August 4, 2008

Monday Tip: Is Williams safe at Maryland?

Can a coach who won a national title just six years ago be on the hot seat? We are about to find out this season.

In 2002, it looked as if Gary Williams would stay at Maryland, his alma mater, as long as he wanted. Williams had just guided the ACC power to its first and only national title, giving Maryland fans something finally to hang over their brethren at Duke and North Carolina.

The previous year, Williams led the Terps to the Final Four, a level they never reached under the beloved Lefty Driesell or any other coach. Williams and the Terps were riding a streak of nine consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. They extended that streak to 11 in a row, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2003 and the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2004, thanks to a surprising run to the ACC Tournament title.

However, what followed was far below anyone's expectations.

The Terps had to settle for an NIT bid in 2005. It was the same story in 2006. They rebounded the next season by securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and reaching the second round. Then last season, they found themselves back in the NIT.

That has all generated questions about Williams' job security. His contract runs through 2011, but there is speculation that another postseason spent in the NIT could cement his exit.

Should Williams be on the hot seat?

Rivals.com college basketball editor Bob McClellan and Rivals.com college basketball writer Andrew Skwara are on opposite sides of the debate. They explain their reasons below.

SKWARA'S PICK: HOT SEAT

Last season sealed it for me. Maryland didn't just disappoint. The Terrapins underachieved – woefully.

This should have been the team with which Williams beat back the critics. He had one of the nation's best playmakers at point guard (Greivis Vasquez) and another guard (Eric Hayes) who could also dish the rock. Vasquez ranked first in the ACC in assists and Hayes was sixth. There was also depth and experience on the inside. Senior big men James Gist and Bambale Osby ranked second and third in the league in blocks and fourth and 11th in rebounding.

The potential was there. The Terps knocked off then-No. 1 North Carolina in the Dean Dome.

However, that same team lost to Ohio and American at home. Maryland went 1-6 against the top five teams in the ACC. The Terps lost six of their last eight games, including four by double digits.

The bulk of the blame has to go to Williams. He's not getting the most out of his players, not even close. That becomes a bigger problem when you're not a great recruiter, something Williams has never resembled.

Williams has a great résumé and it's tough to look past that national title, but I think someone else can do better. Maryland, with the fertile D.C. recruiting area nearby, has a big fan base and one of the nicer arenas on the East Coast.

If Williams doesn't get it done this season, I say give someone else a chance.

MCCLELLAN'S PICK: NOT ON HOT SEAT

I can't argue that Williams' recent teams have underachieved, particularly last season.

But I come at this from a different perspective. My alma mater is Northwestern, a school that has never been to the NCAA Tournament. As in never, zip, bupkus. So when you talk about getting rid of a guy who has brought your school its only national title, not to mention another Final Four appearance and a bunch of NCAA bids in a row, it's kind of hard for me to fathom.

No, Maryland isn't on a par with Northwestern. But in a league with North Carolina and Duke, Williams got the Terps to the Holy Grail. The Left-hander couldn't even do that, but Williams did.

I'm not saying you can live off a national title forever, but you ought to be able to come pretty close. He still gets players a lot of other schools would like to have. I'm somewhat alarmed that he isn't getting more out of them, but who's to say he can't find a way to light the fire this season or next?

Williams hasn't forgotten how to coach. It's not like he has been losing lately, it's just that he hasn't been winning enough. His teams have won at least 19 games for the past 14 consecutive seasons. A couple of the recent NIT teams were "just-missed" NCAA Tournament teams.

Maryland would be foolish to jettison Williams. Until he fields a losing team, he ought to be considered plenty safe.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.




 

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