Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Issues With the Gary Williams Saga

So there was a Maryland-Duke game last night. I caught the second half, you know the part where the Terps wilted under Duke's pressure. Well, I don't have all that much to say about the actual game other than if I were a Maryland fan I would be supremely frustrated that my team decided to play really well against the two best teams in the ACC, eschewing common wisdom that would say to play hard against the crappier teams as well. Why, you ask? Umm ... well ... don't they want to make the NCAA Tournament? This is isn't Michigan here, where it's somehow kind of acceptable to miss the dance every year for a decade.

No, rather than the game and of course supposed prank phone calls to one Greg Paulus:

"Hello, this is ****** with the Washington Times, sorry to bother you at this hour Mr. Paulus, but we are running a small piece tomorrow and I was hoping to take 2 minutes and ask you a question?"
Him: "Uhhh, sure"
"If you had to choose between Deron Washington, Danny Green, and Dwayne Collins, who's nuts would you say tasted the best?

Instead, though, I wanted to talk about something else. It may have died down amongst the national media, but around here people are still sort of focused on the whole Gary Williams "will he or won't he get fired/step down" story. The heat was tapered down quite a bit after the Terps somehow found a way to upset North Carolina last weekend and then took some of the luster off that 41-point spanking courtesy of Duke earlier in the season by looking pretty respectable last night.

Let me preface this by giving the history of my feelings towards Gary Williams. Growing up as a Duke fan with no legitimate ties to the university right in the heart of Maryland country smack dab in the middle of when the Terps and Blue Devils' rivalry was at its peak — I disliked Gary Williams. Not because I thought he was a bad coach, but because whether he beat or lost to Duke, I knew I was going to be made fun of. That's how passionate this thing became for a couple seasons — you know, the Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Elton Brand days at Duke and the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, and Lonn Baxter era at Maryland. Both teams won National titles and in the process, Williams was crowned one of the elite coaches in all of college basketball.

Now he's got this hanging over his head
The Terrapins have reached the round of 16 only once since winning the title and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament altogether for the fourth time in five seasons. A review of NCAA tournament records shows that no national champion in the past 18 seasons has regressed so quickly.

So where do my issues fall in all this? Well, first off I just don't think Williams is getting a fair shake. Yes, his school is in the epicenter of one of the most fertile basketball recruiting areas in the country (take this year for instance, 14 players in the ESPNU top 100 come from DC, Maryland, or Virginia). And yes, he has botched the recruitment of many of the top players in the area over the past several years (Kevin Durant from Maryland, Rudy Gay from Maryland, and Scottie Reynolds of Virginia just to name a few).

But how can you legitimately pile on someone who has done so well in a conference not known for rewarding teams from outside North Carolina? During Gary's 19-year reign in College Park, there has been just three times where a school from outside NC won the ACC regular-season title, and Williams was responsible for one of them. If you focus just on UNC and Duke, only four other teams (Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Maryland) have won ACC crowns since 1990.

Now I've heard the complaints from various Maryland fans. I'm not sure if he still thinks this way, but my friend Matt (a Terps grad who I think was a bigger MD basketball fan before he attended the school) used to bemoan Williams' in-game coaching style, how he consistently got outcoached in games by guys like Coach K. Well, judging from the huge outcry against Williams' recruiting, or lack thereof, I think it's safe to assume the guy can still coach 'em up. How else do you explain him taking a couple undersized, not-so-quick guards (Blake and Dixon) and a chubby, smallish big man (Baxter) to an NCAA title?

And frankly, I just don't see who Maryland would get if it actually did replace Gary (which I don't see happening). Chances are the Terps will want a young coach, someone in the vein of VCU's Anthony Grant or Southern Illinois's Kevin Lowery. Maybe Maryland fans dream of someone like Villanova's Jay Wright coming to the ACC, but he's already got a pretty good stranglehold on this area having gotten Montrose Christian's (Kevin Durant's school) two best players for next year. Why would he leave? Aren't 'Nova and MD kind of at the same level anyways? They're both one-time NCAA Champions right outside major east coast hoops recruiting grounds.

Now, the popular perception around the media is that Gary is in more hot water than other NCAA champion coaches because of his less-than-stellar relationship with AD Debbie Yow. And here's where my big qualm with all this lies. Just take a look at what two Washington Post columnists got away with writing about this whole fiasco. The first statement is by Mike Wise, the second from John Feinstein:

The divide between him and Athletic Director Debbie Yow was always out there, but it never took the path it is taking currently -- the day after Williams said it wasn't his fault two of last season's recruits ended up playing at other universities, that "it was somebody else's call."

"It has been an open secret for years that the athletic director and the basketball coach don't get along. Debbie Yow didn't hire Gary Williams. She can't take any credit for the program he built nor should she take any of the blame for its recent struggles. Now, the long-simmering animosity is out in the open, and it isn't a very pretty sight."

Really, the divide "was always out there" and "an open secret for years." Well, why the hell wasn't your newspaper reporting it then? Why, because Gary Williams is suddenly losing games, does this stuff that both these writers apparently knew for awhile now, why is it now kosher to put in print? Then they just rub it in our faces by not explaining how this rift happened, what it entails. At least Feinstein (who I've mentioned on this blog before as one of my favorite writers) gives us a little insight into how the problem has evolved, but he's abstract about it at best.

Maybe I'm not a journalism ethics expert, but I just don't think it's right to just bring up some rift that may or may not have legs (I say this because publicly Yow has said there is no issues with Gary), especially when trying to explain his relevance to the program. I have no doubt Wise, Feinstein, and the rest of the media jumping all over this story are probably right that Gary and Yow have had their fair share of problems. But explain to us what exactly they are before you use it as an argument for why Williams may not be around much longer.

Let's be serious, though. In the end, Maryland and Gary Williams will be together until Gary decides to step down. Or he does something ridiculous and pulls a Larry Eustachy.

From some of the things I've heard, it has always been out there as an open secret that Gary Williams likes to get stupid drunk. Oh wait, writing that is just as bad as what the real reporters do. Actually it was a little worse, but you get the point.

1 comment:

MattBrown said...

I am being completely misrepresented in this blog. I always thought that Gary was a much superior game coach than Coach K and I still do. I always thought Gary did more with less than Coach K. Also I am just less a fan now because it is much harder to root die hard for the terps now than in high school when we were consistently winning.