- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

While you’re agonizing over your NCAA men’s tournament bracket this week, a man named Bob Frailey might be celebrating somewhere in the hereafter.

It’s understandable if you’ve never heard of Frailey. Before his death from lung cancer in 1997, he spent more than two decades as athletic director and golf coach at American University, customarily not an athletic power.

American’s superb season, Patriot League championship and impending date in March Madness surely would have brought a rare smile to Frailey’s face. What’s more, he also deserves an assist for Maryland’s presence.

Bob gave Gary Williams his first chance to be a head coach at the college level in 1978, when the current Maryland hoops honcho was 33, dark-haired and eager to prove himself at a Division I school.

On the day he was named coach, Gary rose to speak at an intimate press conference and promptly knocked over an eagle statue resting peacefully next to him. Eleven years later, when Williams took the Maryland job, a reporter recalled in print the earlier mishap.

“Heavens to Betsy,” Williams complained, or words to that effect. “I was hoping everybody had forgotten that by now.”

After two rebuilding seasons, Williams produced records of 24-6 and 21-9 at AU, thus paving his way for subsequent stints at Boston College, Ohio State and his College Park alma mater. The first 72 of his 624 career victories came while he was working at Ward Circle.

Nor was Williams the only clipboard master discovered by Frailey. That savvy evaluator of coaching talent also hired Tom Young, Fran Dunphy, Jim Lynam and Ed Tapscott, all of whom moved onward and upward (although Tapscott’s current assignment as interim coach of the ghastly Wizards probably has him wishing he had become, say, an English professor instead).

I don’t know how long AU and Maryland will be around this month because the Eagles play in a secondary league and the Terps are modestly talented compared with most of Williams’ past outfits. But even if the Eagles don’t get past Villanova and the Terps lose to California in the first round, they deserve respect and applause for simply getting to cut in on the Big Dance.

It just goes to show you what good coaching can do. Despite that idiotic midseason flap about his recruiting skills or recent lack thereof, Williams clearly has gotten everything possible from a so-so bunch that on talent alone probably shouldn’t even be allowed to pay its way into ACC venues.

At 64, Williams remains one of the best bench coaches - although during games he crouches alongside rather than parking his posterior on the pines.

Remember, this team appeared ready for basketball last rites after late-season losses to Clemson (by 29 points), Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia. Yet Williams had the Terps primed for an ACC tournament that yielded wins against N.C. State and Wake, plus a narrow loss to the dratted Dookies.

“We’re on a mission,” point guard Greivis Vasquez insisted in Atlanta over the weekend. And who could doubt that such a corny but effective concept was inspired by the Terps’ super intense coach?

Against all logic, Maryland will experience March Madness for the 13th time in Williams’ 20 seasons after staying home three of the past four springs. If anybody around Terptown is hollering for Gary’s graying scalp now, he or she must have taken a knock in the noggin somewhere along the line.

Meanwhile, American coach Jeff Jones also has silenced any critics - or should have anyway. This is the guy, after all, who was shown the door at Virginia in 1998 after an 11-19 year despite producing six winning teams in eight previous seasons.

Instead of sulking, Jones emerged as coach at AU and suffered a 7-20 first season in 2000-01. Since then, the Eagles have put up seven winning records in eight years, which is better than any of his illustrious predecessors did.

On Sunday, AU’s basketball Web site proclaimed “there are no upcoming events.” For both the Eagles and Terps, nothing could be further from the truth.

So let’s hope both area schools win at least a game or two this weekend. Bob Frailey would like that.

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