Caution: Because of the graphic language, this column is
presented with a 10-second delay.
Snug in your earplugs. Zip up your HazMat suit. Cinch up your
For the next two hours you're going to sit 10 feet behind
Maryland coach Gary Williams, the human Cuisinart of college
basketball. We're at Denver's Pepsi Center, and Maryland is about
to tip off against Syracuse in round 2 of the NCAAs. "I always
tell people, 'Sit behind his bench,'" says Orangemen coach Jim
Boeheim, "because watching Wacko is so much better than watching
the game itself."
Wacko is what Boeheim calls his golf buddy Williams, who is about
to scream, run, skip, windmill, yank on his hair, sweat bathtubs
and spin James Brown 360s until you are quite sure his carotid
artery is going to burst right in front of your eyes.
"I have to interview him right after the game," says Terps color
man Chris Knoche. "Sometimes his lip will be bleeding. Or his
lips will be caked with white stuff. It's like he was playing."
MARYLAND, 2-0 Normally genteel until the game starts, Williams
gets off his seat along the sideline and goes into a catcher's
crouch. His butt won't touch the chair for the rest of the night.
SYRACUSE, 6-4 Beside himself because his players won't attack
the 'Cuse zone, the 59-year-old Williams turns salmon pink. He
wheels on his assistant coach, Jimmy Patsos, and hollers, "You
dumb mother [deleted on delay]! Make them take the ball inside!"
Why does he scream at Patsos? Because it's scream or herniate,
and Williams doesn't want to scream at the Maryland players on
the court. In his 13 years with Williams, Patsos has been fired
more times than Donald Trump's barber. But he never actually
leaves. "I know he doesn't mean it," Patsos says. "He's one of my
best friends in the world."
SYRACUSE, 12-10 Williams is not a patient man, but the way the
Terps are playing would make Glinda the Good Witch bite her wand
in half. They seem to be wearing oven mitts. When freshman Ekene
Ibekwe throws a pass over his head backward straight into a
Syracuse player's hands, it looks like the top of Williams's head
might blow off.
"What the [deleted on delay] is wrong with you guys today!?!" he
screeches at four subs who haven't even entered the game yet.
Amazingly, they look genuinely sorry.
SYRACUSE, 19-14 It's only the first half, and Williams looks as
if he had just stepped out of a Turkish bath. "He sweats a lot,"
says his daughter, Kristin. "That's why he never takes off his
suit jacket. He sweats through the whole suit." Has Armani done
anything in sponge?
SYRACUSE, 30-19 His face now cherry-tomato red, Williams is
trying to shock his players into playing with some kind of
emotion. "What!?! You scared to play the national champs!?!" he
hollers. "Big TV game got you scared!?!" Maryland sinks a trey,
but Syracuse gets an easy jam as the half ends. Williams does a
very good impression of Yosemite Sam just before he blows.
HALFTIME After their worst scoring half of the season Williams
challenges his players. "We've got two choices!" he yells.
"Spring break or Sweet 16! Which do you want?" In unison his
players holler, "Spring break!"
SYRACUSE, 35-22 The Terps start the second half getting called
for a walk and allowing an undefended trey, and Williams uses
Patsos as his personal Wailing Wall. (One game, after a player
made a turnover, Williams screamed at Patsos, "Dammit, Jimmy,
never recruit a player like that again!" But then, this is a man
who once yelled at his coaches for not sweating more.)
SYRACUSE, 61-54 Williams is ADHD Boy on Red Bull. He's pacing,
flinging wild overhead hooks at invisible heavyweights, jumping,
crouching and pleading. It's working. He has the Terps back in
it. The guy didn't win the 2002 NCAA title at a church raffle,
SYRACUSE, 69-64 With 35 seconds left, Maryland's Chris McCray is
nailed for traveling after an Orangeman reaches in on him.
Williams goes into a kind of triple-time Watusi that makes you
think there's a bee in his clothes. "You [deleted on delay]!" he
shrieks at the ref. "All [deleted on delay] night long! [Deleted
on delay] you!" The ref doesn't even look at him. You think the
ref knows, too, that Williams doesn't mean it?
SYRACUSE, 72-70 In the frenzy just before the buzzer, Maryland's
D.J. Strawberry tries two game-tying shots that don't fall.
Williams's face falls flatter than a tortilla. Game over.
"He's the only coach I worry about [losing to]," Boeheim says
afterward. "We'd have beaten anybody else easily, as good as we
Ten minutes later the Hulk has turned into Bruce Banner
again--quiet, soft-spoken, kind. "I need to go find a beach
somewhere," Williams whispers.
Yet the people he's lung-whipped only seem to admire him more.
"Who else could've turned this young team around tonight against
the national champs?" says Patsos. He points to his slumped and
bloodless boss. "Only that man right there."
Some [deleted on delay] coach, huh?
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Williams is ADHD Boy on Red Bull. He's pacing, flinging wild
overhead hooks, jumping and crouching.