Adrian Branch: Take me back to when you got into coaching. How did you get your start?
Gary Williams: [laughs] Wow. I was a graduate assistant here at the University of Maryland. I knew I wasn’t good enough to play [professionally] so I was lucky enough to catch on as an assistant freshman coach while I completed my degree. That gave me a taste of coaching and from there, I probably made the decision to give coaching a try.
Branch: And that’s something you always wanted to do—coach?
Williams: There weren’t a lot of opportunities unless you were good enough to play in the NBA. There was no [professional league in] Europe or things like that so I knew pretty well that was it for me, in terms of being a competitive player. I didn’t see anything out there I really wanted to do and I wanted to stay with the game as long as I could.
Branch: One of your former players, Walt Williams, once said: ‘Gary Williams is a hard personality but he will let you play.’ What do you say to that statement?
Williams: I think it’s fair. I was fortunate to coach Walt his sophomore through his senior years. Walt was one of those great players … he played four positions—from point guard to power forward, and he probably could have played center. He is one of the great players I have ever coached. The thing about Walt is that he loved the game.
Branch: Here is a roll call of names … Jim Jackson, Dennis Hopson, Joe Smith, Walt Williams, Juan Dixon. You’ve molded them all. Do you have a favorite?
Williams: Well, that’s not fair … all those guys were as good a person as they were players. When your best player is a good guy and he works hard and he is a leader, that really helps me as a coach because our team is going to play [together]. I always go back to a guy like Juan Dixon, who won a National Championship with me in 2002. That championship team had Lonnie Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake, Drew Nicholas, Byron Mouton; those guys all were willing to sacrifice for each other. Juan Dixon might have been a little special because he had the ability to score more than anybody else did that year in the country. And to be the all-time leading scorer at Maryland is a tremendous accomplishment when you consider we had guys like Walt Williams, Len Bias, and yourself …/p>
Branch: This is your 31st year as a coach. What is the secret to your longevity?
Williams: Around this time of year—before the season starts—you just check yourself to see if you have that same feeling. You really want that season to start, and you’re looking forward to the practices and the games. That’s what I try to do every summer to prepare myself. And each summer I try to get better. I’ll talk to different coaches that I know … there might be one thing you want to try this year that you didn’t do last year. I don’t care if you’ve been in this game for a hundred years, there will be some things that you can learn about the game. As long as I have that approach, as long as I have that hunger to get better and get more knowledge about the game, then I think I can continue to coach.