Gary Williams was never willing to put a firm date on how long he would remain Maryland’s basketball coach.
He isn’t about to start now.
Williams said during a wide-ranging interview this week that he would not specify how long he’ll stay with the Terrapins, and he reiterated his desire not to cheat the sport by hanging on past the time he can give the effort required for his job.
“I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “Right now, I’m under contract to 2013. I think I’m going to coach to that. I told our recruits this year, ‘I’m going to be here coaching,’ and I will unless something happens healthwise that I can’t control. That’s where I want to be.”
Williams, who won the national championship in 2002 and has 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 21 seasons in College Park, recently had an extra year added to his contract and has four seasons remaining on the deal.
The latest NCAA trip was in March, when Williams steered a size-limited roster to a 21-14 record and a second-round appearance. It capped a tumultuous season packed with stunning victories, a few lopsided losses and plenty of external scrutiny.
It turned out to be one of the more satisfying years in Williams’ career, and guard Greivis Vasquez’s decision to return to Maryland for his senior season amplified the possibilities for the next five-plus months.
The whirlwind reminded Williams of advice former North Carolina coach Dean Smith offered in the mid-1970s. Smith said it wasn’t wise to make a decision about coaching an extra season just after the previous one ended, insisting someone would know whether he should do so when school starts. Smith, of course, retired just before practice began in 1997.
“There’s really a lot to that,” Williams said. “I can feel it this year, just getting excited, Greivis comes back, all of this is going on. I like our guys. That was part of last year’s success. We were really close. I don’t know if you could pick that up, but coaches, players, there was a definite circle-the-wagons mentality with that team. That’s a great feeling as a coach because you want that every year. You don’t get that every year.”
Williams, 64, said he has taken better care of himself over the last 15 years, keeping his weight down and walking as a preferred form of exercise. Coaching - a known quantity - holds much more appeal than the uncertainty of retirement.
But he also has a close circle he believes wouldn’t hesitate to tell him he should leave when the time is right.
“I probably have three or four people around me, they’re not afraid to tell me, ‘Get the hell out,’ when it’s time to get out,” Williams said. “I respect them enough, they know I respect them [and] that it would not do anything to our friendship if they said that to me. As long as you don’t have a bunch of yes-men around you that won’t tell you the truth, then you can’t fool yourself.”
Williams, whose 625 victories rank seventh among active coaches, said his debt to the sport is too great to remain in the profession longer than he should.
“How many people ever get to do that, what you like to do - which was play basketball when I was 6 - ever get to do that your whole life,” Williams said. “Think about that. I think I owe the game quite a bit. Part of the payback would be not to - I could name coaches, you could name coaches where they stayed on too long - not to be one of those guys.”
Among other topics Williams addressed:
- Economic consequences trickled throughout the athletic department this year, and the football team is taking buses to Duke this weekend. The basketball program typically buses to Virginia and charters flights elsewhere in the conference.
“We want to travel the same way we did last year, but we’re working within the budget to do that,” Williams said.
- Maryland will play in the 2010 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with the final two rounds at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Terps won the event in 2006.
- The Terps are wearing “JH” on their practice shorts this year in honor of booster Jack Heise, who died earlier this month. Heise was a regular at both practice and games.