Last week, Maryland unveiled a lovely honor for former coach Gary Williams in the form of a court-naming ceremony. One would assume this sort of honor for a just-retired former coach would be entirely free of controversy. Williams won a national title, went to two Final Fours, built a perennial ACC force and did it all at his alma mater. Frankly, it would be surprising if the Terps didn't want to put his name on the court.
Still, the move was not embraced by everyone in the Maryland community. Chief among its opponents is former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, who coached at Maryland from 1969-1986 and helped build the program in its early days. Driesell publicly criticized the court-naming, calling it a "disservice to players such as Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, Greg Manning, Adrian Branch and Steve Sheppard."
You can sort of see where Driesell is coming from; he's worried his players' accomplishments and, yes, his too will be lost to the sands of time. Which is understandable. Unfortunately, Driesell's public carping had the end effect of making him look petty and small, even a little bit jealous. And all things considered, this is sort of silly. Get Lefty a statue, include the towel, and all is well, right?
Not so much, actually. Driesell is still talking about the court-naming, and he isn't backing down from his original thoughts on the matter. From the Washington Post and ESPN 980 in D.C.:
“I personally have nothing against Gary, he’s done a good job at Maryland, I like Gary. But I don’t think anybody’s name should be on the court at the University of Maryland, and I say that because I think it’s kind of a slap in the face at my players....When you put a coach’s name on the court, that’s saying that his players are the best and the ones that built the program. I never scored a basket and neither did Gary, but those players right there of mine and his, that’s who you’re honoring. And he’s had great players too, but I’m just opposed to putting somebody’s name on the court.
“When you turn on the TV from now on, you’re gonna see Gary Williams’s name, so everybody’s gonna think well Gary Williams’s players are the ones that put Maryland on the map. You know, Maryland was on the map before Gary got there. Now, he’s had nice teams and I love his players and I like Gary, but I don’t think his name should be on the court.”
Driesell's comments reflect a minor rift at Maryland, but they're also, as Washington Post columnist John Feinstein wrote last week, a product of arguably poor management on the part of Maryland's athletics program. The Terps' behind-the-scenes situation is less than harmonious, let's say.
Whatever the causes, though, Driesell does not come off well here. For one, he has a court named for him at Georgia State, so he apparently doesn't have a problem with the idea in general. (When asked about this on the radio, Driesell said he didn't ask for that honor, and that it wouldn't be fair to any coach who followed him. So I suppose he's consistent.) Two, pretty much everyone but Driesell agrees the court should have been named after Williams. This is not or at least it shouldn't be a controversial thing. Plus, the premise of the complaint is faulty, too: No one is going to forget the teams and players and coaches that came before Maryland. From Adrian Branch to Len Elmore to, yes, Len Bias, that hoops era will remain etched in the memory of Maryland basketball fans and college hoops fans in general. We'll remember, Lefty. Don't worry.
More than anything, though, the whole thing is just sort of silly. Who knew naming a court after a coach honoring his career, feeling nostalgic, working the good vibes could turn so dysfunctional?