Williams finds happiness, success at Marquette
For Marquette’s Buzz Williams, the opportunity couldn’t have been any more golden.
After three successful seasons in Milwaukee – a town where he seems a bit miscast – the sweet tea-drinking, Copenhagen-dipping southerner could’ve gone home last month. Texas A&M had a coaching vacancy, and there was no better candidate than Williams, who grew up 240 miles away in Van Alstyne and had been an assistant at three small colleges in the state.
But there was one problem.
Williams wasn’t interested.
The situation would’ve been shocking if Williams hadn’t already rejected an overture from Oklahoma, where he also would’ve been a perfect fit. Williams’ down-home persona would’ve played well at Arkansas and Missouri, too. His name was in the mix, but he never pursued those jobs – or the one at Texas Tech, which is near his wife’s hometown of Amarillo.
“Don’t mess with happy,” Corey Williams told her husband of 11 years. “You can leave a legacy here.”
Williams said he’ll always be thankful for that conversation.
“It really struck a chord with me,” said Williams, speaking for one of the first times since March, when his name began to surface in multiple coaching searches. “Once she said that, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I truly am happy here.”
It’s easy to understand why.
Williams has led Marquette to three straight NCAA tournament appearances since taking over for Tom Crean in 2008. Last season the Golden Eagles reached the Sweet 16, and with players such as Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder returning, the 2011-12 squad could be Williams’ best yet.
Marquette and its supporters have rallied behind their coach.
An average of 15,586 fans turned out for Golden Eagles’ home games last season, a mark that ranked 11th in the country.
“Milwaukee is a blue-collar town,” Williams said. “Even though I’m an outsider, I’ve been welcomed because of the way we go about things. We play the right way. We work the right way.
“The city and the school and what they’re about go right along with the way we do things. The mixture has been very healthy.”
Excited as he is about the upcoming season, the current momentum behind Marquette’s program is far from the only reason Williams is still in Milwaukee.
Williams had been a head coach for just one season – at the University of New Orleans in 2006-07 – when Crean hired him as an assistant. Crean left for Indiana eight months later, and more than a few Marquette supporters were scratching their head when Williams, a virtual unknown, was selected as his replacement.
“There is no way in the world that you can professionally justify that it was the right hire when Marquette hired me,” Williams said. “People now may say ‘Buzz is a good coach’ or ‘Buzz is a good recruiter.’ But [our administration] was saying it back then when no one else would.
“That means a lot to me as a human being.”
“I wouldn’t have had peace going anywhere after the opportunity I’ve been given here,” he said. “I felt like this is where I was supposed to be, like it was ordained by God. I wasn’t going to mess with that.”
That’s not to say that Williams didn’t feel any pull. He said it was “surreal” to hear his name bandied about for such high-profile jobs – especially after just three years at Marquette.
Plus, Williams’ degree is from Oklahoma City University and he earned his master’s at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Williams has also been an assistant at schools such as Texas-Arlington and Texas A&M under Billy Gillispie. And his wife was a high school basketball star in the Lone Star State.
“The location of those jobs,” Williams said, “and the familiarity of those places relative to the relationships I have in this business … all of that was coming at me at one time. I mean, our family is in Texas.
“But as proud as I am to be from Texas and as proud as I am of the relationships I have in the south. I’m just as thankful of the opportunity I’ve been given here.”
Marquette showed appreciation for Williams and his loyalty by giving him a new contract – his third in as many years.
“I grew up in a town an hour and 15 minutes away from Dallas,” he said. “At that time I didn’t even know Marquette was a school. I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that I wanted to be a head coach, and they gave me that chance.”
Williams thinks back to that conversation his wife.
“It’s like she told me, ‘You can leave a legacy here,’” he said. “I don’t know what that legacy will be or if we’ll even leave one. But the good thing is that we’ll have an opportunity to. I’m completely at peace. The only reason this has worked out is because God could author a story as strange as this.”