It’s not easy. Before getting into who has to step into the large, sweat-soaked shoes that have been left over, it needs to be noted what Gary did for Maryland. The critics will say that Gary was a disinterested recruiter who shunned quite possibly the most fertile recruiting ground in the country right in his back yard. Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, and Rudy Gay are just a few of the names he missed out on, but take a look who got those kids. Durant went to Rick Barnes, who I’ll get to in a minute, but the next two coaches are Jim Calhoun and Bob Huggins (who didn’t coach Beasley, but he recruited him).
Huggins is right down there at the bottom of the slime bucket with John Calipari in terms of sleazy recruiters, and Calhoun isn’t much better. It’s impossible to deny that Gary neglected a veritable gold mine, but he won a national championship and fielded a competitive team nearly every year of his tenure, and he did it without having to sign a deal with the devil (boosters, certain AAU coaches) as the aforementioned names did. Because of him, plenty of Maryland fans were shocked to find out yesterday that this job is as highly regarded in the coaching industry as any because of the pristine condition Gary left it in.
What cannot be questioned was Gary’s acumen for the game. When it came to game day, there is no coach that I can think of in college basketball (with the possible exception of Coach K) I would rather have commanding a team. With Gary at the helm, Maryland got to the NCAA tournament with DAVE F*CKING NEAL STARTING AT THE 5. AND THEY WON A GAME. In the most important nationally televised games, games where some teams would be blinded by the spotlight, Maryland was almost always game. There are a few blemishes, including some thumpings at Cameron and the Dean Dome, but there were also games like the 2007 win at Carolina, the 2006 win at Duke, and the unquestioned dominance of all things Comcast Center and Cole Fieldhouse under his reign. From 2006-2010, the Terps were 3-2 against North Carolina whose McDonalds intake resembled that of Morgan Spurlock. Why? Because Gary Williams could run tactical circles around Roy Williams, and just about anyone else you put in front of him.
Lastly, and I’ve said this before, the last thing you want to see as a fan is a team or coach that just doesn’t care. The prime example that comes to mind for me is the 2005-2006 UConn team with five first round draft picks that lost to George Mason. Although Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong didn’t end up really lighting the world on fire in the NBA, they were both more than adequate college basketball players. Marcus Williams was a dazzling point guard with outstanding court vision, Denham Brown provided a long distance threat, and Rudy Gay was a continuously running highlight film. That team should have won the national championship running away, but there were games where they simply did not show up. Part of the blame goes on the players, but part of it definitely goes on Calhoun for not being able to get such a talented group to play to their potential.
I can not think of one time when I was at Maryland where I thought that the basketball team was just going through the motions during a game. Every game was always the Duke game to Gary Williams, and if a player didn’t believe that, then he was pulled off the floor and given a few choice words by the coach. Every single player to a man that played under Williams will say that they respect him, and all the players that I saw improved dramatically in every year under his tutelage. He was a brilliant tactician, and a better motivator, and no matter who comes in, it will not be the same without seeing that predatory crouch on the sidelines during games.
Now, to get to the search for the replacement. There are four names that I can think of who would legitimately soften this possibly knockout blow. I do not believe that Brad Stevens will leave Butler because he has created what is his own version of Duke in the Midwest. He is revered as a god there, and he has gone to back to back Final Four’s. Butler may not be a recruiting powerhouse currently, but players are going to want to play for Stevens wherever he is, why leave?
Shaka Smart is also a name that has been thrown around, and as charismatic as he is, I don’t want him taking the reigns at Maryland. I simply don’t think he’s ready, and although it’s clear that his players would run through a wall for him, he hasn’t shown success at the high major level yet. The VCU NCAA run also really only included one very impressive win (Kansas) and one marginally impressive one (Purdue). A nail biter over FSU and a demolition of an already stumbling Georgetown were games that they should have won looking back. Lastly, there was a reason that all of the pundits were up in arms about VCU making the tournament, they didn’t have a great regular season, they in fact had a very average one. In short, Shaka Smart: Possible great coach in the future, but the resume is too short.
Tubby Smith is too old.
Current Job: Head Coach – Texas
Maryland connection: Was an Asst. Coach with Gary at OSU
Why I like Rick Barnes: Kevin Durant. DJ Augustin. LaMarcus Aldridge. Jordan Hamilton. AJ Abrams. TJ Ford. The list goes on. Rick Barnes is an outstanding recruiter who has turned Texas into a national powerhouse and has had them in the national title conversation heading into March in almost every year since he’s been there. Out of all the candidates, I believe that Barnes would be most adept at recruiting the DC/Baltimore area, and creating a whole lot more red hats on signing days than shades of blue.
Why I don’t like Rick Barnes: Quite simply, Rick Barnes is one of the worst high major X’s and O’s coaches that I have had the chance to watch. For the talent he recruits, by this point he actually should have fulfilled the perennial potential at least once with a Longhorns National Championship. In 2006, his team got Big Babyed in the Elite 8 after finishing 27-6. Somehow, his team crashed out in the 2nd round of the 2007 tournament with the best college player I have ever seen. They didn’t just lose, they got handled by USC 87-68 when they were the ones with Kevin Durant. Just baffling. Barnes has had his pants pulled down far too many times on the big stage for me to comfortable with him as a coach. As much fear as he would inspire on the ACC recruiting trail, Roy would now have somebody to match less than considerable wits with, and Coach K would be thrilled to take a consistent two wins a year from a team stocked full of talent every year, but with no idea how to play effective organized basketball.