January 26, 2009

Time to Fire Gary?

Here's my thoughts on the Gary situation, drafted prior to our two losses to Miami and FSU and the utter embarrassment at Duke:

As an avid Maryland basketball fan, it pains me greatly to even consider this topic. But I think the performance of the Terps over the last few years leaves us no choice but to have the conversation. In the end, the questions are how much leeway Gary has earned, and what the expectations for the program really should be.

The Good:
In 1989, Gary Williams took over his alma mater's program at its nadir. The Len Bias tragedy had been followed by three disastrous years of Bob Wade. After a few rough years, Gary had the program turned around, on and off the court. Players like Joe Smith and Keith Booth started to appear in a Maryland uniform, and things looked up. What ensued was a period never seen before in Terps basketball: 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, 2 Final Fours, the 2002 National Championship, NBA draft picks, and 87 consecutive non-conference home victories. Gary is the 7th winningest active coach and the 3rd winningest ACC coach all-time. Maryland holds the longest current streak of postseason appearances in the ACC, longer than Duke, UNC, and Wake. Maryland was the team that broke Duke's string of consecutive ACC Tournament titles. The season after the national championship, Maryland opened a brand-new arena (Comcast Center) to host the packed-in crowds and to take advantage of the many wins sure to follow.

Further, Gary seems to have the fire left to maintain his intensity. He still coaches hard, and his efforts can be seen in the development of players like Dave Neal, as Brien has pointed out. Gary has always seemed to find diamonds in the rough, players that weren't heavily recruited but can develop. See examples like Baxter and Dixon.

Many would argue that such success gives Gary a blank check for the duration of his tenure in College Park, and a couple years ago, no one would have disputed that at all.

The Bad:
Since Steve Blake's departure after the 2002-03 season, the Terps have made the NCAA tournament just twice and have not made a single Sweet 16. There has only been one winning record in the ACC, and the Terps have not managed 20 wins in 3 of the past 4 seasons, though they have had 19 each year. The non-conference domination is gone, marred by bad losses to teams like Morgan State and Ohio U. Victories over top-ranked Dook and UNC (surprisingly frequent, Gary has 7 victories over #1 ranked teams) cannot hide the underlying mediocrity of the past few seasons. Playing a weak non-conference schedule before playing in the best conference is fine, as long as you win against the minnows, but without enough conference victories, the non-conference SoS just isn't sufficient.

No Maryland player has been of notable interest to the NBA since Steve Blake, and it's hard to imagine any members of the current team changing that trend. While some recent players have had tremendous talent like Caner-Medley and Vasquez, they have not developed into stars. Maryland has lived on the bubble for the last few years, and deservedly so in talent and in performance on the court. This year, the Terps have two good non-conference wins (Michigan St. and Michigan), but with 6 games remaining against top 10 teams, an 8-8 ACC record would be a good result. The most concerning part is that there are no young players who really impress you and make you think the program is headed back into the top 25 any time soon. In addition, the assistant coaches from the national championship have all moved on, leaving new coaches to recruit and do much of the teaching.

The Ugly:
This offseason, Gary's relationship with athletic director Debby Yow became a subject of much media scrutiny, and some of our highest-profile recruits defected. It's no longer clear whether Gary even has the full support of the school, and the manner in which things were handled was not pretty.

Losing 60-20 at Duke, with Len Elmore talking about our lack of talent and hustle, has to be the lowest point of our program in 15 years. Even the early Gary teams with guys like Exree Hipp played really hard for 40 minutes. I don't think I've ever been that embarrassed to be a Terps fan. I can deal with losing if we're playing hard, but that was awful. Do the players even listen to Gary?

Cole was one of the greatest venues anywhere.

The Tradition:
Maryland is not a football school like some others in the ACC. It has been, and always will be, a basketball school. Cole Field House was one of the great iconic venues of college basketball from the last half-century, hosting numerous NCAA tournaments and numerous great Maryland players. John Lucas, Len Bias, Tom McMillen, and Joe Smith have graced our campus with their presence. Maryland players populate the NBA, including Joe Smith, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon, DJ Strawberry, and Stevie Franchise. Lefty Driesell led the Terps in great showdowns in the '70's against NC State, UVA and UNC, some of them among the greatest games ever played.

The Debate:
In my opinion, this all boils down to a couple key questions.

Have 11 years of success earned Gary the leeway to give us 5 years of mediocrity, with no end in sight? Should Maryland realistically expect to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th in the ACC every year, admitting defeat to teams like Dook and UNC?

Maryland has a great tradition, and a coach who has won a national championship within the last decade. I think there is no excuse for continued mediocrity. The Terps may not be able to outrecruit UNC, but I don't think 10-6 in the ACC is unreasonable each and every year, with occasional improvements to 12-4 or better. Maryland should be a mainstay in the NCAA tournament and at least the bottom part of the top 25, not the 70's of the RPI. Terps should be mentioned during the NBA Draft coverage. The Terps should almost never be behind basketball "powerhouses" like FSU, Miami, BC and VT.

Gary's success has certainly earned quite a bit of patience, but the last few years have tried that patience dearly. I'm not ready to fire him, but if I were the athletic director, I would expect Gary to have a clear plan for our return to prominence (or at least 3rd or 4th in the ACC). The status quo is not cutting it, and the program deserves better if Gary is not willing or able to fix it. If he's not, there are other coaches out there who are making things happen. Look at the recent success of Tubby Smith, Thad Matta, Bruce Pearl, and John Thompson III. Maryland certainly has the resources to hire a coach like one of these, or Gillespie or Crean. Whether Yow has the wisdom to make the right decision about Gary, and if he's gone, to hire the right successor, is another question entirely.

10 Responses:

Anonymous said...

This is the best thought out opinion piece I have read about the current situation. As a Terp die hard it pains me to see how the program has not only faltered, but has completely lost its way. Gary's difficulties with recruiting are well documented, but, as you stated he now seems to not even be in the running for top recruits. The cachet the program had after the Championship season is completely gone. I don't think that top talent takes that into account anymore and therein lies your answer - if Gary can't bring talent to the school based on his record and the 2002 season then his safety net is gone. Without a 8-8 ACC record this year, or at least a 7-9 record, I think the school should start looking in another direction. It pains me to say it but I think at this time the game has passed him by. I love theguy and I think it might be time for the university to start trying to find him a face saving way to step aside.

Expensivejoint said...

I completely agree with everything that was said. The Terps went sour when they went from Cole to Comcast and Gary is unwilling to recruit. He is out of touch with the program and needs to go.

Neil Joshi said...

Well written post. The Terps' days as a powerhouse in the ACC seem long gone, and it's been a long time since that National Championship (six years). I really do think it's about time for Maryland to look in another direction, but finding a new coach to compete against Roy Williams and Coach K is going to be mighty difficult. The search for a new coach is another endeavor that will need to be well thought out.

Tim said...

I cannot possibly take Yow's side. She banned our favorite song.

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong on several accounts.

First, the loss at Duke was not an "embarrassment". The fact that the Terps were within 50 at any point in time, including tip-off, was impressive.

Second, Maryland is not a "traditional basketball school". Let's set some facts straight. The fans overhype the team and think they belong in the upper echelon of college basketball programs, but other than the fluke year they won (when they drew a 9th seeded team in the finals), they have always been overrated and never that good.

For instance, all the highly touted "studs" that went there were nothing but also-rans and mediocre players.

Steve Francis was just cut by one of the worst teams in the NBA after no one has wanted him the past five years. Joe Smith was a huge bust as a #1 overall pick. Lonnie Baxter, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox and Juan Dixon, all bottom-tier NBA players.

Mike Jones was terrible. So was Gilchrist.

The fact of the matter is that Maryland is in the lower half of the ACC, and right around the middle of the 120+ D1 programs. A few lucky seasons and the fan base thinks that Maryland can actually compete with Duke and UNC every year. Nope. Now, with the merger, Wake, BC, and Clemson are all better programs than Maryland.

This is the reality Terp fans. Deal with it. You're fighting for the third best team in the D.C. area (behind Georgetown and George Mason, and right there with GWU, though American is creeping up).

It's not time to fire Gary, it's time to take a look in the mirror and admit you're nothing more than the equivalent of a program like Minnesota (Bobby Jackson gave them a couple of good runs), or maybe Mississipi State. You're an also-ran in a power conference.

Oh, and I almost forgot.


Lee said...

Just os people are educated on the matter.

ACC Records over the past 4 years. Garys "bad" seasons.

2007-2008 2006-2007 2005-2006 2004-2005 Total Rank
North Carolina .875 .688 .750 .875 .797 1
Duke .813 .500 .875 .688 .719 2
Boston College .250 .625 .688 .521 3
Maryland .500 .625 .500 .438 .516 4
Virginia Tech .563 .625 .250 .500 .484 5
Clemson .625 .438 .438 .313 .453 6
Wake Forest .438 .313 .188 .813 .438 7
Florida State .438 .438 .563 .250 .422 8
Georgia Tech .438 .500 .250 .500 .422 8
Virginia .313 .688 .438 .250 .422 8
Miami (FL) .500 .250 .438 .438 .406 11
North Carolina State .250 .313 .625 .438 .406 11

Terps Basketball Fan said...

To the last anonymous guy, your post was so totally moronic and stupid that I initially wasn't going to respond to it. Furthermore, your facts are wrong. There are 341 Division I teams in college teams. It's true that there are about 120 or so "major teams" and after that you have your mid majors, and "low majors".

Now, there are very, very, very few things I will say I am an expert on. But one is college basketball.

So let's get some things straight. Maryland is # 33, according to Street and Smiths Sports Journal's Latest Ranking of ALL TIME Best Basketball Programs. The usual suspects are in the top 5. By comparison, Minnesota is # 42 and Mississippi State is in the 70's.

The magazine further states that since 1970, Maryland is a top 20 program. It also says that if it weren't for the late 80's, after Len Bias' death and the 3 bad Bob Wade years and the first 4 Gary Williams years that he inherited from Wade, Maryland's ranking would be higher.

Furthermore, Maryland is the #4 winningest program all time in league play. Since 1994, we are STILL the # 3 winningest program in league play, even with the last 4 seasons.

These are facts my friend. Backed up by numbers and stats.

Our current head coach, is the 3rd winningest coach all time in league play and 3rd winningest coach all time in wins (behind Dean Smith and Mike K).

We have another coach who is in the college basketball Hall of Fame for his 17 years here.

Furthermore, any moron knows that in the 1970's-middle 1980's, we have some of the best players EVER to play in our league. I'm talking about when they were college players, not what they did when they went to the NBA. Ever heard of John Lucas, Len Elmore, Tom McMillen, Albert King, and Len Bias. Ask Mike Kryzyzewski or Bob Knight about Len Bias. Both guys have said that Bias was, after Michael Jordan, the BEST player they have ever seen in league play.

Since 1994, we are the ONLY team to make it to 15 straight postseasons.

So before you start comparing us to Minnesota- whom by the way has actually been a pretty decent basketball program historically-, you should get your numbers and history straight.

I realize Maryland is not a blue blood program, like the Kentucky's, Bruins, Dukes, Heels, or Kansas'. But we have a very good basketball program here.

We are located in a county that ESPN just called the best county for HS basketball talent. We play in the background of the best HS basketball conference in the country. We play in one of the best facilities in the country. Sports wise, men's basketball matters here.

Next time, do some research before you spout off your garbage.

Anonymous said...

No Super Bowl recap?

Terps Basketball Fan said...

correction....343 Division I basketball teams. Forgot NJIT and South Dakota:)

Anonymous said...

Dave Neal is this team's Mardesich but with a Gilchrest attitude and way too much playing time... It's time for Gary to go.

-Andy Schaffer

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