May 19, 2008

Was Williams the right choice for Marquette?

It's fair to categorize Marquette's hiring of Buzz Williams to replace Tom Crean as a major surprise.

Williams has been a head coach for only one season, and that was two years ago at New Orleans. He joined Crean's staff only last year.

The Golden Eagles at least contacted a few higher-profile names. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper reported that Marquette "pursued to some extent" Xavier's Sean Miller, Washington State's Tony Bennett and VCU's Anthony Grant.

MU Athletic Director Steve Cottingham said he quickly turned his focus to Williams, who he believed was on target to be a high-major coach in the near future.

The Golden Eagles are loaded for 2008-09, especially if Jerel McNeal pulls his name out of the NBA Draft. He has not signed with an agent. If he returns, Marquette will have back its top four scorers from last season.

But what happens after next year? Is Williams really the right guy? That's the question we posed to basketball editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara.


If nothing else, and financial terms haven't been disclosed, Williams probably came cheap for Marquette. There's no way he's getting what Crean was making, and MU would have had to pay a king's ransom for Miller, Bennett or Grant.

Maybe it's a hire of convenience, but you have to give Williams a fighting chance. You don't ascend through the ranks to a head job in the Big East by the age of 35 without having something going for you.

How did Williams get here? Because he can recruit. He's got big-time ties in Texas that's where he's from and he spent two seasons as an assistant to Billy Gillispie with the Aggies of Texas A&M. The Kentucky coach has told anyone who has asked that he believes Williams will do a great job at Marquette.

"He is very well organized and his tenacity is probably unmatched," Gillispie said. "He just goes after it. Everyone likes him and if they don't start out liking him, he forces them to like him, and that's a great quality to be able to have. He just goes after it hard.

"He's not only a good recruiter, he is a very good basketball coach. He does whatever it takes to help your team win, whether it's academics or whether it's taking care of stuff in the office or whatever. He is not just a recruiter. He is a total basketball coach and a guy that gives you the best chance to win over a long haul."

With so much talent returning it makes sense, too, to have some continuity. At least Williams has been around rising seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews for a year so they won't have to go through a total transformation in their final season.

I'm not saying this was a great hire. But it was a good one with room to grow.


When Marquette lost coach Tom Crean to Indiana, they quickly contacted VCU's Anthony Grant, Washington State's Tony Bennett and Xavier's Sean Miller, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That trio ended up staying put, but Eagles athletic director Steve Cottingham should have kept making phone calls. He should have targeted other young head coaches on the rise. Perhaps he should have even called some of the older, more established names.

Sooner than later, somebody with solid credentials would have taken the bait. Marquette is a basketball-first school in a basketball-first league. This is a program that is only five years removed from a trip to the Final Four and one that is coming off three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. How many other schools can say that?

Moreover, the Golden Eagles are ready-made for a fourth consecutive NCAA invite. They will return at least five of their top seven scorers, including two of the top guards in the Big East - seniors-to-be Dominic James (12.9 ppg) and Wesley Matthews (11.3 ppg). They could bring back six of their top seven if Jerel McNeal (14.9 ppg) pulls out of the draft (he has not signed with an agent). With or without McNeal, the Eagles will be ranked in the preseason top 25.

I can't imagine many coaches turning down a chance to inherit that kind of program and that kind of talent and experience. But, instead of shopping the job around so to speak, Cottingham handed it over to an unproven assistant.

Williams has just four years of experience at the high-major level and he had a losing record (14-17) in his only year as a head coach at New Orleans in 2006-07. Does that sound like the best qualified candidate? In Williams' defense, he inherited a rebuilding project at the Sun Belt school.

Williams could be the next Tom Crean or the next Tom Izzo (both were assistants before landing the Marquette and Michigan State jobs). Or the next Roy Williams (who had no head coaching experience before taking over the reins at Kansas). But, it's unlikely.

Why take such a risk when you can hire somebody with a better resume and a proven track record?

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for He can be reached at
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
Site-specific editorial/photos Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved. This website is an officially and independently operated source of news and information not affiliated with any school or team.
About | Advertise with Us | Contact | Privacy Policy | About our Ads | Terms of Service | Copyright/IP policy | Yahoo! Sports - NBC Sports Network

Statistical information 2007 STATS LLC All Rights Reserved.