After 1,000 games, Maryland Coach Gary Williams has plenty of good memories
Ninety minutes before he would walk onto the court at Comcast Center on Saturday evening, Gary Williams sat in the coaches' conference room that adjoins the Maryland locker room. As always on a game day, his face was filled with tension even though his dry humor was as firmly in place as his game face.
As he prepared for his 1,000th game as a college basketball coach at the age of 64, he didn't feel all that different than he felt just before coaching his first game in 1978 at the age of 33.
"When you stop looking ahead to the next game, to the next season, to the next thing -- whatever it may be -- that's when you stop coaching," he said. "I think I can honestly say I've never done that. When the day comes that I don't want to do that anymore, then it'll be time to stop."
Looking ahead most of the time doesn't mean he can't look back on occasion, because after 1,000 games there are a lot of memories.
"My first game as the coach at American we played St. John's in the old Joe Lapchick tournament at Alumni Hall up in New York," he said. "They'd never lost a game in that event. Game was tied, we had the ball and Stan Lamb goes up for a shot in the last couple of seconds and gets fouled."
He smiled. "Except we're in Alumni Hall and we aren't going to get the call. So we lose in overtime. Meanwhile, Wagner played Alabama in the other game and P.J. [Carlesimo] had this 1-3-1 zone Alabama couldn't handle. So we had to play Alabama the next night. I think the Alabama players were told they weren't getting their meal money if they didn't win." He paused for effect. "They won."
The first win came against Catholic when Catholic was still a Division I program. "We were up about five at the end and I was telling our guys not to foul," Williams said. "One of our guys, Bob Harvey, decided to take a charge and his head hits the floor. He gets up, seemed to be fine, and the game ends. We're in the locker room and Bob's sitting on the end of a bench while I'm talking and all of a sudden I see him keel over.
"We took him to Sibley Hospital. He was okay but I got out of there at 5 o'clock in the morning. I remember thinking, 'I hope the next win is a little easier than the first one.' "
After Saturday's 88-64 victory over North Carolina State, there have been 638 wins, including 431 since he came back to Maryland in 1989. When he returned to College Park, 22 years after graduating from the school, he had won at American, won at Boston College and won at Ohio State. He had just successfully recruited Jim Jackson, then the top high school player in the country, when then-Maryland coach Bob Wade was fired in the midst of an NCAA investigation.
Williams couldn't say no to his alma mater. For a while, it was a decision he regretted.
"If it had been any place but Maryland I never would have left Ohio State," he said. "We had put a very good team in place. But Maryland was where I'd gone to college.
"I was told back then that the investigation was going to end with a wrist slap. The wrist slap turned out to be two years out of the NCAA tournament, one year off TV and one year out of the ACC tournament. That was really tough to take. No one has had a penalty like that in the last 20 years, and don't tell me about Kentucky. They flat-out got caught cheating. What's more, rebuilding after probation at Kentucky is a lot different than at Maryland.