Washington Wizards’ woes merit a creative solution: Hire Gary Williams
By John Feinstein,
The Washington Wizards won a basketball game Wednesday night. Hallelujah.
If they continue at their current pace, they would finish with a worse record than the immortal 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers who managed to go 9-73. No doubt team owner Ted Leonsis will say it’s all part of the plan.
Clearly, what is going on with the Wizards isn’t working. And it isn’t going to start working anytime soon. The team will get marginally better when John Wall is healthy, but Wall remains a one-speed (all-out) point guard who is an inconsistent shooter and frequently gets caught up-court when transitioning to defense.
Since Leonsis took complete control of the team, the Wizards are 44-117.
The question, then, is what should he do to turn around the team’s fortunes?
Here’s the answer: Hire Gary Williams as coach.
Why? Because there’s no one who tolerates losing less than Williams. Because Williams will make Wall get back on defense, and if he doesn’t, Williams will find a seat for him on the bench until he does. Williams is a young 67 and won’t really care that much if he gets fired for ruffling anyone’s feathers. Randy Wittman is 53 and wants to coach a while longer, so he has to be more careful in his handling of his so-called stars in a star-driven league.
It should be remembered that Williams took over at Maryland in 1989 at a brutal time in school history: the shadow of Len Bias’s death hung over the campus and NCAA sanctions were on their way, thanks to Bob Wade. Williams built a national championship team by pushing, cajoling and screaming at the heavens about the injustice of the Duke-North Carolina axis in the ACC. He lost his zeal for recruiting when it became impossible to recruit star players without rolling in the AAU mud, but he would be reborn in the NBA.
Williams should coach the Wizards, and Ed Tapscott, already on the payroll, should be in charge of personnel — reporting to Williams. Tapscott has worked for Williams in the past and knows how to handle the blowups and the intensity. He’s also intensely loyal to Williams. Back when Tapscott was the Wizards’ interim coach, Juan Dixon ended up in Washington briefly. When Dixon went in late in a game and was clearly uninterested in giving any effort, Tapscott took him aside the next day in practice.
“Now you listen to me,” he said. “You and I are from the same family: the Gary Williams family. That means you can lose but you better not lose because you aren’t trying.”
If Leonsis ever decided to blow up his management team, his first instinct as a Georgetown guy would be to turn to John Thompson Jr. for advice. He should ask Thompson about Williams, about the passion and energy Williams brings to any job.
He should also consider this: Working inside the NBA box, with respected guys such as General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Wittman — and Flip Saunders before Wittman — isn’t working. For whatever reason, it is failing miserably. So why not hire someone who will bring a different voice (often a loud one) and sizzle to a franchise that has about as many fans right now as New Coke did back in the ’80s.
Of course, there’s also the argument that college coaches don’t translate to the pros. That, to put it politely, is a bunch of hooey. Most coaches who have tried the pros have been hired by awful teams — such as the Wizards. The difference with Williams: He would be taking the job for entirely different reasons.
He wouldn’t be taking the job for the money; he would be taking the job because he’s bored. Williams is a coach. He is a basketball junkie in the first degree who is too healthy and too active to play golf and sit in a TV studio and talk about teams he isn’t coaching. He has always been intrigued by the NBA, and especially in what has been his home town for the past 23 years. He would not pass up the chance to revive a franchise that is in desperate need of a new voice, new leadership and, most of all, a new plan. If Leonsis calls, Williams will answer.
One final note: The last time Washington mattered in the NBA, when it won the title in 1978 and went to the Finals in 1979, the coach was Dick Motta, who went from Weber State to the Chicago Bulls to the Washington Bullets. Who then became the world champion Washington Bullets — led by a former college coach.
To read Feinstein’s previous columns for The Post, go to washingtonpost.com/
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