Maryland offers top notch facilities, top notch league, top notch fan base, top notch media exposure, a tradition that pales in comparison to fellow league members Duke and North Carolina but is nevertheless a known commodity across the land, a recruiting base that is second to none in terms of regional talent - this is definitely a cherry of a job. There is definitely no shortage of coaches at programs who have ultimately had more success since 2002 but would nonetheless cover this Maryland job for the afore-mentioned reasons and more. The question comes, who are the most logical candidates and what would they bring to table.
To my mind, the leading candidates would have to be Sean Miller of Arizona, Jay Wright of Villanova and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh. Each has coached at a high level in tough leagues and found winning success on the court and recruiting success off the court. To many of the Maryland fan base, recruiting has been the single most issue during Gary Williams' tenure. The rising pressure of the many locals who have fled the region to star elsewhere has been the constant lament of posters and media alike. And Gary has always been on the defensive for this. The three coaches mentioned have found national and regional success, so that would go a long way to stifling the cries of we can't land the big ones! Each has a proven track record of bringing in elite talent.
Sean Miller's success at Xavier and then at Arizona seems to mirror the rise of Gary Williams through the coaching ranks. We all know the history of Gary's stints at American University, Boston College, Ohio State and ultimately Maryland. His accepting the Maryland job during the time of tumult after the Bias tragedy and Bob Wade's checkered years is the stuff of legends; his battles with Debbie Yow and the admissions boards the stuff of soap operas. I think Miller would have an easier time recruiting from the East, being a Pittsburgh graduate and ties to the areas. He showed he can beat the elite teams (Arizona's demolishing of Duke in the NCAA was a beauty to behold) in crucial games and can coach against the best. And his main attribute is that he is the youngest of the marquee coaches.
Jay Wright and Jamie Dixon are equally similar to Gary in many respects. Like Coach Williams, Dixon has turned recruits that were not considered High School elite into NBA-caliber players. He seems to get the most from his teams, a good strategist whose players seem to reflect his persona. Jay Wright is a coach who, like Gary Williams, prefers up-tempo basketball, gives his players a lot of freedom on offense and presses from time to time. Both preach defense. Both seem destined to win the big one soon, like Gary who waited many a year before getting to the Final Four.
The coaching ability of Brad Stevens is obvious top notch. My only question is whether he can recruit and coach in a big time league. It's one thing to make a run to the Final Four. It is another to play a murderer's row schedule where life in the ACC is usually not for the faint of heart. Playing in Cameron against Duke is a whole new experience for any head coach, such heat I am not sure Coach Stevens has felt. And more so, he has yet to show the ability to recruit and land enough elite players to show he can survive the rugged landscape that is the AAU-driven, ego-laden, twitter and posse world that recruiting is today. That would be singular reservation.
Mike Brey and Tubby Smith have been conversed at the national level but I don't think they would be a home run for Maryland. The football coach hiring did not cause any stir amongst the masses, more of a lifted eyebrow here and there followed by a patient yet caustic attitude from the fans. They are waiting to see what he can do on the field before lighting the torches.
For the basketball team, there can be no reaches. A surprise hire could tweak the rate of nervous breakdowns in College Park three-fold. If there is any what the heck responses after the new hire, than it will definitely be more gas for the fire. Gary has brought the Terps to a certain plateau and perhaps this is as far as they could go under Gary. He has built the foundation, put all the facilities in place and righted the sinking ship. Now he has stepped down and the ship is in need of a proven winner to steer the course. The fans demand it and there is probably no room for error.
Time is a factor as well, for this is the season of recruiting which really is the key to moving forward or languishing somewhere near the bubble year after year. I cannot imagine that this vacancy will last for more than a week, look for the hire to happen rather lightning quick. I would think that there could be a roster shake-up here and there with some recruits reconsidering and perhaps others following the new coach in. No matter what, Terp fans won't accept mediocrity with this hiring.
Who ever fills Gary's shoes, they will be large ones to fill. Despite the lack of recent success, Gary has been respected and praised by all of his colleagues in the coaching ranks. He has tried to bring integrity to the Maryland program, perhaps at the cost of winning games in terms of landing prize recruits. Coach Williams coached on his terms and retired on his terms, a fighter to the end. No matter what the glitz and style and dazzling recruits are perhaps attracted by the new coach, I hope he always shows the fight and the integrity of his predecessor. It's the best tribute to Gary Williams that a man could ever expect.