The timing caught a nation of college basketball observers off guard.
Two months after accepting a commitment from top-50 junior small forward Justin Anderson (Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian), Gary Williams stepped down as the head coach at Maryland.
The timing of the news is a bit odd, but from a recruiting standpoint it’s not a complete loss. Maryland wasn’t going to be overly aggressive for the remainder of this signing period. Plus, in terms of underclassman recruiting, Williams stepping down at this juncture gives the Terps time to regroup before the all-important summer sprint and string together an elite camp, if needed, and use the momentum of a new hire to make waves with the current juniors and sophomores.
Williams’ departure is a major blow to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which trailed the Big East in terms of high-profile head coaches. As big a loss as Williams is to the Terps -- and he’s certainly an enormous figure in Maryland basketball history -- there is room for this program to grow.
Regarded by his peers as one of the elite tacticians and developers of talent in the college game, Williams is a revered, soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach with a national championship in 2002. Though the chief cultivator of a program, he was apathetic to the recruiting scene. Over the years, Williams has preferred to recruit from his areas of comfort and favored developing lesser-heralded players, rather than targeting the high-profile, often-higher-maintenance players from the fertile recruiting areas of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Recruiting-wise, this is sleeping giant. Where Williams elected (and it was his choice) to not play ball with many of the local traveling team coaches, the next head coach will almost surely take a different approach. Expect Maryland to move swiftly. Most established head coaches won’t interview for the position, but there will be more than a handful who will take it if offered.
The job will be extremely attractive to an elite group of middle-aged coaches, many of whom have secretly mused about the Maryland job behind the scenes. Make no mistake: The Terrapins' head-coaching position is regarded as a gem. Combine the facilities with the recruiting grounds and the fan base and one has to believe that Maryland will land a worthy successor.
The big reason why the position is so attractive is the fertile recruiting area. The right person will be able to recruit the Baltimore and D.C. Catholic leagues, bridge the gaps that exist between some of the key AAU figures and unlock areas that Williams previously didn’t attempt to mine.
Williams ran his program with a great passion and steered clear of any NCAA violations. His legacy is that of a remarkable game coach and protector of the program’s reputation. He opted not to embrace the local grassroots culture and still won an incredible amount of games in College Park. Expect the next head coach to take a different approach and target the McDonald’s All-Americans that Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina and others routinely stole from Williams’ back porch.
ACC rivals UNC and Duke started point guards they plucked from Maryland’s recruiting base. In fact, the Duke Blue Devils signed the last three starting point guards from the D.C. Assault program in Nolan Smith, Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook (Bowie, Md./Oak Hill).
Now Maryland has a chance to make a hire that could put a lot of pressure on its rivals in the ACC and send a message nationally that it will protect its house and keep its talent closer to home.