The University of Maryland hired Gary Williams yesterday as basketball coach, hoping the 44-year-old alumnus will bring the school a competitive and turmoil-free program.

Williams, who spent the last three seasons as head coach at Ohio State and could have stayed on, signed a five-year contract in the afternoon, following a night flight from Columbus and almost four hours of negotiations to settle the financial aspects of the deal that will pay him about $400,000 a year.

Williams will receive $125,000 a year in salary and $75,000 guaranteed television money from Maryland, Athletic Director Lew Perkins announced. Williams also will have a Reebok shoe contract that pays in the range of $125,000 and a summer basketball camp for additional income. But money aside, Williams said the decision was as much about coming back to where he enjoyed some of the happiest years of his life.

“I really thought when I went to Ohio State that it would be the job,”Williams said at an afternoon news conference at Cole Field House. “There was nothing there that did not meet my expectations. But I never thought I would have an opportunity to come back and coach at Maryland.”

Williams, who grew just a bit emotional during the session, paused to collect himself and continued:

“Very rarely do you get an opportunity to do that as a coach. I was fortunate to go to a very good basketball school. You go away and coach and think how great it would be if you could come back. But as you go along in coaching, and the years go by, you don’t think you’ll ever get a chance. I thought I might never get another chance.”

Williams is the first major coaching hire for Athletic Director Perkins, who said, “This is a happy day at Maryland.”

Williams is coming to a program that has experienced tumultuous times in the last three years. He was named 32 days after Bob Wade resigned under pressure brought about by an NCAA and university investigation that began with admitted violations involving transportation provided to former Terrapins guard Rudy Archer.

The investigation has broadened into other areas and it is uncertain when, or if, any NCAA penalties will be imposed. Williams said he did not know what they might be.

“We’ll all find out in the near future, and we’ll go from there,”Williams said. “I’m concerned for the players in the program, and the people . . . But at the same time, we’ll be fine. We’ll survive whatever the situation is.”

One situation Williams will have to deal with is the hurt feelings among those who felt that Wade, the first black to head up a major sport in the Atlantic Coast Conference, was not treated fairly. Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore City) said yesterday he didn’t have a problem with the hiring of Williams, but did have a problem with Perkins.

“We have some serious problems with the athletic director and President {William E.} Kirwan has made it clear he will look into it,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings said the Legislative Black Caucus has given Kirwan a list of nine things the caucus feels Perkins has done wrong, and to “completely restore integrity” the group would like to see Perkins “exorcised” from the program.

“I have no reason to feel insecure,” Perkins said. “I have done nothing wrong.”

As far as rebuilding relations, Rawlings suggested Williams should “sit down with Bob Wade and talk about how to overcome those obstacles.”

Said Williams, ”That’s certainly something that could be done. Obviously if that is something Bob would like to do, I’d like to do it.”

Wade’s wife, Carolyn, said her husband was not available to comment.

Kirwan did not attend the news conference, but met earlier in the day with Williams.

“Others will speak to Mr. Williams’s outstanding ability as a basketball coach,” Kirwan said in a statement. “What impresses me so much is his strong personal commitment to the academic development of his players.”

Williams was one of five, all collegiate head coaches, interviewed by the six-member search committee, chaired by Irwin Goldstein, Maryland’s acting vice president for academic affairs. North Carolina-Charlotte’s Jeff Mullins and Southern California’s George Raveling dropped out, leaving Williams, Rutgers’s Bob Wenzel and Southern University’s Ben Jobe.

“One of things that really impressed the committee was his dedication to the student’s education and it came out in a variety of ways,” Goldstein said. “The way his intensity comes through is a deep commitment to these interests and concerns.”

Perkins tried to dispel the idea that Williams had been his choice all along and Len Elmore, a committee member, alumnus and former player, said, “I am perfectly happy with how we did our work . . .

“You’ll have some naysayers that will say we were a rubber stamp. But the fact of the matter is that we conducted a broad search. Within that we found a number of qualified and, quite frankly, superior candidates. Unfortunately some of them withdrew. GaryWilliams is an excellent coach but not much better than some of the others, if at all. But all things considered, Gary Williams is the coach and I will back him 100 percent.”

Williams, who becomes the seventh basketball coach in Maryland history, has a 207-128 record in 11 seasons as a head coach at American University, Boston College and Ohio State. His teams have usually played at a fast tempo, and he said he would continue that practice here.

“I think the players like to play that way,” Williams said. “I think the fans like an up-and-down game and we’ll certainly try to play that way.”

He said his first task will be to meet with the returning players and then choose a staff. He said he would speak with the Maryland assistants and his Ohio State staff, at least one of whom -- assistant Randy Ayers -- has already been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace him as the Buckeyes’ coach.

Williams’s actual signing was the easiest part of a wild few days. Perkins and Maryland officials flew to Columbus Monday night, picked up Williams and flew back. They began negotiating at about 10 p.m., and finished at about 1:40 a.m., they said. Williams spent the night at Perkins’s home and met Kirwan and other university officials in the morning.

“It’s been a long 48 hours,” Williams said. “There were a lot of emotions going through my head, but then I was okay.”