coached Roy Williams in their win over Carolina, there were few who saw that game who went away thinking otherwise. I’d be hard pressed to name any coach in the ACC, or the entire NCAA for that matter who could have coached this year’s team to the tournament, or even close. In terms of X’s and O’s, there may be none better than Williams in the game today. Even his national championship team is a modest collection of talent, taking them to two final fours and one title would have been a tall order for any coach.


The game against Wake Forest a couple of weeks ago was the one that sealed it for me. In a game where they were out rebounded by more than 20, and had 10 shots blocked, the Terps remained relentless. Every call and every bounce seemed to go against them, but they managed to hang around anyway. They didn’t belong in that game, not statistically, not athletically and not physically, but they nearly pulled it off.


Wake is still a decent match up for the Terps and could play in their favor if they get to the second round. But if we’re willing to face the truth, we’ll admit that this team doesn’t belong in the tournament, and probably won’t go very far in the NIT either. But they’re a threat to beat anyone, on any given night.


Between the lines, I’d say Gary is as good as ever. But as a huge Williams fan, I’ll also begrudgingly admit, that if that’s all that you’re willing to focus on, then the ACC isn’t the place for you. There are still plenty of places in basketball where recruiting isn’t as much of a priority, and where a well-coached team will always have a chance to be competitive. None of those places though, are in the ACC, so if Williams heart is in staying here, he’ll have to do better at recruiting.


If he does manage to get the recruiting thing right though, those who were calling for his head will be tough to find. We’ve seen what he can do with marginal talent. We’ve even seen what he can do with very good talent. I’m not sure though, that Gary ever had great talent throughout his roster. Considering what he’s accomplished with what he’s had, it could be scary to see what he’d do with a loaded team. Hopefully we’ll get the chance.