Thursday, May 5, 2011

A truly sad day: Gary Williams is retiring

For the past few hours, I've been trying to come up with an original take on the news of Gary Williams's retirement. But really, I can't say that I have one. Unlike many stories that quickly become stale because they turn into long, drawn-out sagas, the retirement news was sudden, harsh, and seemingly came out of nowhere.

But maybe it's better that way. Does Gary Williams seem like the type of guy who would leave hints of his retirement scattered about until finally going on some sort of farewell tour? No way. That's more of a Coach K-type thing to do. Maybe.

Frankly, Gary Williams is Maryland basketball. He always will be. He turned the program around, made it respectable again, and put an exclamation point on that turnaround with the national championship in 2002. He worked his tail off for 22 seasons to get the Maryland program to where it is today, a feat that arguably only a handful of coaches -- ever -- could have duplicated.

But he did have to retire from coaching at some point, and maybe this isn't such a bad time to walk away. Without much of a frontcourt, the Terps will face an uphill battle all season in a league that doesn't have a problem coming up with talented forwards and centers.

Then again, that's also what made Williams special to most Maryland fans: that superior level of coaching and a stubborn refusal to give in, even against insurmountable odds. The biggest knock on Williams -- his lack of desire to dabble in the shady dealings of the recruiting world -- is (was, now, I guess) also his biggest strength. It was frequently apparent that Maryland, especially in ACC play, was facing teams with better talent, and yet there was Gary Williams, constantly barking out orders and frustrations to both players and coaches while routinely getting his players great scoring opportunities with his patented flex offense.

Was it frustrating to watch several Maryland teams that should have been more talented and had better players? Definitely. But what I'll remember the most about Gary Williams is that his teams were always prepared and that he never made excuses for what happened on the court. He would show up with a group of players who were willing to work as hard as possible for him, and he returned the favor by giving everything he had on the sidelines every night to put his players in the best possible position to win. He wasn't always successful in doing that, and the Terps had their fair share of embarrassing moments. But what Gary Williams accomplished in his time at Maryland can never be replaced; real fans won't forget that.

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