Friday, May 06, 2011

Gary Williams, Old School Legend, Retires

The big, surprising news yesterday was Gary Williams stepping down from Maryland. I was surprised when I heard the news, because there had been no hints at all that this might happen. But in retrospect, I understand him wanting to leave on his own terms. With Jordan Williams going pro this is going to be a very young, rebuilding team next year, and it was going to be at least a couple more years before Maryland was back to the top of the conference again.

Williams is already 66 years old, and there really is very little history of coaches older than 66 having success (see here for more about that). If his 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes didn't pan out (and let's be honest, that 2010 class was developing very slowly - only Terrell Stoglin had a lot of success over the length of the 2010-11 season), Williams was heading toward one of those situations we've seen with coaches like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno in football - an old coach on the downside of the career, unable to win like they used to, being pushed out the door by reluctant alumni trying not to having a public relations disaster.

Gary Williams is one of the last of a dying breed, the old school coaches who play by the spirit of the rules and put their kids first. Williams did rescue the program from the Len Bias tragedy and the ACC cellar to make 11 straight NCAA Tournament, including a National Championship, but you could see why his style of coaching is dying out. Baltimore and Washington DC are teeming with basketball talent, and for the past few years Terps fans have seen most of those top players leave. From the state of Maryland alone, over the past five years of recruiting (2006-through-2010), some of the key players to leave the state include Josh Selby, Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, Malcolm Delaney, Austin Freeman, Mouphtaou Yarou, DeJuan Summers, Talib Zanna, Henry Simmons, Donte Green and Isaiah Armwood.

There are obviously a variety of reasons why some kids left and some stayed, and no coach is going to keep every top recruit in state. But Williams famously shunned the AAU circuit, refusing to kiss up to AAU coaches looking for favors, and that has cost him a number of recruits, many of whom are talked about in a great Washington Post piece from a couple of years ago. There's no question that another coach can potentially bring in better recruits.

I think there's a happy medium, and I'm not sure that it's ideal for a coach to completely shun the AAU circuit. Nobody would ever accuse a coach like Coach K, Tom Izzo or Jim Boeheim of cheating or not caring about their kids, and neither is going to play the shady technically-kinda-not-against-the-rules games that coaches like John Calipari and Jim Calhoun play, but they still engage the AAU coaches to some extent. I don't believe coaches should sell out and go too far in the other direction, hiring a win-at-all-costs coach like Calipari, but they need to find a happy middle.

Mike Brey and Sean Miller are the two top level coaches that have been linked to the Maryland job. If the Terps can't land one of those two then they'll probably go for a successful mid-major coach that knows the area. Like I said, this is a program that had a deep 2010 class. In addition to Terrell Stoglin, they also have blue chippers like Mychal Parker, Pe'Shon Howard and Haukur Palsson. The 2011 class is led by Nick Faust and Sterling Gibbs. If the incoming coach can hang onto all of this talent and develop it, and can put together a big time 2012 recruiting class, this is a team that could be back in the NCAA Tournament as early as 2013. I'm obviously down on their 2011-12 chances regardless of coach (I picked them to finish ninth in the ACC).

I'll have a follow-up post after Maryland hires a new head coach. By then we also might have a better sense of whether the program will be losing some of its young talent to transfer.

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