Don’t call it a comeback…
June 13, 1989 – Gary takes over a Maryland basketball program that is still reeling from the death of its star player, Len Bias, in 1986. A year later the team is banned from postseason play by the NCAA due to sanctions based on actions of the previous head coach, Bob Wade. With passion, stubbornness, and undying dedication to the program, Gary turns the Maryland basketball program around. In its first year of post-season eligibility, Maryland begins a run of 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
February 9, 2000 – After losing 29 of its previous 34 games to Duke, Maryland upsets Duke in Durham 98-87. The victory ends Dukes 31-game ACC winning streak, 41-game home winning streak, and a 4-game streak against he Terps. The win is a David beats Goliath moment, and it marks the beginning of Maryland getting the Duke monkey off its back. This game sood out in my mind as a statement that Maryland was a team that would not back down to anybody.
February 27, 2001 – The Terps entered the 200-2001 season ranked No. 6 and poised to make a run, but the team seemed a little overconfident early in the year. After muddling through its pre-ACC schedule, Maryland suffered the “Gone in 54 seconds” loss to Duke on 1/27/2000. The team was devastated, and seemed to sleepwalk through losses in four of the next five ACC games, culminating in a dismal loss at home to underdog Florida State on 2/14. After the loss, something changed in Gary. He relaxed, and the team relaxed with him. In what was the greatest comeback of his career, and one of the best coaching jobs I’ve ever seen, Gary Williams turned a lost season around. Maryland proceeded to win its next three games against Wake, NC State, and Oklahoma. Ranked No. 16 on 2/27, Maryland was trailing No. 2 Duke by 9-points in Cameron Indoor Stadium just before half-time. In a season defining game, the Terps mounted a second half rally and won the game going away, 91-80. That win gave the Terps the confidence they needed to break another glass ceiling and go on to their first Final Four in 2001. Williams commented after the win, “We’ve work a lot on our confidence as a team. We never quit, which this stretch shows. We could have quit with what happened last time against Duke, but we didn’t.” Williams would later be named NCAA Coach of the Year. That attitude and the rest of the season would stamp Maryland as a team that relished the role of underdog and played its best when the chips were down.
March 13, 2004 – Maryland is down 21-pts to NC State. Gary rallies the team at halftime, and the Terps comeback for an impossible win that leads to an ACC Championship. The game was defined by the inspired play of John Gilchrist, and it was clear that Gary provided Gilchrist a spark that got him going in the second half. After the game, Williams offered these comments on his approach to the comeback victory:
A lot of people have asked me already what halftime was like. We talked about tradition of the University of Maryland. If you think about Maryland Basketball over the years there have been great teams and great players. We talked a little about tradition. You can talk all you want as a coach, but unless you get like the one sitting next to me (John Gilchrist) and Jamar Smith it doesn’t matter. We have had a lot of pride on this team this year and that is what is important in that situation. It is not like you think maybe we are going to win the game coming out at halftime. But you know you are going to play. I had a lot of confidence in these guys after halftime. We wanted to play and that was the key thing in that situation.
I think that says it all. Gary Williams loves to be the underdog. Now he’s in for the biggest fight of his career. I am rooting for him.