Texas A&M just made a loud, bold statement by going all out for Buzz Williams, and I love it
It’s one thing to spend $75 million on a football coach. All Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward had to do to justify that to boosters and the board of regents was point to the over 100,000 fans flooding into Kyle Field on a given fall Saturday. Or he could point to Jimbo Fisher’s national championship ring and then point back to A&M’s most recent national title banner (1939).
But it’s a totally different kind of bold to shell out big bucks to poach one of the top basketball coaches in America.
Woodward didn’t just make a splash by hiring Buzz Williams. The A&M A.D. did a cannon ball that cleared out the pool.
According to CBS Sports, Williams will make north of the $3 million he was paid at Virginia Tech. Jon Rothstein reported that A&M made Williams an offer of $3.5 million annually, which would put him at No. 12 nationally based on 2018 coaches salaries. That’s in addition to the $5 million buyout that the Aggies owed Billy Kennedy and his staff.
That’s the same Kennedy who, as Woodward reminded everyone just 2 months ago, made Sweet 16 appearances in 2 of the previous 3 years before missing the postseason this season. That’s as far as A&M has ever been in the NCAA Tournament, and now, the expectation is that Williams will have all the resources needed to take the program to the next level.
I. Love. It.
To be clear, I’m not one of those people that believes that every program needs to make a splashy hire to gain fan support. Winning is what gains fan support. Williams is a splashy hire not because he has the ultimate coaches name and he’s a high-energy guy but because that’s what he’s done at everywhere he’s been — win.
The 46-year-old Greenville, Texas, native was most recently a point-blank range layup from forcing overtime against top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16. Despite the devastating loss, Williams still set a Virginia Tech record for wins (26) and he led the Hokies to 4 consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in 33 years. It was the program’s deepest March run since 1967, and it marked the first time Virginia Tech made 3 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Not bad, right?
There’s more. Take out Williams’ first year at Virginia Tech — where he inherited a team that went 2-16 in conference play — and here are his numbers in those final 4 seasons:
- Winning ACC record in every season
- 42-30 mark vs. the ACC
- 89-47 record overall
Keep in mind that was at a place that had 1 NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous 18 seasons. That has been Williams’ reputation. He goes into places that aren’t loaded with 5-star recruits and he maximizes their talent.
He did that at his first major head coaching gig at Marquette, where he took over for now-Georgia coach Tom Crean following his departure for Indiana in 2008. Williams led the Golden Eagles to 5 seasons of 22-plus wins, including 4 seasons with at least 1 NCAA Tournament victory and an Elite Eight berth in 2013.
So yeah, the résumé speaks for itself. So does the person.
Spend any time listening to Williams and you’ll be ready to run through a wall for him. This is the same guy who wanted to get into coaching so badly that by the time he was a senior in high school, he said he wrote letters to 425 college coaches a week. A week!
Williams’ rise to get to this point of his career is nothing short of remarkable. To go from sweeping floors and being a self-proclaimed jock/sock washer at an NAIA school — he would also sleep on a blowup mattress in his office and shower in the locker room as an assistant at UT Arlington — to now be making this kind of money is the true American dream.
In case you were wondering, the name “Buzz” stuck because of the energy that he had back when he worked as an unpaid assistant at Navarro Junior College, where he was told he was always “buzzing around” (he’s going to compete with Bruce Pearl for the SEC title of “sweatiest coach”).
Fitting, really. Texas A&M needs Buzz in no many ways. A program that saw its attendance take a noticeable dip is in need of some life. There’s no doubt that A&M is going to have a different feel with Williams on board. Back on board, actually. He spent 2 years in College Station as an assistant on Billy Gillispie’s staff in the mid-2000s.
There’s also no doubt that he’ll be able to recruit well in the state of Texas. Even better, he’ll be able to recruit consistently well in the Lone Star State. And when he doesn’t land the blue-chip talents, he’ll maximize the ability of the overlooked recruit (a former no-star JUCO transfer named “Jimmy Butler” would agree with that).
Certainly none of that is news to Woodward. This was reportedly put in motion behind the scenes months ago. If that’s the case, Woodward knew for a while that Williams was going to be his guy, as was the case with Fisher.
Who knows what kind of year Kennedy would have needed in order to prevent that from happening. But this seems like there was nothing that was going to get in Woodward’s way of bringing Williams to College Station to take the culture to a different place.
I mean, just think about that. A football-crazed school that won 1/3 of its conference games this season just poached an ACC coach who delivered the school’s best single-season win total, and it did so by making him the SEC’s second-highest paid coach.
That’s nuts. Then again, so is telling your football coach that you would have written him a blank check if that’s what it took to sign him.
Maybe we’ll find out that Woodward’s approach was similar with Williams, and that he would have sweetened the deal even more if it meant landing Williams. It would fit this new approach to SEC basketball coaching hires, which are being treated more like football hires even if basketball will still play second fiddle to football at a place like A&M.
Just don’t expect that to be apparent when Williams is selling out Reed Arena and leading A&M hoops to new heights.