Note: This item originally ran in Sunday’s print edition.
Gary Williams’s debut as a full-time television pundit came hundreds of miles from College Park and his Maryland home. Sure, the longtime Terps coach has roots in the Big Ten, which came in handy during a season as an analyst with the Big Ten Network. Still, coaching Ohio State in the late ’80s doesn’t exactly equate to the decades he spent in this region.
“You’re out of your element, you’re out of your area, you’re in a different world,” Williams told me recently. “Coaching kind of became automatic, where you knew what was going on. And then all of a sudden you’re in a situation where you have to learn. And I always think that’s a good thing, experiencing something new.”
His second season as a college basketball analyst, though, will come on more familiar turf. Comcast SportsNet will announce this week that it is hiring Williams as a college basketball analyst, a studio role that will have him dispensing opinions and analysis on both its news shows (like SportsNet Central and SportsTalk Live) and digital platforms.
So Williams will be asked about George Mason — led by former ACC adversary Paul Hewitt — and about George Washington — coached by former Maryland assistant Mike Lonergan. He’ll be asked about former ACC rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech, and about the American program that gave him his head coaching start. He’ll be asked about the Terps’ longtime adversaries in Georgetown, and about the Maryland program he led to a national title. That’s quite a bit different than breaking down an Iowa vs. Nebraska matchup.
“I always took a lot of pride in being honest — honest with the players, honest in recruiting, honest with the media,” Williams said. “I had that reputation of not trying to hide. I plan on just being myself. And I think I have the respect of the coaches from the basketball side of things. Just like anything else, you have to prove yourself and what you’re going to be, but I think I can be honest and still at the same time not be out to hurt anybody.”
(While some Georgetown fans might be skeptical of Williams’s objectivity toward the Hoyas, he said he’ll “analyze them just like I’ll analyze George Washington, George Mason and Maryland.”)
While he did serve as a weekly guest for WTEM (980 AM) last winter, Williams tried to lay low locally, giving new Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon space to build his own program. Switching from the Big Ten Network to CSN might make that more challenging, but Williams said Turgeon is off to a fine start, particularly praising his recruiting efforts.
“He’s done a good job of getting players into the program,” Williams said. “What you have to do as a coach, you have to develop a style of play that’s yours, and that will attract players who want to play that way. Mark’s done a good job of developing his own style. He’s in a very competitive league, and you have to be able to get players to play at the top level of the ACC.”
Williams acknowledged that he missed parts of coaching, but the first thing he mentioned was not the competition. (Nor, believe it or not, the recruiting trail.)
“You miss the practices,” he said. “You miss walking on the practice floor, just you and 15 players, no cellphones, no nothing. It’s pure basketball. Back when I got into coaching, that’s why we went into it.”
Does he miss it enough to want another coaching job?
“Nah,” he said with a laugh. “You never say never, but it’s not on my horizon, the way it looks now.”
Instead, he’ll follow in the footsteps of D.C.-area college basketball coaches who became D.C.-area analysts, like Chris Knoche and John Thompson Jr. Williams had a mostly friendly relationship with the local media during his years at Maryland, but he did trade the occasional barb with his critics. And now?
“I think all the media’s great now,” he quipped. “I really enjoy it. And I think when you enjoy something, you can be good at it.”