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COLLEGE PARK – In his final walk out of the tunnel at Comcast Center, Gary Williams gave the fans one last fist pump, inciting the crowd one last time before officially announcing his retirement from coaching.
Williams, alongside recently inaugurated University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh and first-year Athletics Director Kevin Anderson, was celebrated as the true figurehead to the university – the reason why the Maryland basketball program exists with as much honor and prestige today.
"The fact that so many of you are here tells us that what we're here to do is say thank you and goodbye to one of the one of the great coaches of all time. We're also here to celebrate the heart and soul of this university, who represents the best of the Terrapin character," Dr. Loh said."
Loh praised Williams not only for the impact he has had on the court, but as a teacher to student-athletes, as a competitor and as a loyal alumnus.
"We have risen dramatically over the past 20 years to national prominence, and the key factor to rise of the University of Maryland is Gary."
Williams will end a 33-year caching career, one that has spanned 22 seasons in College Park. In 1989, Williams inherited a program in the midst of one its darkest depths, and has transformed Maryland into a regular ACC power.
In 2002, Williams captured the school's first-ever National Championship and what he considered his lasting memory as the coach. Throughout his journey – which includes stints at American University, Boston College and Ohio State University – he has amassed 668 wins, 461 at Maryland.
Twice Williams has been heralded as ACC Coach of the Year, and in his title-winning season drew National Coach of the Year honors. Williams finishes as the winningest coach in Maryland history, third-most in conference history trailing only the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.
Twenty-two year colleague of Williams and long-time Terrapins football and basketball broadcaster Johnny Holliday said Williams' success adds up to one spectacular coaching career.
"His love for the school, his love for his players, his former players and Terps fans everywhere is unparalleled in college basketball," he said of Williams, w ho he called as the best coach in the country and a future Hall of Famer. "You can call it old school if you want, but he did it his way."
Williams opted to retire after what he described as a gut feeling and wrestling with the decision on multiple occasions. After defeating Indiana in the National Championship game Williams considered retirement, much like former Marquette coach Al McQuire did in 1977, something Williams said he really admired.
Following a buzzer-beater loss to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, Williams also contemplated hanging it up. The team was set to lose its best three players – Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne – all of which were seniors. Instead he chose to return for the 2011 season, which he viewed as both a challenge and a teaching experience because of the cluster of new players coming in.
"This is one of those things where I feel like I could still coach but at the same time you realize that there are other things out there," Williams, who began his coaching career at age 23, said. "Each year you know your schedule, you know the recruiting period – everything is kind of programmed into your life. This gives me a chance while I'm still relatively healthy to do some things, see what's out there."
He also stated that sophomore center Jordan Williams' decision to hire an agent, a move that solidifies his entrance into the upcoming NBA Draft, did not impact his choice.
Williams will maintain his association with the university as an assistant athletic director and special assistant to Anderson. Their first mission will be to find Williams' successor.
Reports have surfaced from a plethora of different outlets about possible replacements. Jay Wright (Villanova), Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Sean Miller (Arizona), Shaka Smart (VCU), Rick Barnes (Texas) and Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) have all been speculated as candidates.
When asked about how he will conduct the coaching search, Anderson declined to comment in the interest of respecting Williams. Anderson previously elected to hire a national search firm before he hired Randy Edsall earlier this year.
Williams only urged fans to support whoever Anderson chooses to hire in the interest of maintaining the program's prosperity. He also made it clear he will not pick the next coach, but will serve in whatever role Anderson needs during the process.
"I really have great confidence in the future of the basketball program because of [Loh and Anderson] but also because of the caring that the students have in the program, the alumni – all of those people who have supported us over the years," Williams said. "It's not about supporting a player. It's not about supporting a coach. It's about supporting the Maryland basketball program."
Afterwards, Williams added that because of the area and the league Maryland plays in, there is no questioning that it one of the preeminent jobs in college basketball.
"I wouldn't have been here if I didn't think it was a great job," Williams said. "I can't get a better competitive job than the University of Maryland."
Despite retiring, Williams will likely be a permanent fixture in the future of Terrapins men's basketball. Loh announced that over the next few weeks he will petition for the Comcast Center hardwood to be named in the honor of the longtime head coach.
The notion sprung fans into a frenzy, and rightfully so.
"Today marks the end of an era in Maryland basketball," Holliday said. And we were reminded of that fact numerous times throughout the press conference, as we saw a usually hard-nosed Williams choke up and especially emotional.
The fans, they cheered Williams, from the moment he fist pumped, to his introduction, to his final comments. The unrelenting pour of support this Friday afternoon only further proved it was more than Maryland; it was Garyland.