Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams honored at Sports Legends Museum

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 11:50 PM

BALTIMORE -- Gary Williams doesn't mark the passage of time in the traditional manner. Instead of New Year's Day, he recognizes the start of the college basketball season as the first day of each year.

Even by that accounting system, Williams says he doesn't keep track of how long he has coached at his alma mater.

But as Williams prepares for his 22nd season at Maryland, more than two dozen of his former players and a constellation of fellow coaches forced him to take stock, paying tribute as Williams was inducted into the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards during ceremonies at Baltimore's Hippodrome on Thursday night.

Williams was enshrined in the museum's newly created Hall of Legends along with Babe Ruth, Johnny Unitas, Art Modell, Jim McKay and Brooks Robinson. But on a night when the Hippodrome was painted red, Williams was the featured inductee.

His tenure with the Terrapins was documented by video highlights and a series of anecdotes and remembrances highlighting his well-known intensity and less-well chronicled generosity toward his players, coaching brethren and alma mater.

Some, such as former Terp standouts Walt Williams and Steve Francis, spoke about the ways in which Williams had helped them become men on the way toward becoming better players.

Others, such as former assistant Fran Dunphy and former ACC rival Bobby Cremins, joked about the aggravation of coaching alongside and against the tightly wound Williams.

For the most part, Williams looked on grim-faced from a red folding chair placed on one end of the stage. But when he finally rose to address the audience of roughly 1,000, his demeanor softened as he recounted every assistant at every coaching stop along the way ¿ at American, Boston College, Ohio State and the years at Maryland ¿ and the coaches, both high school and college, for whom he had played as a young point guard.

"What you do in coaching, you try to steal from the coaches you respect," said Williams, whose Maryland teams have won roughly two of every three games they have played (442-238).

All those stolen lessons, he said, played a part in the victory Terrapin fans treasure most¿the one at Atlanta's Georgia Dome on April 1, 2002, that delivered Maryland's NCAA championship.

That victory, Williams said, was an achievement for every player who ever put on a Maryland uniform, regardless of which decade they played.

"That's what a university is, and that's what a basketball program is," Williams said. "You encompass the school, if you have a good basketball program."

Maryland basketball was still reeling from the 1986 death of Len Bias when Williams was hired in June 1989 to succeed Bob Wade. Williams confessed during his remarks Thursday that he went through a period of thinking he had made a mistake returning to his alma mater, given the myriad challenges it faced in terms of NCAA sanctions and recruiting.

Convincing Walt Williams to stay represented a major first step in turning things around.

The former player spoke before and after the program about the debt he felt to Gary Williams.

"There are two types of approaches a coach can have," Walt Williams said. "You can say, 'I have a system, and I've got to get players who fit that system.' Or he can say, 'I have a system, but I have to adapt it to the players I have a little bit.' He recognizes the type of players he has, and he puts them in a position where they can succeed."

Villanova Coach Jay Wright recalled marveling at Williams's passion when he was a player at Bucknell competing against one of Williams's teams at American. Wright couldn't believe how much Williams yelled from the sideline -- how emotionally invested he was in his players and everything that unfolded on court.

And as he made his way up the coaching ranks, Wright said he found Williams a generous mentor.

"He's never a guy that has promoted himself," Wright said. "He's a guy that has tremendous respect in the coaching fraternity."

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