With Gary Williams' recent retirement announcement, I was surprised to see that he had been Maryland's coach for 22 years (which, to someone who is 24, seems like forever). While Williams is regarded as one of the better coaches in the game, I couldn't get over his career stats: 22 years, two Final Four appearances, one national title. I mean, apart from one magical run where an absolutely loaded Maryland team cruised to a title, the guy really hadn't done much on the big stage.
That's when it hit me: This guy's career looks a lot like my beloved Bill Self's tenure at Kansas.
Now Williams didn't win a national title until his 13th season at Maryland, while Self won it all in his fifth season at KU. However, Self's career seems to be heading down the same path Williams' did. Both coached at a Big Ten school for three years (Ohio State for Williams, Illinois for Self) before landing their permanent dream job. Self inherited a Kansas program already stocked full of talent and tradition, while Williams had a bit of a rebuilding project at Maryland - his Terrapins didn't post a winning record in ACC play until his fifth season. If you take away Williams' first five years of turning Maryland into a winner, the next eight years look the same - both have a national title, multiple players drafted by the NBA, etc.
Now the homer in me refuses to believe that Self will only win one national title as KU's coach. The man recruits too well and seems to always be in the mix when March hits. However, winning the NCAA tournament, hell just making the Final Four, is very hard to do no matter how much talent you have (as KU fans painfully know). It is entirely possible that Self never wins another national title as KU's coach and has a career that looks similar to that of Gary Williams' at Maryland.
So, just to play devil's advocate, let's say Self retires after 22 years of coaching KU with Williams' numbers. Putting aside league titles, Big 12 and ACC tournament titles, the two have the same numbers - one national title and two Final Four appearances (we'll assume Self makes at least one more in his final 13 years leading the Jayhawks).
How is Self's legacy defined? Does he go down as a good coach who won a title with a loaded team and otherwise failed to live up to expectations? Is he the Peyton Manning of the college basketball world - gaudy regular season stats and a history of postseason failure (save for one breakthrough)? Or perhaps the 2008 national championship and collection of Big 12 titles are enough for him to cement himself as the greatest coach in KU history.
Sports fans are all too aware of how quickly greatness can fade. As a KU fan, I can't believe that three full seasons have already passed since KU beat Memphis to win it all. I can't believe the loaded 2010 team lost in the second round to Northern Iowa. I can't believe last season's team was one game away from the final 4, only to be denied by Virginia Commonwealth. Three years since we won it all. Before you know it, three more years pass by. Then three more. Suddenly my 2008 championship memorabilia is buried in dust, I got three kids and a mortgage, and I'm reading a newspaper (if they still exist) article about how Bill Self plans on retiring.
Just look at how quickly it happened to Gary Williams. I remember watching the Terps win it all in 2002; after all, it was a loaded Kansas team they dispatched in the Final Four. The next year, they lost in the Sweet 16. The year after, they lost in the second round (eerily identical to KU's postseason performances in the two seasons after the Jayhawks won it all). Maryland hasn't been past the second round of the NCAA tournament since.
I'm not sure if this piece will remind KU fans of how well we have it or terrify the Jayhawk nation, maybe a little of both. I can only hope this argument disappears in the same fashion as the "Self's teams choke in the tournament" thoughts did in April of 2008. Until then, I will hold on to my championship memorabilia for dear life.