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Did Gary Williams Underachieve?


In the wake of Gary Williams’ retirement, there has been considerable debate about the quality of the Maryland job as it relates to the rest of the college basketball landscape. Like most, I believe it is one of the top 10 in the nation. I would put four at the top of the list — North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky (in no particular order) — and slot UCLA in at No. 5. After that, Maryland is in a select group that includes Texas, Ohio State and Illinois. Michigan State and UConn could easily be in the second tier, as well.

What makes Maryland such a good job? A history of sustained success, affiliation in an elite conference, fan support and an extremely fertile recruiting area.

But if Maryland is such a good job, then why have the Terps been so mediocre in recent years? Williams was one of the most respected coaches in the nation during his stops at American, Boston College, Ohio State and Maryland, but it’s a fair question to ask if the Terps underachieved during the latter years of his tenure.

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The answer is yes and no, depending on how you interpret the numbers. In the nine seasons since winning the national title in 2002, Maryland compiled a 78–66 record in ACC games, an average of 8.6 wins per seasons. At first glance, that’s pretty mediocre, but consider the following: The Terps’ 78 wins rank third in the league over that stretch, behind Duke (107 wins) and North Carolina (97).

Is it fair to label a coach who has won the third most games in one of the top conferences in the nation as an underachiever? Yes, if that coach is the boss of a program that most believe is one of the 10 best in the nation. Since that title season, Maryland has only had a winning record in the ACC three times (11–5 in ’03, 10–6 in ’07, and 13–3 in ’10) and the Terps failed to make the NCAA Tournament four times. In the five seasons in which Maryland did make the tournament, it was seeded no higher than fourth.

So at no time in the past nine seasons have the Terps been regarded as a top-12 team at the conclusion of the regular season — not good for a school with the resources of Maryland.

— Mitch Light