Gary Williams coached Maryland's men's basketball program for 22 seasons. In 2014, the university named him to a "senior role overseeing athletics fundraising and spearheading university-wide alumni outreach," which has put Williams on special projects like the building of the new Cole Field House.
In an interview on Wednesday, Williams talked about his tenure in College Park, the current Terps team, the Big Ten, changes in college basketball and whether or not he'll miss Cole when construction on it starts this winter.
A transcript of our conversation follows. It's been lightly edited for clarity:
TT: "I'm a senior now at the university. I wasn't here when you were the head coach, and neither were most current students. Is there anything that you think students of this generation at Maryland should know about Maryland's basketball program that you think we might not know?"
Williams: "Well, I think when we played in the ACC - especially before expansion - you were kind of the northernmost team, and you always felt that you had to fight a little harder, maybe, to get the recognition you deserved. The ACC has been one of the best basketball conferences in the country, and we were always compared against Duke and Carolina. They're two out of the top 10 teams in the country every year, preseason, just about.
"That's who we had to catch when I got the job in '89, and that was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my coaching career. That's one of the satisfactions I have now that I'm not coaching anymore - that we were able to dig out of the hole to where we could compete against Duke and Carolina."
TT: "I'm curious now what a day in your life is like. I know you're still in a position with the university, but what is your day-to-day in your role with Maryland now?"
Williams: "I'm working with Kevin Anderson, the athletic director. We're trying to do some projects with the university, the Cole Field House project for instance, the new football indoor practice facility and some other things like that. I also do work with Comcast right here, locally, and do ESPN 980 radio sports, plus I still do some things with the Big Ten Network."
TT: "What's it like to watch a basketball game with Gary Williams, now that you're no longer on the bench?"
Williams: "I can watch a game. I actually watch more games now than when I was coaching, because when you're coaching, you're always looking at tapes of your next opponent, so you don't get a chance to see. Especially with all the games on television now, I get to see some West Coast games, things like that, and a chance to watch the pro game a lot more. I enjoy the pro game, too, because obviously the best players play at that level, and you can really pick up some things watching individuals play."
TT: "College basketball has changed quite a bit, I think, since that national championship run in 2002 and even since you've stopped coaching. Do you like the direction the game's been heading in, in terms of the style of play and the quality of play?"
Williams: "The three-point line is the biggest thing that changed the game of basketball. They came out with these analytics that show that you should take mostly threes or, you know, dunks, driving the ball to the basket, that type of thing. And the 15-footer, the 17-footer, sometimes coaches don't like taking a lot of those shots. Some of the greatest players who ever played, like Michael Jordan, wouldn't be considered a great three-point shooter, and things like that.
"I still think there's a lot of ways to play. The screen-and-roll has definitely come into the game.There's probably a couple reasons for it. You'll see possessions now where a team will come down on the ball and they'll set a high ball screen, and they won't even make one pass, or they'll make one pass for the shot - where it used to be that you'd make seven or eight passes to get a good shot. Basketball was set up as a game to try to get the ball as close as possible to the basket, and you were rewarded for that with a higher percentage shot. Nowadays, it's going the opposite way. You've got to get outside to shoot the ball to make sure you make enough threes."
TT: "A lot of people think this is the best Maryland team since the national championship. Is there a player on the current team that you watch and think, ‘Wow, I wish I'd have had the chance to coach this guy?'"
Williams: "Oh, sure. Any good players who look like they're good guys to coach, you'd enjoy that. A point guard like Melo Trimble. We had Steve Blake; he's still playing with Detroit in the NBA, and a guy like Melo Trimble, he can control the ball at the end of games. Especially now: They changed the rule this year where there's no five-second count as long as you're dribbling the basketball. So when you have a guard as good as Trimble, that's just a tremendous advantage for you at the end of games, plus he's a great foul shooter. So I would've enjoyed coaching somebody like that. He can definitely control the game on the court.
"I like Robert Carter Jr. The way he plays, physical, you need that. It's nice to have that luxury to know that you can get the ball down on the block, and he's probably going to get to the free-throw line or score a field goal. That's what we had. We had the ability to shoot the ball plus get the ball inside and score around the paint area."
TT: "Do you drop by practice or have much interaction, or do you try to keep a distance and just be in your own role?"
Williams: "I keep a distance. I think that's only fair. I had my time, I had 22 years at Maryland, and it was great. Now it's Mark Turgeon's turn, and he's doing a great job. I've never wanted to be a distraction, so I basically stay away and help with the university in whatever way I can."
TT: "This month, they're going to start knocking down parts of Cole Field House and rebuilding it, as you've mentioned. Are you going to miss it?"
Williams: "Well, it's still going to be there. The day we left Cole, it's funny. Everything revolves around that 2002 year. We went undefeated in Cole the last year we played there, moved into Comcast Center in September, and now it's Xfinity, of course. Cole's a great building. It's one of the historical buildings in college basketball: two Final Fours, the Texas Western-Kentucky game, things like that. So, it was just sitting there. It wasn't really being used. Now, at least, the name at Cole is going to stay on there, so it'll be visible once again.
"There was a time in the late ‘90s, early 2000s when the admissions office would send out a letter saying, ‘Which buildings would you like to see when you made your visit?' To high school kids, they were thinking about going to the University of Maryland, and Cole Field House was No. 1 by far, of the attraction, and I'm hoping we can get that back, where Cole will be a place where all the students can really get the benefits of having a nice place like that."
TT: "One of the moments that I think back to when I hear about Cole's history was the Steve Blake "steal" game against Duke, some of those rivalry games that have happened there. With Maryland now in the Big Ten, do you think we've been able to recreate that in a way, or do you think something is different than the atmosphere that it used to be?"
Williams: "The atmosphere is great now in Xfinity, for the team, but it takes a while to build rivalries. You think about Maryland's history with the ACC. That went back to [the 1950s]. Really, the only rivalry Maryland had was in basketball, with Duke and Carolina. There's no rivalry until each team has a chance to win a game. You have to be competitive, and Duke and Carolina were the best teams.
"It's funny; football never really built a rival in the ACC. You ask people, ‘OK, who was our big rival in football?' and they can't give you a name, because there wasn't any. This chance for football in the Big Ten, for basketball in the Big Ten, I think it's great."
Stay tuned here for more from Williams in the next few days.