January 25, 2009

In Defense of Gary Williams

Recently, there has been a lot of talk among Maryland fans (including here at ECB) that it's time for Gary Williams to either resign or be fired.

This shouldn't be surprising, as the "Fire Gary" crowd has been around as long as I've been a Terps fan. They shut up for a couple weeks after the National Championship, but other than that, they've been a constant presence in College Park.

The ranks of the Gary haters swell and contract with the fortunes of the team, and lately they have become too numerous to ignore.

Jeremy laid out the arguments of the anti-Gary crowd pretty well, but here's the gist of them:

  • Gary can't recruit the top-quality players needed to compete in the ACC
  • The National Championship was essentially a fluke because Gary somehow managed to land Juan Dixon and Steve Blake
  • The Terps offense is ineffective and boring
  • Gary has lost the fire that made him a good coach early in his career (he plays too much golf now, he cares more about hanging out at Bentley's than basketball, etc.)
  • Some of the haters fall back on the simple fact that the Terps are losing more than these "fans" want, so obviously Gary should be fired
As should be obvious to readers of this blog, I fall firmly in the pro-Gary wing of Terps fans. I've defended him for years in the face of calls for his job and I've said all along that I believe the job should be his until he decides he wants to leave. Gary Williams has earned the job of Head Coach of the Maryland Men's Basketball Team for as long as he wants it. For those that don't agree, here's my argument.

The bulk of the case against Gary stems from the failure of the team to make the NCAA tournament in 3 of the past 4 years. This year looks like it may mean another return to the NIT. After Gary's amazing run of 11 straight NCAA tournament berths, the past few years have indeed been a disappointment. Terps fans need to remember, though, that it was only 7 years ago that the Terps were National Champions, and only 5 years ago that they won the ACC Tournament. While the teams since then have generally failed to live up to expectations, the simple fact is that each year they have been 1 or 2 games away from making the NCAA tournament. Another 2 conference wins each year, and Gary's streak would be at 15. Obviously that didn't happen, but the point is that the Terps have been on the bubble every year.

I, for one, am optimistic. Gary continues to develop players (Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne being the most obvious examples this year), and the recruiting classes for the next few years look good. The Terps may not make the tournament this year, but they'll be competitive in the ACC and I think they'll make it back in the next few seasons. If not, I'll still be cheering.

My feelings about Gary are best summed up by a Jewish Passover song called Dayenu. The title means "it would have been enough for us." And the song is a list of all the things God has done for the Jews, each of which is followed by the word "dayenu," meaning that if God had only done one of those things, it would have been enough. So, this is probably sacrilegious, but here goes:
  • If Gary had brought the program back from disgrace, dayenu
  • If Gary had erased the pain of Len Bias and Bob Wade, dayenu
  • If Gary had shown such love for his alma mater that he'd take over for a program under sanctions, dayenu
  • If Gary had brought us Joe Smith, dayenu
  • If Gary had run a clean program, dayenu
  • If Gary had led the team to the Sweet Sixteen, dayenu
  • If Gary had led the team to the Final Four, dayenu
  • If Gary had won an ACC Championship, dayenu
  • If Gary had won the NCAA Championship, dayenu
Gary Williams has earned his job many times over, and as far as I'm concerned, there shouldn't be another coach for the team until Gary decides he's ready to retire.

12 Responses:

J-Red said...

I'm with Brien on this one. I still adhere to the VORP version of coaching decisions. Is Gary better than anyone who would replace him? Most likely. That's enough for me.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to understand why fans would want to get rid of a proven coach because of a few "disappointing" seasons. Your "dayenu" list is a great resume for any coach anywhere.

I think Maryland fans are suffering from what NC State fans do -- an overinflated view of their place in college basketball. NCSU fans pushed Sendek out thinking that they would land whatever coach they wanted, and look who they got.

Maryland fans should ask themselves which other coach in the ACC would they rather have instead of Gary?

Anonymous said...

What is the graduation rate of his players? 10%? It seems to me that if he cared about the players he would invest in them past the courts. I think he is a disappointment. And, for him to be in a leadership position of any kind is a mistake. He is only looking out for #1.

Brien said...

The graduation rate is definitely a fair knock against the program, but I don't think you can infer that Gary doesn't care about his players based on the fact that they don't graduate very often.

When it comes to graduation, the ultimate responsibility is on the players themselves. They're adults. Gary definitely could (and should) put more emphasis on academics, but that's a problem across D1 and I don't think a new coach would be able to fix the graduation problem easily.

J-Red said...

The graduation rate baffles me too. Maryland is a big school that offers two summer sessions (where a student can literally get 12 credits over the summer). I understand the nature of big-college athletics and that just showing up for class is more of an adventure for these guys, but you'd think one or two would be able to pull it off.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for honoring the one member of ECB who is a member of the Tribe... Dayenu is my favorite Passover Seder song!

But here's the thing, to "Anonymous" who thinks we suffer from an "overinflated view of [our] place in college basketball"... you tell me one coach from a major conference who should survive missing the NCAA Tournament 4 out of 5 years (counting the inevitability of this year) when they won a National Championship just seven years prior, and I'll agree with your sentiment. Listen, when you win the National Championship, it's really too much to expect to at least routinely make the tournament over the following ten years? Really?

Nikhil28 said...

To Anonymous, we don't suffer from an overinflated view of our program. Since 1969, we have been a consistent tournament team, except for the Bob Wade (3 years) era and early Gary years (when he inherited sanctions). We have had some of the best players in college basketball since 1969. We have been to 4 elite 8's (two with Lefty), 2 Final Fours, and won a National Title.

We have a top 15 program, since the 1970's. That's a fact.

We play in one of the top 3 areas in the country for high school basketball talent. We have a great facility, one of the best new facilities in the country. We have a fan base that when it comes to basketball, has been right up there in the country until this year (when the economy stinks).

Nikhil28 said...

Brien, every year there are like 8-10 teams that miss the tourney by 1 or 2 games. In 2006 and 2008, we truly did not deserve to make it (2005 maybe). Last year, we were like #72 in a 65 man field. I don't remember people saying that we got shafted by the committee in any of the 3 years that we missed the tourney.

And if we really missed the tourney by 1 or 2 games, then shouldn't we at least be able to win the NIT? In 2006, we lost in the first round on our own home court to Manhattan. Last year, we couldn't even make it past the second round of the NIT.

I'm not saying he should go but he's got to lose this defensive, feisty, everyone always disrepsects me act. I think people are getting tired of that act. We suck AND he has the balls to bitch about him getting criticism. I'm sorry but where does he get off lecturing us, when it's his team that sucks.

Jason, your VORP theory doesn't work here. There are plenty of coaches (both head and assistant) who can recruit this area and also coach who will come here. Mike Brey, Sean Miller, Mark Few, Travis Ford. I agree with your VORP theory in football with Ralph. But not with basketball. There will be like 10-15 guys who will leave their jobs instantly for this program.

Jeremy is right. No program that has won it all has fallen so far off the map since UNLV in 1990. That's ESPN's words, not mine.

Now, I don't know whose fault that is. But if we miss the tournament this year for the 4th time in the last 5 years, there are going to be issues.

Just look at the top 15 players in this area alone. We don't even OFFER some of them scholarships. We aren't even in the conversation for most of them.

Anonymous said...

Gary was a God when winning against Duke and the rest of the NCAA. Now he is a blowhard that does not know how to recruit or coach. With whispers of his drinking and carousing, his stock has fallen faster than the NASDAQ.

Debbie Yow has a great chance to support the coach, silence the critics and leave Gary to coach, but only if they get along.

As for the 10% grad rate, this is shameful and truely needs to be addressed. It isn't like the school is that darn hard. Saying it is ultimately the players accountability to graduate is a naive comment, at best. Coaches can and do predicate playing time on things like practice and classroom attendance. Academic support for athletes is far greater than for the general population, as it should be. To be fair, being a Division 1 athelete is akin to a full time job, then comes full time school. What Gary has to do is put in place with the athletic department programs to bring in qualified students and make sure they are focused on their goals, with classroom effort being one of them.
Nobody is asking them to take a full load, they can take summer school. Nobody is asking them to compete with a Harvard grad.

Gary deserves a shortened leash, and leader in Yow, to remind him to stay engaged with his mission.

Anonymous said...

Williams is out of control these days. UMD has no chance of recruiting top talent as long as Williams is coach.

Just as the Ravens had to let Billick go, it's time to let Williams go.

UMD is not a top 15 program these days in any measurable way. They maybe are a top 75 school right now at best.

Other than the 2 final four seasons, Williams hasn't done much at UMD.

And the 10 percent grad rate should be enough to fire Williams.

Anonymous said...

you use the fact that maryland won the ACC tournament to bolster your claim that his job should be secure. however, what you fail to mention is that without that fluke run to win the acc tournament (and anybody who watched the team that year knows it was a fluke) then that team would also have missed the tournament. As well, developing dave neal?? Are you serious? As a senior he is averaging a CAREER high of 7.4 points per game, which admittedly is a marked improvement over his previous career high of 1.9 points per game. Also, he is getting 1.11 points per shot this year. If we could be so fortunate to have all of our recruits turn out like Neal then maryland fans can rest assured that they will reach the sweet 16 or beyond sometime around when there is peace in jerusalem

Jman said...

UMD'S recruiter is the real problem. how do consistently let all-Americans leave your backyard year after year. UMD probably could've won 2 or 3 national championships that past 6 yrs. let's think of couple players. Melo, Rudy Gay, Ty lawson, kevin durant, Mike beasely, Nolan Smith, Sam Young, Dante Cunningham, Linas kleiza, Donte Green etc... and they already lose the five stars from this yr and next yr.

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