COLLEGE PARK, Md. – After sweating through crisp white shirts and expensive suits for more than three decades, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams is finally ready to take it easy.
Williams announced his retirement Thursday, saying "it's the right time" for him to end a career in which he led his alma mater to the 2002 national championship.
Williams coached for 33 years, the last 22 at Maryland, where he played as a guard from 1964-67.
"My entire career has been an unbelievable blessing. I am fiercely proud of the program we have built here," Williams said. "I couldn't have asked any more from my players, my assistant coaches, the great Maryland fans and this great university. Together, we did something very special here."
His career record is 668-380, including 461-252 at Maryland. Under his direction, the Terrapins went to the NCAA tournament 14 times, won or shared three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and reached the Final Four twice.
Williams was a fiery competitor who despised losing and loved the challenge of competing against the best teams in the nation — including Duke, which usually got the best of him. But the Terrapins never went down without a fight, and rarely did Williams ever take a seat on the bench.
His frenzied style, and his propensity to sweat on the sideline more than his players, was as much a part of his legend as wins and losses.
"I love Gary. What he has done for Maryland and for college basketball is remarkable," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He is one of the great coaches of all time. He is a coaches' coach and an ultimate competitor. His retirement is a big loss for the ACC and for college basketball."
Williams, 66, arrived at Maryland in 1989, when the program was still struggling under the weight of NCAA violations. The Terps endured two straight losing seasons before reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time under his direction in 1994, and he never had another sub-.500 season the rest of the way.
"Gary Williams is a legend," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "His accomplishments on the court have earned him a place among the elite in college basketball history. But Gary's legacy here at Maryland goes far beyond basketball. From his philanthropic efforts to his tireless work with fans and alumni to his impact with our students, Gary has left an indelible mark of excellence on this university."
Since 2004, Williams has served as the scholarship co-chair for Great Expectations, Maryland's $1 billion fundraising campaign. His efforts on behalf of Maryland students have helped raise over $240 million for scholarships at the school.
The retirement announcement comes one season after the Terrapins endured a 19-14 record and missed both the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Also, on Wednesday, standout center Jordan Williams formally entered the NBA draft with two years of eligibility left.
Williams began his college coaching career at American University in 1978. He went to Boston College in 1982 and then spent three seasons at Ohio State, from 1986-89, before coming to Maryland.
He had a chilly relationship with Debbie Yow, who served as athletic director at Maryland from 1994-2010. But Yow and Williams were both in Atlanta in 2002 when Williams guided the Terrapins to their lone NCAA title in men's basketball.
"Gary is one of the best X and O coaches in college basketball. He will be greatly missed by Terps everywhere," said Yow, now the athletic director at North Carolina State. "I trust that he will be selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame soon. Also, his name should be on the Comcast Center floor, as was proposed a year ago."
Williams will stay on with Maryland as assistant athletic director and special assistant to Anderson.
During his time at Maryland, Williams dueled with many of the ACC's most successful coaches. He ranks third in the ACC in wins behind only Dean Smith of North Carolina and Krzyzewski.
"Gary has been an iconic figure in the ACC," ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "His resurrection of the Maryland program to national championship status was huge, not only for the University of Maryland, but the Atlantic Coast Conference as well. His long term consistent success is what I admire the most about Gary. His accomplishments are of Hall of Fame caliber."
Williams, Anderson and University President Dr. Wallace D. Loh will attend a press conference on campus Friday for the formal announcement of the coach's retirement.
"What Gary did at Maryland was amazing for the basketball program, the university, but most of all for the players who he coached," said Jimmy Patsos, Williams' former assistant and now head coach at Loyola (Md.). "I would not be a head coach if not for Gary, and there are a lot of NBA players who would not be in the league if not for him.
"I think what epitomizes Gary as a coach is to look at the NBA playoffs now and see Steve Blake and Greivis Vasquez. A lot of people never expected them to be great players, even in college, but through Gary's coaching, they became All-Americans at Maryland and great NBA players."
Williams' decision to step down began a buzz that covered much of the state of Maryland.
"Gary's leadership and outstanding coaching and recruiting abilities have developed the talents and skills of some of today's best athletes, and helped them to become great professionals and individuals with confidence and character — on and off the court," Maryland governor Martin O'Malley said. "In 2001, he led the Terps to their first Final Four in school history, and in 2002, they brought home an NCAA national championship.
"Though it will be difficult to imagine men's basketball at College Park without Gary Williams, we certainly wish him much success in the future."