My time with Gary Williams
In May 1987, I had an interview set up for a position on Gary Williams' staff at Ohio State. I hardly knew him but I was very close to Rick Barnes, his former assistant who was leaving to become the head coach at George Mason. I had been an assistant coach at Ohio University, 68 miles down the road, and had helped Barnes navigate the state since he arrived with Williams the year before. He basically told me that I would get the job.
I met Gary at an airline club at the Columbus International Airport, and after a couple of minutes of small talk, he asked me if I wanted the job. And in the shortest job interview in college basketball history, I accepted. Off the court, I found that he was a man of few words.
My two years with Gary were amazing. We were coaching in a Big Ten conference that, I later counted, had 26 NBA players in it while we were there. It included the 1989 Flying Illini and the eventual national champion Michigan Wolverines. The Buckeyes had no NBA players, but it didn't matter.
We were in almost every game and beat a number of much more talented teams because of Gary's passion, intensity, coaching acumen and, most importantly, his will. It was how he coached at American University, Boston College and Maryland. He barked at the players and assistant coaches and sweat on us when he got close to us on the bench. But he coached like he was on the court playing. The players appreciated his sweat equity, so to speak.
Speaking of sweat, I remember we went to the 1988 Maui Classic and the field was stacked with top-10 teams such as the Mookie Blaylock and Stacey King-led Oklahoma Sooners, Tark's UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Michigan team that would win it all later that season.
Gary's brainstorm was that the coaches would wear shirts and ties because his attitude was that he didn't want our team to think we were playing exhibition games. By halftime of our game with Oklahoma in the hot box that is the Lahaina Civic Center, our dress shirts were soaked and sweat had worked its way through the knots of our ties. By the end of a close 97-93 loss, the stream had cascaded down to the tips of our now-ruined neckwear.
The next game in Maui, we wore coaching polos.
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