OUT­LAST­ING THEM ALL

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - MIKE WISE

THERE WAS A NEWS CON­FER­ENCE IN Col­legePark last week in which no one was hired or fired. In front of re­porters, mi­cro­phones and cam­eras, a coach calmly talked about his sport and a game his team con­vinc­ingly won. ¶ No job-se­cu­rity ques­tions. No tears. No uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials awk­wardly ex­plain­ing any­thing. No drama. ¶ Just Gary. ¶ “I like how we came out and played,” Gary Wil­liams said af­ter his team

pounded Col­gate for win No. 659. “We got af­ter it.” ¶ The Mary­land men’s bas­ket­ball coach takes a big kid named Jor­dan Wil­liams and yet an­other bunch of un­ranked scrap­pers into Cameron Indoor Arena on Sun­day, an­other how-in-the-hell-can-he-beat-Duke team. ¶ Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are No. 1 and fresh off a na­tional ti­tle. They

haven’t lost since last March in Col­lege Park, to an­other Ter­rap­ins team they were fa­vored to beat. Which is why CoachKis fond of say­ing, “If it’s a Gary Wil­liams-coached team, all bets are off; they’ll be ready.” ¶ It took a while, but nor­malcy is slowly re­turn­ing to Mary­land. On Sun­day, there will be no stench over Ralph Fried­gen’s fir­ing or the fact that the uni­ver­sity and ath­letic depart­ment have un­der­gone a dra­matic up­heaval the past year. ¶ Ralph is out. Deb­bie Yow, the for­mer ath­letic di­rec­tor,

left for North Carolina State. C.D. Mote Jr., the school pres­i­dent dur­ing Wil­liams’s high­est and low­est mo­ments over the past decade, is gone,

too. ¶ Even the foot­ball coach-in-wait­ing and well-re­garded re­cruiter, James Franklin, up and left Col­lege Park for Van­der­bilt be­cause he could see the tide turn­ing. ¶ All the peo­ple who could ei­ther up­stage or fire Gary Wil­liams, a lock for theNai­smithMe­mo­rial Bas­ket­bal­lHall of Fame, have ei­ther been run off or left be­fore the kitchen got too hot.

But they didn’t get Gary.

They never get Gary.

“He’s sur­vived ev­ery­thing,” says Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the for­merMary­land gover­nor and one of Wil­liams’s con­fi­dants. “In pol­i­tics, sports and life, I’ve never met any­one like him. I’ve never seen any­thing like Gary and his bunker.”

It’s al­most ab­surd now to think Gary Wil­liams’s job was in jeop­ardy al­most two years ago, be­fore he mirac­u­lously found a way to get Greivis Vasquez and a col­lec­tion of role play­ers back to the NCAA tour­na­ment amid pub­lic clashes with his school’s ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“You don’t lose faith in friends,” said Steve Bis­ciotti, the Bal­ti­more Ravens’ ma­jor­ity owner and an­other of Wil­liams’s con­fi­dants, who re­fused to buy into the no­tion that Gary’s grasp on the pro­gram was fad­ing. “Be­cause of that friend­ship, I don’t know if I can be ob­jec­tive as a Mary­land grad could.

“I do know there are about 20 coaches who have tried to po­si­tion their pro­grams with Duke and North Carolina and none of them over the years has been able to sniff third in the ACC, to be that third team that’s in the hunt. Gary Wil­liams has. Re­gard­less of the num­bers, that’s an ac­com­plish­ment.”

Be­yond the na­tional ti­tle in 2002 and back-to-back Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ances, it’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the num­bers.

The Terps are a some­what re­spectable 157-7 in non­con­fer­ence reg­u­lar sea­son home games un­der Wil­liams. That’s seven losses to non-ACC schools in Col­lege Park in 22 sea­sons.

He has won 20 or more games in 11 of the past 14 sea­sons and has taken Mary­land to the NCAA tour­na­ment in 14 of the past 17 years.

All along, Wil­liams has gladly played the out­sider role to the hilt. He has some­how mas­ter­fully por­trayed his big­time pro­gram as the work­ing­class fam­ily barely get­ting by, re­fus­ing food stamps as they gaze long­ingly at the ap­plecheeked, smil­ing chil­dren in the bay win­dows of their To­bacco Road man­sions.

The un­der­dog ethos is not merely a part of Gary­land; that psy­cho­log­i­cal bunker is ev­ery­thing.

Be­cause if you be­lieve known and un­known forces of the uni­verse are con­spir­ing against you— that you’re not para­noid think­ing that, you’re just per­cep­tive— then your kids will be­lieve that. And then your friends and most ar­dent boost­ers will be­lieve that.

That bunker be­comes so for­ti­fied, so fer­vent, so froth­ing with emo­tion, that even the most tal­ented, well­funded op­po­nents are in for trou­ble on any Fe­bru­ary night in Col­lege Park. And Go­liath goes down. No other cur­rent coach has more vic­to­ries over a No. 1 team than Gary Wil­liams’s seven. Four of the last seven timesMary­land has faced a No. 1 team, the Ter­rap­ins pulled off the up­set; Duke went down twice.

North Carolina (though not ranked No. 1 at the time) also tum­bled hard in 2009, a vic­tory Wil­liams ab­so­lutely needed to make the tour­na­ment and quell the in­san­ity at home.

“ There was aMi­ami game, a home game that year— that’s the most tense it’s been in a long time,” Ehrlich re­called. “I thought it was im­por­tant to be there for him that night. Gary was re­ally emo­tional. There was the record. There were all the things go­ing on at Mary­land. Then The Post did a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on the pro­gram. To this day, I didn’t think he came off bad at all in them; he came across as a guy who wouldn’t cheat. Ei­ther way, all of it was com­ing down on him.”

What ev­ery­one jump­ing ship for­got was Gary still had his kids. He al­ways had the kids. And they played for him and won.

“I don’t ex­actly know why, look­ing back, but a furor was caused,” Wil­liams ac­knowl­edged as he stood out­side his locker room on Tues­day night.

Not speak­ing about his own sit­u­a­tion specif­i­cally, he added, “Some of it, I think, was the chang­ing land­scape in col­lege bas­ket­ball.

“It’s pretty in­ex­pen­sive, rel­a­tively, to get a pro­gram go­ing. Some of the smaller schools would get kids to stay four or five years. By the time those kids were se­niors, they start to beat the young kids at big schools. But­ler is a good ex­am­ple. And the peo­ple in charge at those big schools are say­ing, ‘Why the hell didn’t you beat that team?’ Well, see, it’s a lit­tle more com­pli­cated than that.”

Asked if feels cheated he didn’t get to en­joy his 600th ca­reer vic­tory the pre­vi­ous year, Wil­liams said: “ That’s right, I didn’t en­joy it. But, hey, I be­lieve in what I did and what I was do­ing. Bot­tom line, I still take pride in coach­ing.”

Af­ter doc­tors cor­rected a rup­tured disk in his neck be­fore the start of last sea­son, Wil­liams, who turns 66 in March, said he has not had any health prob­lems and wants to con­tinue coach­ing.

Told his de­trac­tors have all but dis­ap­peared, he man­aged a half smile through his thinly pursed lips.

“Let’s keep it that way, okay.”

Ehrlich said most out­siders still don’t gen­uinely know Mary­land’s coach.

“You see the gy­ra­tions and the scream­ing, but you don’t see him work­ing with the kids he coaches, or tak­ingmy 8year-old around Com­cast, show­ing him drills,” he said. “When I think of Gary, I think of two things: loy­alty and teacher. And sur­vivor, be­cause he did sur­vive ev­ery­thing.”

He out­lasted them all. Ev­ery one. En­e­mies real, per­ceived or con­cocted by a man who needs some­one not to be­lieve in him so he can bring out the best in him­self and his play­ers.

But now it’s time to crawl out of that bunker and sa­vor what’s left of a Hall of Fame ca­reer.

They’re all gone, Gary. It’s over.

You won.

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