In the process, Williams has become such a polarizing figure, most Terrapin fans probably agree with only one-half of the above.
But the Maryland coach is all of this. He is a hero who resuscitated his alma mater after Bob Wade’s brief and disastrous tenure resulted in crippling NCAA sanctions during the early 1990s. But he’s also a black-and-white coach in the increasingly gray world of recruiting, and Williams’s unwillingness to keep pace with the times has played the biggest role in Maryland’s gradual slide to mediocrity.
In the ACC tournament that begins Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., the Terrapins will attempt to make a historic four-game run to win the championship and receive the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament berth. No team has won four straight games in the ACC’s current format, and Maryland likely will miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in seven seasons.
The Terrapins (18-13, 7-9) went 2-5 in their last seven games and closed with three consecutive defeats, including a 14-point loss to Virginia in the regular season finale at Comcast Center. Maryland struggled, in large part, because of the inconsistency of seniors Dino Gregory, Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker. When you don’t recruit one-and-done NBA players, a senior class must deliver.
The Terrapins are no longer nationally relevant.
Maryland has not been in the Final Four since Williams led it to consecutive appearances — the only two in school history — and the national title in the 2001-02 season. More significantly, the Terrapins haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since the 2002-03 season, and have finished .500 or worse in ACC play six times in the past eight seasons.
Still, Williams is an outstanding floor coach and teacher in practice, which I learned while covering college basketball for the Los Angeles Times earlier in my career. Other coaches often praise Williams for being a coach’s coach, and he hasn’t lost his touch.
The Terrapins also have outstanding facilities and are well-positioned geographically in one of the best regions for Division I hoops prospects.
So Maryland’s drop-off just doesn’t make sense, not with a championship-winning coach, first-class facilities and access to a deep talent pool.
“I do it a little differently,” Williams said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I don’t cheat.”
That’s another thing coaches tell you about Williams: He follows the rules. In recruiting, Williams interacts only with those who share his clear-cut, right-and-wrong views on team building.
“The rules are in place, and you try to play by the rules,” Williams said. “That’s what I’ve always done. I respect the game. I respect this school.”
I respect Williams for his highly principled approach to an increasingly unprincipled profession.