Buzz offers his explanation for MU departure

“Whatever’s in the bottle, when it’s tipped over, will come out,” Buzz Williams lectured his basketball pupils in 2010. “When it’s tipped over, whatever is in you will come out. That will be your character being revealed.”

One of the lasting phrases Buzz instilled into the Marquette lexicon during his tenure was that of character revealed. As explained above, it was the idea that times of difficulties reveal your true self.

So you can’t fault me for bursting with laughter reading Gary Parrish’s account of why Buzz left Marquette for Virginia Tech. When Buzz’ bottle was truly tipped over for the first time in Milwaukee after a disappointing season 2013-’14, we got to see what he was made of.

It wasn’t pretty.

Here are some of the offending passages:

He had made five NCAA Tournaments (in his first six seasons), advanced to the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight once before the age 40, and most young coaches would become intoxicated with that level of success. Not Williams, though. He instead identified it as the bar set, and then he assembled “facts and data” in an attempt to determine whether it was reasonable to expect to maintain that level of success in a less-attractive Big East while playing league games off of ESPN and on Fox Sports 1. He concluded that it probably wasn’t. And what would happen if he didn’t? Answer: Williams would fall out of favor with his own fans the same way Ben Howland once did at UCLA, the same way most coaches who stay too long at any basketball-centric school eventually do. Consequently, Williams determined it was wiser to jump while he was still ahead, and though his contract at Virginia Tech is technically for less money on a per-year basis, it’s a seven-year deal with an automatic rollover clause that will never allow it to be less than a five-year deal, meaning the security provided makes it a better deal for a man openly planning for the day he’s fired.

Beyond that, the bar he set at Marquette no longer exists.

He has a fresh contract and fans with fresh sets of expectations.

Sometimes the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker decide throwing a pitch becomes too hard, so they quit. At least, that’s what Parrish’s  account would suggest. It was too hard to maintain success at Marquette.

But think about that again, Buzz Williams, the man so driven to attain success in his field that he swept floors for a year and took out a student loan to buy a suit, business cards and a ticket to the Final Four, threw in the towel at the first sign of trouble at a place where just three years ago he said he was “living the dream”. That goes completely against everything he’s preached the past six years.

““I think he’s big on competing and being the toughest player that you can possibly be,’’ Jimmy Butler told Bob Ryan in 2011. Toughness was the mantra of his highly successful squads, but I guess it’s easier to say it than to live it.

He was too successful for his own good? Ha.

And that’s without getting into the specifics of his accusations. The “facts” he came up with for his decision show that it would be tough to maintain success in the new Big East on FOX Sports 1. This is not a fact, just his opinion.

I put in requests to the Virginia Tech athletic office about speaking with Buzz regarding some of his concerns with FS1 in May. This was the response I got “He is focused on Virginia Tech right now and does not care to respond to any of those type of questions.”

Seeing as he spent at least 85 minutes with Gary Parrish talking about non-Virginia Tech stuff, I thought I’d ask again. This was the response: “I would not expect Coach would be willing to discuss things regarding your questions about FOX Sports.”

I get it, he has nothing to gain by answering a few questions to a  Marquette-centric blog as opposed to getting a puff piece from a national writer, but I am legitimately curious as to what those qualms may be, and how VT was the answer.

I mean, the Hokies had 1 game on ESPN last year, and it wasn’t even a league game. Of their four nationally televised ACC games, one was on ESPN 2 and three were on ESPNU. Those four games averaged a whopping 178,000 viewers. By comparison,  all of Marquette’s conference games were nationally televised, averaging 131,538 viewers on FS1 in those contests. 

Again we see the mantra of Buzz giving up. It would be too tough to topple ESPN. Should FS1 just give up and turn into food channel instead? Expectations would be much lower, something Buzz seems to like. 

But getting back to reality, this all seemed as one giant, half-thought out excuse. Why was Villanova able to succeed in the Big East, becoming a top-10 team and ultimately losing to the national champions in the Tourney? Is Jay Wright packing his bags, looking to land at a powerhouse like Clemson? If winning was so hard, wouldn’t a school like Providence be less likely to make the jump it did last year? Should John Thompson III just retire?

Buzz has no one to blame but himself for last season’s debacle. FS1 didn’t clog the lane for Davante Gardner. The Big East didn’t make Jamil Wilson regress. Syracuse didn’t leave Jajuan Johnson, Deonte Burton and John Dawson on the bench for large stretches of time during the non-conference season. The expectations were so high last year because the roster was laden with capable veterans and promising rookies. That it didn’t pan out is no fault of anyone but Buzz and his staff.

Buzz has never been one to shy away from criticism, but I have yet to hear him take any part of the blame for last season. Not to mention things had gotten so bad that Steve Taylor and Jajuan Johnson were ready to bolt, with Mayo going on the record that a change was needed. But yes, let’s blame FS1 for that as well. 

One thing this article did answer is why he chose VT. He needed the lowest bar possible. He fears failure. He doesn’t want to HAVE to win. He’ll take all the plaudits for winning at a place where it wasn’t expected, but just don’t ask him to provide the goods on demand.

That;s a bit of a strange way to look at things if you’re a coach, but perfectly reasonable for a human being. Buzz, strange as he may be, is still human. 

Here is what he told us when we talked to him last September:

“Momentum isn’t the hardest thing to get, but it’s the hardest thing to keep. You run all day long so you can be Keith Olbermann. Ok, when you become Keith Olbermann you’re going to do what? You see what happens is, what got you to Keith Olbermann will not get you to Larry King. It will get you to Keith Olbermann. That’s a long run. You understand how many habits and how many heartbreaks and how much excitement there is in that run. But then when you get here, you have to re-calibrate. Most of the time, people don’t know how to re-calibrate. So they run run run run run, here’s my goal. OK, now what? Most everyone fails then. When you get to that status and you want to get to here, you then realize the distance from here to here is much harder than from here to here. I think it’s that way in any walk. As a father as a husband, because things are ever changing. Your children are older, you have new kids to coach, you have a new boss, you’re not at Marquette anymore you’re at the Chicago Tribune. Whatever the next step is, you’re thankful and you’re proud of that, but I want the next one and the next one.”

 Buzz completed some of his life goals at Marquette, but, according to what Parrish has relayed, wasn’t willing to put in the effort it took to get to the next step. 

Character Rev… you know the rest.

Here are some random notes I had about the article:

  • Parrish goes into some length about Buzz contract and how he crafted it himself, yet doesn’t give us any inkling at just how lopsided this contract is in Buzz’ favor. Strange, really, as he hammered UCLA for the contract it gave Alford just last year. 
  • So Buzz was playing shoiuld I stay or should I go since September 2013? Way to keep your eyes on the prize there coach.
  • Parrish states Isaac Chew is an assistant with Virginia Tech, but I’ve sent seven emails to their SID and he still hasn’t confirmed that. It also isn’t on the website. In fact, VT is the only school to not have officially filled its coaching vacancies, which have been open for almost three months now. You may ask what my obsession with this may be, and you’d be right to think it’s not normal, but I’m waiting to pull a Buzz and file an FOIA on Chew’s contract to see the terms of the deal and how they compare to his terms at MU. So long as the hiring isn’t official, VT has no responsibility to abide by my FOIA request. The struggle is real.
  • I like that Buzz mentioned the bottle tipping over metaphor to Parrish without once grasping a sense of the irony.
  • “When Marquette fired one of Williams’ assistants, Scott Monarch, in 2012, Williams personally supplemented Monarch’s income until he landed a new job at North Texas that Williams helped him get.” No mention of why Monarch was fired from Mr. Parrish. That would change the subject considerably.
  • This is a bit tangential, but I find it amusing that Mr. Relationships unfollowed all the current Marquette players except Juan Anderson. I confirmed with Duane Wilson, who noted that at one time he was being followed by Buzz, but is not any longer. Trivial? Undoubtedly. Telling? You bet.  
  • When you have a long interview and you paraphrase someone extensively instead of letting their words do the talking, that’s usually an indicator that a lot of what was said was off the record/vulgar.
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6 Comments on “Buzz offers his explanation for MU departure”

  1. June 20, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    His data, regarding the chance of a basketball only conference succeeding, I am sure, is missing some key variables: Fox Sports 1 and 2 (a new entity that didn’t exist until last year), a basketball conference composed of schools in key urban centers (w/ tradition and resources), and the Big East’s intelligent cross conference scheduling (i.e. Gavitt Tipoff and potential Pac-12 challenge).

    To Buzz, “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it (Elbert Hubbard).”

  2. Loren
    June 20, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    A well done analysis.

    A couple of footnotes: Paying for a settlement in his legal dispute with the University of New Orleans and the financing of any kindness to others all came for the opportunity and financial support of Marquette University and it’s boosters.

    The interpretation of data is subjective not objective. The past is prologue to the future. If you have a tendency to be a coaching nomad you will continue to be a nomad. Few people change fundamentally after they reach adulthood. If you expect anything else you generally will be disappointed.

    The new Marquette administration was clearly looking to take another path in the hiring of Wojo. Historically Marquette coach’s have been paid extremely well and had access to resources few other D1 coaches in the country have. The boosters and administration wanted those resources to support the school rather than an individual’s self-promotion and marketing efforts. True or not I think the decision makers saw an imbalance that was making them more and more uncomfortable.

    • Big AL
      June 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

      Hey Loren: Yours, too, was a solid post. Seriously.

  3. June 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    This analysis is spot on. This is the best thing I’ve read since the departure. (Except for the piece about how happy the players are to be working on skill development through drills instead the old run-til-you-puke approach.)

    Don’t worry about those contracts, Brent has ‘em all written down in his notebook.

  4. Bob
    June 23, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

    I read Gary Parrish’s article with much the same sense of irony; but here’s the thing, if we’re reading these articles in the summer, we’re pretty much MU basketball junkies, and we assume that Buzz’s goals would be the same as ours. We want the MU basketball program to continue to improve, and hopefully to win another national title. It seems reasonable that our coach would have the same goals, and would want to build on the team’s recent successes. In that regard, it does seem like Buzz pussed out after failing to live up to the ever rising expectations of fans this past season.

    But all of that assumes that Buzz’s ultimate goal was to win basketball games. What if that wasn’t his primary motivation? His stated goal was always to be a basketball coach. But he never said his goal was to win a national title. At Marquette, he had already exceeded his basketball goals in terms of winning. He said as much. So, if his real motivation is to be a coach, rather than a legendary coach, he would be looking for job security over success on the court. So his move to a lesser program makes sense, given the guarantees he was able to negotiate.

    I’d like to think that Buzz also had another, more meaningful purpose for wanting to be a coach, which was (is) to help other people like himself – an underdog who had no pedigree, no reason for anyone to give him a chance to prove what he was capable of doing. If his real purpose is to give guys like Jimmy Butler the chance to become an NBA starter, then MU was no longer the right place for him. The team’s success allowed him to recruit more highly regarded players – guys who had been told for years that they were already great. Not the guys who no one recruited out of high school, like Jimmy, or DJO, or Crowder – guys that could only succeed by being tougher than the critics.

    I always felt that Buzz’s weakness was in player development, at least in regards to top 100 prospects. Too many guys like Eric Williams who never panned out. That also seems to be the biggest gripe that has been coming out from his most recent former players since his departure. But let’s give him credit for helping some guys exceed all expectations, just like he has himself.

    I know it kind of sucks from our perspective that Buzz turned out not to be what we hoped him to be, but let’s not act like scorned lovers. He disappointed us, he left us behind, he didn’t fulfill our fantasies. Nope. He’s moved on, and we should too.

    Personally, I’m thankful for what Buzz contributed to Marquette’s national exposure and reputation. I don’t think we would have gotten Wojo without the accomplishment’s of the program under his watch. And let’s face it; Wojo is a better fit for the next stage that we hope the program progresses to.

  5. July 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly.
    I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both shhow
    the samme results.

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