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Williams seeks more adoration from Virginia Tech

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 23, 2014

Buzz Williams once told me he turned down the Southern Methodist job a few years ago because nobody cared about SMU basketball. He said he didn't take Southern California's calls for basically the same reason.

Williams, eccentricities and all, loved being front and center at a basketball-first school like Marquette, rich in tradition with its willingness to spend, spend, spend on the men's basketball program.

In fact, I've been told that's why he didn't go to Oklahoma in 2012. The Sooners took one look at how lavishly Williams was living at Marquette in terms of recruiting and travel and decided he was too rich for even their oil-infused blood.

At more than $260,000 per player per year, Marquette spends more on men's basketball than any school in the country except Duke. At $2.8 million a season, Williams was drawing a top-10 salary. The Golden Eagles stay in five-star hotels and little expense is spared on the coach during recruiting trips.

So why would he go to a place like Virginia Tech, a football school where like SMU and USC nobody cares about basketball? While it offers the chance to coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference — and the opportunity to get hammered by Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Virginia — VPI in every way is a step down from Marquette.

A coaching graveyard, Virginia Tech is a bad job. I'm surprised that Williams would jump just to jump, which pretty much was what Friday's thunderbolt event was all about.

A terrific coach, Williams is a peculiar man who needs constant love and attention. After his first bad season in six years at Marquette, a 17-15 record and no postseason tournament, Williams apparently did not find the adoration that came with taking the Golden Eagles to three Sweet 16 appearances in three years.

He was confused and questioning himself about strategy, rotations and recruiting after the abrupt end to the season. He was unusually reclusive, which was the first hint he was looking around for someone new to love and appreciate him.

I sincerely wish him luck at dead-end Virginia Tech because he is an engaging personality who will be missed. But now he's gone and Marquette is back to the same question that has dogged it for years, despite the resources it puts into its cash cow: How does Marquette shake the reputation that it is a steppingstone job?

I don't think that is an accurate description. Tom Crean left because Indiana is Indiana. Kevin O'Neill, who wishes he'd lever left, had itchy feet, was always looking around and had the need to be hugged, just like Williams.

The Golden Eagles are not ideally situated to make a major hire because they have an interim athletic director and an interim president. But Bill Cords got it right with O'Neill and Crean, and there is a chance he could do it again with insight from Mike Broeker, the associate AD who worked in the NBA and is a keen judge of coaching talent.

Ben Howland is hot for the job, and the former UCLA and Pitt coach would lend credibility as the kind of established name Marquette has never really landed. On the other hand, Crean was an assistant coach. So was Williams. Nobody knew him from Buzz Lightyear at the time of his hiring, and that worked out just fine.

I'd give Brian Wardle major consideration. The former Marquette standout has done really good things at UW-Green Bay. And I'm not sure how Cords would feel about hiring a guy with any kind of Wisconsin connection, but North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips, a Reedsburg native who played at UW-Platteville and coached at UW-Milwaukee and Madison for Bo Ryan, has become an NCAA Tournament darling for his wit, coaching ability and the Bisons' upset of Oklahoma.

Since Al McGuire, Marquette has employed Hank Raymonds, Rick Majerus, Bob Dukiet, O'Neill, Mike Deane, Crean and Williams. With an exception or two, that's not a bad run.

It also gave Williams everything he needed to be successful, and even that was not enough in the end to satisfy his quirky personality.

Now it's time for stability, someone who will see Marquette for what it is and commit to the program.



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