Gary Williams confirmed his retirement on Thursday, and for Duke fans, it brings up a lot of conflicting emotions.
On the one hand, there is a genuine respect for his solid coaching ability and his hyper-competitiveness, and also for his uncanny knack for finding players who might not have been top-shelf recruits but who blossomed under his leadership into superb college (and sometimes beyond) players.Â No one else spotted Juan Dixon's immense potential; Williams rightly (and quickly) recognized him as a latter-day Johnny Dawkins when virtually no one else saw the potential in the painfully skinny high schooler.
Despite the immense respect though, there was no question that Duke, along with UNC, held a special place in Gary's mental demolition derby.
He surely held his own with both schools, but his rage at Duke sometimes boiled over, notably when, in the 2001 Final Four, he screamed at an official: "how much do you want Duke to win?!"
He also worked hard in the last decade to feed the notion that Duke "got all the calls."Â His efforts reached their apex when, in the opening minutes of the 2001 title game against Arizona, Billy Packer said, "looks like Duke's getting the calls!"
Words to that effect anyway.
We can't find a way to prove it, but we seem to remember that there were only two fouls called at the time.
It's worth pointing out the irony that his final game as Maryland coach was an 87-71 loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.
It was also a bit disconcerting at the time, but we never understood, in the aftermath of Maryland fans assaulting Carlos Boozer's mom with a bottle (that one hit, but many things were thrown), how Williams was able to be insubordinate.Â He was instructed to do a number of things which he simply refused to do, and undercut his superiors by encouraging the students, through winks and nods, to continue on as if nothing had happened.
At that point we weren't fully aware of the conflict between Williams and then-A.D. Debbie Yow.
We won't pretend to have any insight into that other than to merely note that they are both strong personalities who obviously clashed (another example: after a father at an ACC Tournament game asked Williams to modify his language because his young daughter was sitting nearby, Williams said "Eff you and eff your daughter!"Â He was strongly advised to attend anger management therapy, advice which he disregarded).
When she hired Mark Gottfried, Debbie Yow accused Williams of sabotaging her search; in his Thursday comments he said that fifteen years of working with Yow wore him down.
And we should also not forget about the disgraceful treatment of Tamir Goodman and his family when the "Jewish Jordan" turned out to be something less than that.
We also remember something that was mentioned in passing in the Post several years ago: Williams got angry with a student trainer for whatever reason and picked up a basketball and threw it at the kid.Â Hard.
It's one thing to rage at your assistants and players.Â Assuming the Post account was correct, that really crossed a line.Â Yet it didn't even particularly register, though perhaps Yow cut the article out and put it in his file.
Williams also survived (literally and metaphorically) a 1990 DUI.Â Yow didn't get to College Park until 1994, which, all things considered, was probably fortunate.
Clearly he was no Mother Teresa.
His life away from the court was at times messy and for a long time, Maryland reflected both his competitive nature and his uncertainty that his teams could match up with measuring sticks Duke and UNC.
Yet he did, more so than just about anyone who's come through the ACC.Â Norm Sloan left immensely frustrated; Jim Valvano under an unfair cloud of scandal.Â Dave Odom and Carl Tacy couldn't handle it; Skip Prosser died before he had a chance to ascend.Â Tates Locke destroyed his career under that pressure and even Bill Foster found Dean Smith's shadow too big to deal with.
Gary's competitive nature rose above everything, except perhaps his own success.
When Maryland broke through and won the 2002 national championship, there was a sense that the Terps had finally arrived.Â They had, but briefly.
In 2003, Maryland had to rely on a remarkable buzzer beater to knock off a Brad Brownell-led Wilmington team.Â They did make the Sweet Sixteen though.
Since then? Never out of the second round, two trips to the NIT and no post-season play this year at all. In recent years, Maryland made a habit of just barely squeaking into the tournament.
The media grew restless, with the Washington Post running an unkind expose of the program in 2009.
There was a certain unrest among the fans at the same time and Yow at least considered axing him.
The Terps had a nice renaissance in 2009-10, tying Duke for the ACC regular season crown in a wonderful senior day game (if you were a Terp, that is).
Most people figured he would just continue to battle on, Gary like, and keep Maryland in the conversation.
But as we found out Thursday, the passionate and fiery coach of the Terps decided that that life was not for him anymore.
He leaves with some obvious flaws, true, but also secure in the knowledge that he inherited a program in epic ruins after the death of Len Bias and built it into a titan.
Moreover, while he does have his flaws as we have said, he is an honest coach.Â He willingly let talented players go rather than bid on them.
Whatever his problems were, whatever motivated his rage and insecurity, Gary Williams is a fundamentally honest man in a profoundly dishonest profession.Â That he won nearly 700 games and a national title without cheating speaks volumes about the guy.
Perhaps having learned her lesson, upon hearing the news of his retirement, Yow limited her comment to suggesting that Williams deserved to be in the Hall of Fame and that Maryland should name the floor at Comcast after him.
And that's at a minimum.Â We've all enjoyed poking fun at his persona and foibles, but Gary Williams built that program and that arena.Â In a very real sense, his name is already on it, and always will be.
The question now turns to his successor.
One of the key criticisms of Williams has been his inability to get big-time recruits.Â When you think about the people he's missed - Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Michael Beasley among them - you can see why it would drive Maryland fans crazy.
For that matter, Duke has plucked, successively, Nolan Smith, Tyler Thornton (a Gary-type kid if ever there was one) and now Quin Cook from his backyard.
There was a reason why Lefty Driesell said, all those years ago, that Maryland could be the UCLA of the East: because it really could be.Â Maybe should be.Â Given their facilities, their ACC affiliation and their immense native recruiting bed, they should be an immensely powerful program year in and year out.
So who can take them there? And yes, Maryland can go after some big names.
Start with Mike Brey, who absolutely dominated D.C. and Northern Virginia recruiting as a Coach K assistant.Â He would absolutely kill at Maryland.Â The Post article linked above says there is mutual interest.
Jamie Dixon would also be a monster there.Â He has won at Pitt without top-rated recruits and could easily improve his talent in College Park.Â Â Maryland A.D. Kevin Anderson was Maggie Dixon's boss at Army and according to the Post, grew close to Dixon after his sister's tragic early death.
And while Rick Barnes might be nuts to leave Texas, Maryland might prove tempting.
Jay Wright's name has also come up.Â It might be easier to convince a guy to depart after a rough season.
Whatever happens, we'll know more soon.Â It's a great job, and Maryland will have no trouble filling it.
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