Greska: Larry Williams’ departure is Marquette’s loss

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Don’t let the timing fool you.

The day former president Father Scott Pilarz announced his resignation and was followed by a cadre of his closest advisors, this was set in stone.

Larry Williams  wasn’t just an athletic director for Marquette, he was also the vice president of the university, reporting directly under Pilarz. He was a key cog who’s boss got cut. There was no other way this would end.

“We want to thank Larry for leading our student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff in our 16 competitive athletic programs for the past two years,” acting president Robert Wild said in a statement today. “We appreciate Larry’s contributions to Marquette University, particularly for leading us into the newly reconfigured Big East and helping establish a unique partnership with Fox Sports. We wish him nothing but success in his future.”

But that doesn’t make this any less of a mistake.

Williams was a perfect fit at Marquette, and his record speaks for itself.

He was one of the driving forces behind Marquette’s transition into the current Big East, acting as one of the leading voices in the public eye and behind the scenes during a chaotic winter one year ago. There’s no way to know for certain if the situation would be quite as favorable for the conference if it wasn’t for his decision making.

But as important as that contribution was, his tenure will be defined by the transition into elite status for Marquette’s fall sports.

Men’s soccer won its first ever Big East tournament title and first NCAA Tournament game this season, landing in the Top 10 of national polls the past two years.

Women’s volleyball won its first ever Big East regular season title and conference title this season, and won NCAA Tournament games the past two seasons.

Women’s soccer twice hosted NCAA Tournament games the past two years, winning the Big East regular season and conference titles back to back.

Obviously most of the credit goes to Louis Bennett, Bond Shymansky and Marcus Roeders, the respective coaches of those sports. They did the recruiting and the coaching, not Williams. But to simply dismiss Williams’ impact is foolish. He helped create an environment where excellence wasn’t an outlier but the standard.

None of that matters to most, though. Larry will forever be tied to another Williams, Buzz, in the minds of most Marquette fans. And not in a good way.

In early 2012, after a few months on the job, Larry Williams gave an interview to the Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker where he seemed to criticize Buzz Williams’ behavior after a big win at West Virginia.

“He’s an emotional guy, passionate guy, but if you’re going to have long-term success, you have to channel that and control that,” the athletic director said. “He was happy as a clam to dance across the court, but he didn’t think about offending somebody else.

“But that is his passion and exuberance. He is either going to explode because his tie is on too tight or he’s going to offend somebody that is irrevocable.”

Innocuous as it may have been, it created a rift between the Williams. That rift turned into a gulf as Larry began to put his imprint on the program, increasing admission standards for junior college players and forcing all incoming freshman live in the dorms, as opposed to the waiver basketball players had gotten before to live in Humphrey Hall, an apartment residence. Together with other measures behind the scenes, it led to Buzz “considering” leaving for SMU that summer and angered a large portion of the Marquette fan base.

This rift, however, has been blown out of proportion lately. The Williams had a professional relationship off the court and the success on it was impeccable. Marquette made the second weekend of the tournament the past two seasons and Buzz was able to corral a top-10 recruiting class despite the heightened measures.

Believe it or not, change was needed. Larry was replacing a very successful AD in Steve Cottingham, one that had hired Buzz and had his deepest respect and admiration. Buzz saw Larry as an attack on his personality. That’s why you saw Buzz’ most trusted reporters, Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish constantly harping on it. Just look at Goodman’s first Tweet.

The truth is, the measures were needed. Cottingham was fired after a serious breach of protocol was undertaken under his watch. Nothing sends potential students and donors running away from the school like rape allegations plastered on the front page of one of the biggest newspapers in the country, the Chicago Tribune.

Larry Williams was hired to clean that debris up and he did so admirably. Replacing him won’t be easy, though the right man for the job may already be on the staff.

This day was coming, there’s no doubt about that, but don’t let the ignorance blind you. Larry Williams’ impact on the program will be felt for years to come.

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2 Comments on “Greska: Larry Williams’ departure is Marquette’s loss”

  1. Chris Columbo
    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Larry Williams did a very good job in his short tenure. Clearly the formation of the Big East was the signature achievement. However, His impact on other sports will be felt for a long time as well. . As the author points out he set the tone for excellence and all the sports have responded . The fall teams did very well on the national stage. Also don’t forget MU will be the host for the NCAA tournament.

    Hopefully the school can recruit a high quality President and AD. The media will want to make this about Buzz and Larry, but my sense it is more basic. PIlarz left and the new person will want their own AD. Larry was hired about two years ago this time and I am sure he had a two year contract that wasn’t renewed. Everything is going well so why not leave on a high note.

  2. Chris Columbo
    December 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Looks like the Virginia Tech AD job is open. It would not surprise me if he was a leading candidate.

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