- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

ANAHEIM, Calif. Gary Williams is all hugs and kisses these days.

He is the Alan Alda of the coaching fraternity, as sensitive and caring as it gets. He is a healer, not a divider. He keeps hope alive.

He helps little old ladies cross Route 1. He picks up stray dogs. He has adopted a couple of roads in College Park. He sees a world beyond college basketball, and it is a big, hopeful world, full of good people, and they are not all basketball players and coaches who can win the close games.

Williams no longer barks at his players. He comforts them instead. He pats them on the shoulder and asks them to try harder. He bites his lower lip and feels their pain. He no longer attacks referees. He sympathizes with them. He sends them cards and flowers.

It is said you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Williams is there to demonstrate otherwise. He started the season as a rottweiler. Now he is a toy poodle. He is loving. He is loyal. He is not going to UNLV.

Williams used to be a bundle of nerves at the opening tip, cursing the Gods, ready to blow his stack. Now he has seen the light. He has discovered a deeper truth. He has found harmony in his modest existence.

He owes it all to Florida State, a football school. He lost to Florida State at home and decided to figure out what it all meant. He knew that one billion Chinese did not care one way or the other, either about Maryland or Florida State, and you probably could include all the sheep from New Zealand in that.

Williams and his players joined hands after losing at home to Florida State, and then they belted out, "We are the world."

Everyone counted them out, including Katherine Harris, and they understood. Williams vowed to do better, to become a complete human being, to have fun. There is more to life than basketball. There is football. There also is the Boy Owner, another tightly wrapped person who has not had his epiphany yet.

The local NFL team did not play Florida State at home last season, which probably was just as well. Florida State would have defeated the local NFL team, too.

Anyway, Williams lost at home to Florida State and decided to open his mind to new ideas. He could go into a shell. He could blame it on the one billion Chinese. He could claim he was a victim of the vast, left-wing conspiracy against middle-aged white males, the recovering oppressors who need to die, and die hard, and die harder, if this great land is to fulfill its destiny.

Or he could rejoice in it all, in the game, all the while knowing he gets paid good money to wear a suit around sweaty, young men. How neat is that?

Williams almost fell asleep while his team was beating up on Chelsea U. two days ago. People used to worry that he might check out during a game, especially when his veins would be bulging, seemingly on the verge of bursting. Now he coaches with sleepy eyelids, Robert Mitchum eyelids, in tune with the energy around him. He is at peace, enveloped by a sturdy electromagnetic shield.

In his 23rd season as a coach, Williams has come across a startling revelation. Hard as it is to believe, the sun, win or lose, comes up the next day, and most people can't be bothered with the outcome of the game either way. They have bills. They have spouses. They have brats. They have lots of problems, and a win or a loss, is not high on their list of concerns.

Williams adopted the less-is-more approach after losing at home to Florida State. What did he have to lose, except another game, and losing to Florida State already was like losing to an intramural team?

So Williams and the Terps are going to the Final Four, despite the venue. It could be worse. It could be Duluth instead of Minneapolis.

Pack a shovel. Wear a parka. Call Bob Ryan. Strike the last instruction. Ryan is 0-for-2001 at this point.

Williams and the Terps can relate to where Ryan is. Ryan missed Washington's last blizzard by only two feet and four states.

It can be easy, or it can be hard.

Williams and the Terps made it look easy in Disneyland, and now love is in the air.


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