Sometime during his sophomore year at the University of Maryland, Gary Williams decided he would become a coach. Dreams of playing in the NBA turned into dreams of wearing a suit on the sideline. He was surrounded by paragons of the profession in the ACC. Dean Smith at North Carolina. Press Maravich, Pete’s father, at North Carolina State. Vic Bubas at Duke, assisted by Chuck Daly.
Williams began looking at things differently after that decision. He was still a starting guard for the Terrapins, a team captain his senior season. But he also started training for the future, trying to think like a coach. On the court, Williams would see something unfold, a particular play or sequence, and think to himself: “Wow. That looks really good.”
Five decades later, with stops at five colleges and one high school along the way, Williams now has reached the pinnacle of the profession. According to a person familiar with the situation, Williams is expected to be announced as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 when it is unveiled on Monday in Dallas. It represents the crowning achievement of a career already stuffed with accolades and victories, 668 in all, including a national championship with Maryland in 2002.
This November, he will be enshrined into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, making him the first coach to be elected to both institutions in the same year. He is will be Maryland’s first representative in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Recently, Williams reflected on his success and discussed life during retirement. He still makes regular appearances on radio and television to analyze college basketball. He still watches games, thinks about new tactics and would not rule out a return to the sideline. From time to time, when he gets recognized about town, people still call him “Coach.”
“I know for a fact that he will go down as one of the greatest teachers of the game of basketball,” former assistant Dave Dickerson said. “He is a relentless teacher of the game. When people talk about systems … everyone has his system. … Gary taught his system better than anyone else ever taught their system. No other person taught their system better than Gary taught his system. That’s factual.”
For one undefeated season with the Woodrow Wilson High School varsity team in New Jersey, four years at American, four at Boston College, three at Ohio State and 22 at Maryland, that’s what he was – the head coach. He was the dedicated tactician who elicited fierce loyalty among his players and assistants. He was the intense sideline presence, barking at every waking turn, his in-game sweatiness at once an object of humor and respect. He was the high priest of Maryland basketball, reviving it from near-death after the NCAA banned the program from the NCAA tournament for two seasons and from television for one because of violations committed under Coach Bob Wade, who preceded Williams at Maryland.
“Gary has ultimate respect from his coaching brothers,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He doesn’t just develop a team. He develops a program. Who better than he, at his alma mater, to take over? He not only loved Maryland, but he had a passion for Maryland and for Maryland basketball. He was an amazing choice. As good as they thought he would be, he exceeded all expectations by what he accomplished there.”
When Williams retired in 2011, he left with one national championship, two Final Four appearances, three ACC regular season titles and two conference coach of the year awards. He had coached 28 NBA draft picks. Soon after, they would name the court at Comcast Center in his honor.
And now comes the final piece, the picture inside the Hall of Fame, at the pantheon of the sport.
“To be nominated, it’s one of those things where you go: ‘Wow. Where’d that come from,’ ” Williams said.