Gary Williams' stunning retirement leaves Maryland, ACC in flux

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The only person likely happy about Gary Williams' surprising retirement announcement on Thursday is Debbie Yow.

The current North Carolina State and former Maryland athletic director's public battles with Williams are legendary. Let's just say they don't exchange Christmas cards.

Thirty-three years as a head coach, 668 wins, 17 NCAA Tournament appearances, three ACC regular-season titles, nine Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and the coveted national championship in 2002 have left Williams with countless memories.

Yet, each wrinkle tells a story of the stress that comes with the job, the bags under his eyes detail tales of sleepless nights plotting, planning, strategizing. At 66 years young, Williams is ready to turn the page on his Hall of Fame-worthy coaching career to time spent doing absolutely nothing, and there is not a greater feeling in the world, he explained to the Washington Post, than not having to worry about the "next thing."

According to the Washington Post, Williams also landed some stern jabs at Yow, subtly, well actually not so subtly, hinting at the two's strained working relationship and the toll it took on him.

In the end, however, it all came down to the little factor called time.

"It's the right time," Williams said in a release. "My entire career has been an unbelievable blessing. I am fiercely proud of the program we have built here. I couldn't have asked any more from my players, my assistant coaches, the great Maryland fans and this great university. Together, we did something very special here."

"It's the right time," Gary
Williams said in a release.
It was "very special", especially from 1994 to 2004, when the Terrapins never missed an NCAA Tournament and went to back-to-back Final Fours in 2001 and 2002, bringing home Williams' only national title in the latter season. That was a gratifying climb for a program on the doorstep of NCAA probation when he took over in 1990.

Yet, ever since 2004, Maryland has frequented the NIT as many times as the Big Dance. It is coming off a season without a postseason appearance, and its best player, forward Jordan Williams, announced this week he will stay in the NBA Draft.

So, to continue something "very special" at a Top-15 program in the nation's most history-rich conference (sorry, Big East), the next coach will be left with a rebuilding project. He will also coach in a conference currently in transition. Duke and North Carolina are the kings of the castle, but only two other league coaches, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, have been at their respective schools longer than two seasons.

If Terrapins athletic director Kevin Anderson is fortunate, the search would begin and end with Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who was born in Bethesda, attended DeMatha High School and has already received initial interest from the school, according to the Chicago Tribune. With the coaching carousel slowing down after reaching its fever pitch during and just after the Final Four, the pickings would be slim at most universities.

But this is Maryland, which plays in the relatively new Comcast Center, is the university's highest-grossing and equally highest-funded sport, is part of the ACC and pools from the talent-rich Baltimore city schools and nearby Prince George's County. Other names that could be bantered about are VCU's Shaka Smart, the hottest coaching commodity last month who ironically rebuffed Yow's overtures, Villanova's Jay Wright, who always seems to come up when big programs are searching for big names, and Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, who's late sister Maggie was the head women's basketball coach at Army when Anderson was the athletic director.

Whatever way the Terrapins turn, the next coach will be following a man who made teaching kids his life's passion. It was apparent with the emotional rollercoaster from exasperation to disappointment to happiness he took Maryland fans on during every game. Working harder than the next man, and the next team, is what defined his, and his program's, legacy.


Jim Larranaga's attention grabbing, borderline piercing, whistle will surely turn heads on South Beach.

His even-keeled demeanor and X's and O's mastery will just as quickly raise the interest of a fan base who's heart strings are still pulled by the U's football program and its national domination during the 1980s and '90s.

As hard as this is for Hurricanes fans to hear, the football program is in a state of repair, though still salvageable thanks to the widely-praised hire of former Temple head coach Al Golden. The cupboard isn't bare, but the Miami mystic has been battered to the brink of irrelevance, unless we are talking about the rate of Champ Sports Bowl invitations.

While Golden works his magic on the recruiting trail and restores the fear of God in the opposition, Miami hoops may be a welcome diversion, maybe even moving up to the big-boy table alongside the men in cleats as they rebuild their tradition.

The Hurricanes stepped up to the plate financially, offering a five-year contract to go along with the lure of coaching in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And after flirtations with Kansas State's Frank Martin, Harvard's Tommy Amaker and Wisconsin-Green Bay's Rob Jeter, Miami made the prudent, albeit not flashy, hire to establish some stability in its downtrodden program.

Larranaga is a life-long Northeasterner on the wrong side of 60, and cracks have been made about him moving to his retirement destination earlier than expected, but coaching is in his blood, and relating to today's youth has not been difficult, proven by his continued success at George Mason.

We all know about the 2006 Final Four outfit, but it wasn't a smoke-and- mirrors season to cover middling campaigns. His consistency, both in temperament and success rate, is one of his most attractive qualities, as he built the program into a Top-25 destination for recruits, while playing in one of the nation's most attractive mid-major leagues.

So, leaving was not Larranaga's way of abandoning a sinking ship or fleeing for grander pastures at his highest market value. The Patriots are going to be really good next season, losing just two players from their Colonial Athletic Association regular-season championship roster. George Mason won 27 games last season, made the second round of the NCAA Tournament and will return possible preseason conference player of the Year, Ryan Pearson.

The move was rather about new challenges and new horizons. Larranaga has already convinced Frank Haith recruit Bishop Daniels to honor his letter of intent and recently drove to North Carolina in an attempt to convince forward Reggie Johnson to stay in school. Johnson entered the NBA Draft, but has yet to hire an agent. And in a game dominated by guard play, Larranaga will have a pair of veterans returning in Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant. There is no reason he can't hit the ground running and gain some momentum to attract his first full recruiting class.

And unlike the mess left Golden, Larranaga's past success hints that when he decides to retire, the program will be left on solid ground. This may be a transition hire for the Hurricanes, but it was the right one, at an opportune time to steal some of the spotlight and jump back to relevancy in the ACC.


1. The biggest news to date is who IS staying in school rather than who is bolting, which is welcome for the collegiate game normally ravaged by departures this time of year. Some of the surprising names surpassing the opportunity at riches (at least for a year) are North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Baylor's Perry Jones and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.

2. Of course there are still the head-scratching decisions that leave me wondering who advises these kids on such life-altering decisions. Georgia Tech's Iman Shumpert, Louisville's Terrence Jennings and Michigan's Darius Morris are just three of many. Sadly, unless these three learned NBA attributable skills I'm unaware of in the last month, the draft lottery, which should be the bare minimum "guarantee" for any early entrant, is a pipe dream.

3. The Pac-12 will receive the television exposure it has craved after signing a mega-deal with ESPN and Fox that begins in 2012-13. The contract will allow ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and Fox Sports to cover 68 regular-season conference games, and provide national notoriety to a league that sorely needed it. This deal will help conference coaches in recruiting (ESPN is an easy sell to an 18- year-old) and allow more tournament committee members to watch these teams play multiple times. Maybe, just maybe, more at-large portfolios will be considered after a thorough eye test.

4. Good thing Shane Battier isn't in college anymore. The NCAA, after a final vote in June, will likely implement a restricted area three feet from the basket where secondary defenders can't take charges. This visual will help officials more effectively determine a player's established defensive position within the rules. Many coaches are in favor of the rule change after seeing how it was implemented in the NBA.

5. Another recommendation by the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee would allow coaches to request monitor reviews by officials at any point during the game. The release carefully worded this recommendation in vague terms as a coach having the ability request a review at any time. If the request reveals the officials made the correct call, the coach's team is charged a timeout and if he doesn't have any timeouts left, a technical foul is assessed. Yet, this recommendation needs to be systematically implemented to avoid slowing down the game and putting officiating at the hands of a monitor. I'm on the side of the "let's get it right" crowd, but will coaches be allowed to stop live play or only on dead balls? Will a coach be able to ask for monitor review on judgment calls like goaltending or just on point alterations and change of possession?

I will keep you up-to-date on a change that could have a major affect on the collegiate game after it is ironed out this summer.

6. North Carolina and Michigan State will play on an aircraft carrier in the San Diego Bay on Veterans Day. Want to go? Good luck. Morale Entertainment's Mike Whalen, the event's organizer, announced that 4,000 of the 7,000 available seats will go to the five branches of the military and only 750 will be allotted to each school. There will be no aftermarket for tickets and no public sale. Each ticket could have the person's name printed on it with identification matching the ticket needed to board the ship.

This seems like a lot of hoops to jump through, but when boarding a military ship, national security is paramount. The general idea of holding a high- profile game on Veterans Day, which is early by normal scheduling standards, on an aircraft carrier is a great way to publicize the sport and show athletics' partnership with the military.

Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

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