Much of Maryland’s roster from last season attended, as did Williams‘ entire staff, former players Walt Williams, Tony Massenburg and Eric Hayes, former assistant coach Billy Hahn and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
“Forty-some years is a long time to coach,” said Dino Gregory, a senior on Williams‘ final team. “I’m happy he got to leave on his own terms and do this the way he wanted to do it.”
Few besides Williams and Anderson knew of the decision. Williams took a picture with Maryland’s seniors set to graduate later this month early Thursday afternoon. Swingman Cliff Tucker returned to his room to take a nap, only to wake up to a flood of text messages with the news.
Returning players assembled quickly at Comcast Center for a 4 p.m. meeting Thursday to learn the surprising news.
“It was a shock in the beginning, but in the end we were all happy for him and we understand,” forward Hauk Palsson said.
Williams leaves with a 668-380 career record, including 461-252 at Maryland. He also had stints at American, Boston College and Ohio State.
His departure comes in the same week as Jordan Williams’ decision to leave Maryland with two years of eligibility remaining to pursue a career in the NBA. Gary Williams said the forward’s departure had “no effect” in his retirement.
Williams also said he would not play a prominent role in choosing his successor.
“That’s not my job, to pick the next coach,” Williams said. “That’s for the people who will be here. They are very capable of doing that and we’ll be in very good shape because of that.”
It will make for a dramatically different look.
For more than two decades, Williams was entrenched in College Park and eventually became the most visible personification of the school.
“For him not to be here now, it’s just weird, because his name has become synonymous with the university,” said Massenburg, a member of Williams‘ first team at Maryland. He’s the symbol. When you say the University of Maryland, you think of Gary. For us not to have that is a tremendous loss, but at the same time we respect his decision.”
Despite the emotional nature of his departure, Williams seemed mostly at easy with his choice. He unleashed his dry wit just as frequently as tears welled up Friday, drawing laughs and cheers from fans in attendance throughout.
And perhaps most importantly for him, he made it clear he wouldn’t linger – just as he promised so many times in recent years.
“I’ve been fortunate to coach as long as I have,” Williams said. “You can’t predict the future. I don’t know how long I have to be able to do other things, or if I was still coaching how long that would last. You can’t say, well, this is the exact time. I know I coached as hard as I ever had this past year, so it’s good leaving knowing I’ve done that.”