Williams’s eyes filled with tears before he uttered his first word from the platform erected on the court for the occasion — part news conference, part celebration of his 22-year tenure at Maryland, which he led to a national championship in 2002. And he paused mid-sentence several times, determined to keep those welling tears in check as he thanked students, fans, administrators and players past and present for their support over the years, calling himself as a fortunate man who “has had [his] time.”
“I’ve seen coaches where they just stayed too long,” said Williams, 66. “If you leave a little early, it’s better than leaving late. It really is.”
Williams’s imprint on Maryland basketball and the life of the state’s flagship university was all around him. It was in the faces of former players Walt Williams and Johnny Rhodes and nearly every member of his final squad, who were among the roughly 2,000 on hand. It was in the building around him — 17,950-seat Comcast Center, also known as “Garyland” — constructed a decade ago to accommodate his team’s burgeoning following. And it was in the floor beneath him, a basketball court that Maryland President Wallace Loh announced would be named in his honor, pending approval by the Board of Regents.
Seated on the dais between Loh and Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, Williams initially looked as grim as a pupil ordered to sit beside the teacher because of his bad behavior. But the clenched jaw and palpable unease were his attempt to rein in his emotions. Williams relaxed after rising to speak, blending humor and humility, self-deprecation and pride, as he talked about his four decades in coaching and what lies beyond.
“This is my decision,” Williams said, “but it’s not a quick decision.”
Williams first considered retiring, he said, after winning the national championship in 2002 but changed his mind after checking his bank account.
Had the Terrapins’ 2009-10 squad reached the Final Four, Williams conceded he might have stepped down then, but a heart-rending loss to Michigan State in the second round spoiled that scenario. Still, he rebounded and found himself relishing the challenge of girding for another run despite the loss of three veteran players and the rebuilding challenge that implied.
But last Friday, Williams walked into Anderson’s office to say he was considering retirement. Anderson was shocked and thought for a moment, he explained later, that it was a dream. He asked Williams to think about it over the weekend.
On Monday, after discussions with a few close friends, Williams returned to announce his decision.
“I knew it was certain [then], because I could feel this peace,” Anderson said. “I don’t think most people are able to experience that. He’s able to go out on his own accord.”