Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 11 a.m. ET
Maryland Men's Basketball
Wednesday, February 4, 2009; 11:00 AM
Maryland athletic department officials and men's basketball coach Gary Williams have offered conflicting accounts about the loss of two top recruits to other schools. The disagreement came on the heels of two losses, including a 41-point defeat at Duke.
This week, both AD Debbie Yow and Williams appeared together to deny "crazy rumors" about Williams job security. Writer John Feinstein discusses the situation and offers his thoughts on how the program got to this stage and what's likely to happen next.
The transcript follows.
Feinstein is a former sports and political reporter for The Washington Post. He has worked at Sports Illustrated and at the National Sports Daily, commentated for National Public Radio and Sporting News Radio and has written columns for AOL and Golf Magazine. Feinstein has also contributed to the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of a number of bestselling books, including, "Caddy For Life," "A Season on the Brink," "A Good Walk Spoiled," "A Civil War," "The Last Amateurs," "A Season Inside," "The Punch," "Hard Courts," "Forever's Team," "First Coming," "Winter Games," "A March to Madness," "Play Ball" and "Open." His next book, "Living on the Black," will be released May 1.
Springfield, Va.: Hi John, Whenever there hear a discussion about great coaches still coaching you rarely hear Gary Williams mentioned. You have Roy Williams, Mike K., Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and perhaps a few others. Why is Gary not included in the upper echelon of college coaches?
John Feinstein: I really think it has a lot to do with the last five years. I think if you were having this discussion in 2004, he would be in that conversation. In my opinion, Gary's resume through 2004 was a Hall of Fame resume, but in the last five years, outside of this area, Maryland has been largely an afterthought. The last time they were even in the Sweet 16 was 2003.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Since he didn't name anyone in the Maryland Athletic Department by name, it seems to me that AD officials overreacted in hanging Coach Williams out to dry. No?
John Feinstein: No. Gary screwed up, as I wrote and as I told him. Because when your team has not played especially well for an extended period of time, and you're asked about recruiting, your answer should be -- "hey, it's on me, I need to do better." I think he was frustrated and flailing a bit. Having said that, this whole back-and-forth about who was responsible for Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans is ridiculous. Neither one of them is worth arguing about this way.
Silver Spring, Md.: Do you agree that this recruiting discussion is happening a little too late? Gary missed out worse when he passed over Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.
John Feinstein: Well, I wouldn't say he "passed over" either one of them. There are a lot of reasons that Gary has not been able to recruit some big-name players. In many cases, Rudy Gay comes instantly to mind, it has to do with AAU connections. Gary has never been willing to hire an AAU coach to get a player, or for that matter, to play the sort of games a lot of coaches play to get on the right side of AAU coaches. And to be honest, I think he deserves credit for that.
Alexandria, Va.: John, a few really elite schools like UNC, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, etc. will always be able to get top-tier recruits. Are the rest of the college programs (including many in the top 25) reduced to playing in the muddy, murky waters of the "AAU handler" game to compete ?
John Feinstein: That's exactly right. There are a few programs that don't have to play those AAU games and will still get those top players and Maryland has to find its way back to that point. Six or seven years ago Maryland was in that category with the schools you named. Remember, North Carolina went through a period where it was awful and was able to recover. Duke was last in the ACC in 1995 and was able to recover. UCLA was nowhere for several years until Ben Howland came in. Maryland can do that too.
Alexandria, Va.: How do you feel about the tough admissions standards Maryland is maintaining for athletes which are above NCAA and ACC standards. Jeff Green was apparently denied admission to Maryland but admitted to Georgetown and an NBA pick. Do you think a kid should be denied college entry based on test scores, is that really a predictor of success ? Also do you think the admissions standards hurt Maryland in recruiting.
John Feinstein: Admissions standards are a murky think to deal with, because there are kids who don't have good SAT numbers or even good grades, but if given the chance, can compete academically if they want to. Having said that, i don't think the answers to Maryland's problems is to point to admissions standards. I know Gary gets frustrated, Green is a very good example of that frustration, but there are a number of schools with very tough admissions standards that are still succeeding.
McLean, Va.: Yow hinted that Gary would get more support if requested. That "support" to me sounds like money for recruiting trips, etc. How did you interpret that?
John Feinstein: I don't try to interpret anything Debbie Yow said at that press conference, because it was nothing more than window dressing. I'm certain the president or someone in the school hierarchy ordered Debbie and Gary to kiss and make-up. Trust me, the only person who enjoyed that press conference less than Debbie was Gary.
Baltimore: Mr. Feinstein, I have two questions: First, shouldn't those who profess to be Maryland fans acknowledge what a wonderful job Gary Williams has done in 20 years at the University? And second, after 20 years, isn't it apparent that Maryland is no longer the national recruiting and performing power that it once was. Perhaps a fresh face for example, Todd Bozeman at Morgan State University, could revive the recruiting and performance.
John Feinstein: The first part, you are right about, of course people should acknowledge what Gary did, and I think the court at Comcast should have been named Gary Williams Court several years ago. There is no doubting his legacy at Maryland, regardless of if he coaches 15 more minutes or 15 more years.
And the answer to Maryland's problems is not a fresh face, and certainly not Todd Bozeman. It's for Gary and his staff to get out there and find the next Juan Dixon, the next Lonny Baxter, the next Steve Blake and to put the program back where it's been.
Rockville, Md.: Gary always seems so miserable, whether he's coaching or off the court. Is he ever happy? Is he having any fun coaching?
John Feinstein: I think I saw him happy once in 1984. Gary is just very intense and very driven, like a lot of successful coaches. During the offseason, he's very different, far more relaxed, and can be a lot of fun to be around. The irony is that I think some people thought Gary would be a little less driven after winning the National Championship, but if anything, I think he feels more pressure, because I think he feels more people are paying attention to his program as one that won a national championship.
Wheaton, Md.: Do you agree that it is reasonable to expect that Maryland should consistently be among the top four teams of the ACC?
John Feinstein: Well, I think that it is fair to expect Maryland to be very competitive year in and year out in the ACC, and the fact is, they have been. I think Gary's worst record in the league since 1993 is 7-9. Now that's not terrible -- but it's not as good as Maryland people want or Gary wants. But the margin for error in a league like the ACC is very thin. Again, look at what happened when Matt Daugherty was at North Carolina. They were 8-22 one year. Gary has never been 8-22. But certainly, the bar was set at a high enough level in the early 2000s to make people believe there is no reason Maryland can't achieve that level again.
Chevy Chase, Md.: A lot of the talk about the issues with the Terps focuses on the recruiting. While I think all the hype about a lack of McDonald's All-American types (Danny Miller was and Juan Dixon wasn't so do the math), I am concerned that Gary doesn't appear to be working as hard as other coaches to get players. I've read in multiple places that while other coaches are showing their face at high school games or all-star events, the Terps send assistants. Is this true on any level?
John Feinstein: Well, everyone sends assistants. The question is, how much does the head coach show up. Since I don't travel with coaches on recruiting, I can't tell you if Gary is showing up enough or not. I do think that it is imperative for every head coach to show his face as often as possible in recruiting, even though it's not any fun and it's exhausting. That's true for Gary, Roy Williams, Mike K., Billy Donovan or anybody.
The point about All-Americans versus not is a good one. The best example I can remember is that Joe Smith wasn't ranked in the top 100 coming out of high school, and Joey Beard was in the top 10. It's not always about getting the best guy, but the best player for your system. Now Juan Dixon would have been more highly recruited if he wasn't prop 48, but Gary was willing to take a chance on him and it paid off.
Gaithersburg, Md.: You know Gary pretty well...Do you think his statements are more a reflection of his frustration with the athletic department or his frustration with the Maryland fans?
He's been getting crucified on the internet, so much that Debbie Yow's statements made ESPN's bottom line. Gary's difficulty with Debbie Yow has been well publicized, and he's the ONLY athletic coach at the school that she has not hired. Is this recent flare up really a result of the athletic department not getting along with Gary, or a coach that is just looking for some love from somewhere with a 17,000+-seat arena that has large swaths of empty space for conference games and still unsold tickets for the three biggest home games of the year against 3 top-10 teams (UNC, Duke, and Wake)?
I for one am buying Gary's arguement that he deserves some respect, but disregard the notion that it was all the athletic department's doing that screwed up the recruiting situation. With two really good players committed for next year (Padgett and Williams), and a young nucleus returning, will Gary get a chance to prove everyone wrong yet again, or will another NIT bid (if the Terps can finish over .500) end Gary's tenure in College Park?
John Feinstein: He's just frustrated, period. He's frustrated with not winning enough games. What happened last week was a result of him flailing in the wake of the Duke loss. Does he get along with Debbie Yow? No, everyone knows htat, and it's been going on for 15 years. It didn't just crop up because of Evans and Gilchrist. If Maryland won those games in Miami and was 5-3 in the conference right now, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. But he didn't, so we are.
Arlington, Va.: Has the Gary Williams storm blown over or was everyone just distracted by the Super Bowl?
John Feinstein: The storm has not blown over. How it plays out will depend on wins and losses. I don't mean that in the sense that Gary's job is in jeopardy, I don't believe it ever was. I do mean it in the sense of the constant carping and harping about his recruiting and the teams play. That will continue until Maryland is back in the NCAA tournament again.
Arlington, Va.: Now that Gary Williams has gotten the dreaded "vote of confidence" from his A.D., isn't it only a matter of time before Gary realizes that he has the option of spending all his time golfing and hanging out at the beach, and not just recruiting season?
And does a team that allows this Maryland squad to score 91 points really have a chance to win the NCAA tournament?
John Feinstein: What happened Monday was not a vote of confidence. It was an order from on high to publicly smoke the peace pipe. Maryland can't afford to buy Gary out of the remaining $4.2 on his contract, even if it wanted to. Gary is like every other coach, including feature Georgia Bulldog Bob Knight, he needs to coach. He's good at it. He's not that good at golf -- I've played with him. As for Carolina, I just don't think they were paying that much attention on defense last night. Are they unbeatable? No. Do they have the most talent and experience combined in the country? Yes. But we'll see what happens in March as always.
Staunton, Va.: Gary Williams deserves credit for cleaning up the Maryland program and making it relevant -- more than relevant even, with a national title -- again. How long can he live off of that success?
John Feinstein: Well, he's got three years left on his contract. I think if things don't get better by the end of next season, if we're still having this same kind of talk a year from now, and they are 3-5 in the ACC a year from now, I think the pressure would get very intense. I do think they have a chance to be good next year, with only one player graduating off this team (and dave neal will graduate) and the incoming freshman class, which Gary likes.
Frederick, Md.: Why do you think the latest visit of Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson looked desperate? I think there is nothing wrong with it even if he doesn't go on to be a Terp. I'd like to add, I support Gary! Get rid of Yow!
John Feinstein: Again, the question is, where do you draw the line between a talented player and a troubled player, and are you a program that needs to take a risk on a talented, troubled player. Every coach will tell you "he's not really a bad kid." I don't know Stephenson, so I don't know what kind of kid he is. But just like Tyree Evans, when you get involved with kids with offcourt problems, it definitely raises eyebrows.
Annapolis, Md.: I'd like to see someone address the intense media scrutiny that Gary and the Maryland Basketball team are constantly under. This area is very unique in the way this team is covered, do you think Clemson, Miami, Duke, UNC, Wake, BC, really any other ACC is covered the way MD is?
I don't care how big the programs are at Duke and UNC, Durham and Chapel Hill aren't DC and they are just not covered or under a microscope in the same manner. Few teams in the country really are and it affects the way Gary recruits. Things don't get swept under the carpet at MD, there are no free passes here. His teams have been very clean over the years, the graduation rate is awful, but his kids have never really gotten in any trouble with a few minor exceptions.
Nobody ever talks about this, help us out John...you can do a much better job than anyone on this topic!
John Feinstein: First of all, there is no such thing as very unique. Unique means one of a kind. One of my pet peeves.
There is no question this is a different media market than the schools you mentioned. Having said that, the scrutiny is greater for Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, because they're so big down there. Especially North Carolina, where 1/2 the state lives and dies every time a player sneezes.
It's almost like Redskins fans around here. But I think the difference is that, living in pro town, Maryland fans react to their team like pro fans, and are less likely to understand the vagaries of recruiting and coaching in college.
Geof, Baltimore, Md.: John, I hear ya as far as Gary taking the high road on guys like Gay who to sign he'd have to play that whole seedy AAu game, but what about losing out players to schools like Georgetown who's been feasting on Maryland players (Summers, Sims, Freeman, Wright, all signed in the last 4 years)?
John Feinstein: Coincidence or not, Georgetown has two former AAU coaches on its staff. Georgetown is also a pretty good program with a pretty good reputation, so sometimes you're going to lose players to them. A couple of the kids you mentioned were not that highly touted and turned out to be pretty good players, so that gets into the vagaries of recruiting again. And, as Gary mentions no more than 9-10 times a day, he couldn't get Jeff Green into school.
Arlington, Va.: I'm very happy with Maryland's recent basketball success. They're competitive in a tough conference, but never too competitive. I say he stays until he retires. Then again, I'm a Duke fan.
John Feinstein: Ha ha ha ha. That's pretty funny. Well, I hope Gary stays as long as Gary wants to stay, and when he leaves, they name the court for him at his last home game. And, if you're a Duke fan, you might like the next coach more than you like Gary. Gary's record against Duke the last few years has been pretty good.
Yow: To the intellectual giant who says to get rid of Yow, compare her record as AD against any other AD in the country over that period and then say that. She's great. Whatever her problems are with Williams, and rumors suggest legit reasons why they might disagree, they've still made it work for 15 years. I for one say, give her a raise.
John Feinstein: I for one say, no comment. The only significant hire she's made was Brenda Freese. Ralph Friedgen was hired, essentially, but Boomer Esiason.
Alexandria, Va.: Maryland fans ran off Bobby Ross and were stuck with losing football coaches for 10 years. Some Maryland fans wanted to fire Gary Williams when they lost to FSU at home in 2001 (he would go on to the Final 4 that year, and a national championship the next year). Are some Maryland fans delusional in their expectations of a coach ? It seems like nationally Gary is much more respected for what he has done than with some local fans.
John Feinstein: I think you're talking about a vocal minority. I think most Maryland fans do appreciate Gary. For the record, Bobby Ross ran himself off because he was afraid he wasn't going to be able to recruit after Len Bias's death. Remember, he initially left to take an asst. coaching job in Buffalo, so he wanted out. I promise Gary will not leave to be the head coach at Canisius.
Reno, Nevada: You said earlier that you thought that, through '03 or so, Gary Williams had a Hall-of-Fame caliber career. So why wasn't he selected to the Hall of Fame then? Who choses who goes into the basketball HOF, anyway? I hear all the time about current (i.e., not retired) coaches in the HOF, and have never understood why, for instance, Jim Boeheim is in but Williams isn't. (Not to disparage Boeheim; it just seems to me that Williams is just as qualified.) Who makes those decisions, and what's the process?
John Feinstein: Don't get me started on the HoF selection process. It may be one of the few things in the world more corrupt than Dick Cheney. It is, for example, an absolute joke that Lefty Driesel is not in the hall. I agree with you completely on the Gary/Bohiem analogy. I think Jim is deserving, but so is Gary and so is Lefty. The HoF won't even reveal the names of the 24 people who have final say each year. If you're going to vote for a HoF, you should be willing to take public responsibility for your vote. (It's a joke. And to all of my Republican friends out there, deal with it.)
Cheverly, Md.: This all still goes back to Len Bias's death. When does Maryland get over that incident? Yes, it was tragic, but if not for the incident, 20-years or not, Gary Williams would be out after these past 3-4 years.
John Feinstein: I disagree. Maryland got over Len Bias's death when Gary rebuilt the program. It took a long time. I think what's going on now has as much to do with Len Bias as what is going on in the economy has to do with the stock market crash of 1929.
Washington, D.C.: Does this remind you eerily of Coach Norman Dale's quote in "Hoosiers" when the student body starts chanting for Jimmy Chitwood at the season-opening pep rally? ("I would hope you'd support who we are, not who we are not. These six individuals have made the choice to work, the choice to sacrifice, to put themselves on the line twenty three nights for the next four months, to represent you, this highschool. That kind of committment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.") Seems like Gary might be able to use this as motivation...
John Feinstein: Well, I agree that, if you're a fan, you should be behind your team, win, lose, draw, whatever. Having said that, in Hoosiers, Hackman's character had no choice but to play the 6 guys he had. This is Gary's team, he recruited this team, and for better or worse, this is his team. And he, I think, would be the first one to tell you that.
Thanks for the questions today everybody.
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