When things were going well for Marquette University basketball in March 2012 and through all of last basketball season, Buzz Williams would often greet a Milwaukee media member in an availability with a furrowed brow.
He didn’t know who they were, or where they worked. He maybe wouldn't answer their question because they "weren’t there" for previous games.
"You show up for Ohio State (or Wisconsin, or Syracuse)," is something he would say.
But then, this past year, something strange happened. The man who consistently won 20-plus games and made deep NCAA Tournament runs, the man who liked to wonder where the media was and made no secret about it, suddenly was nowhere to be found himself.
As the Golden Eagles racked up losses in a year where they could no longer play the underdog card in the revamped Big East, Williams stopped making himself available outside of games.
Then, he was gone for good.
Rumblings of his departure began in earnest Monday afternoon with those in know, heated up on Tuesday among prominent alumni within the city, and a lot of unhappy-looking Marquette officials Thursday during the NCAA Tournament games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center meant Friday’s announcement was not totally surprising.
The common thought among many affiliated with the program was surprise not that he left, but that he left for a bottom-feeder program like Virginia Tech.
I have my own theories on that, but it’s not worth taking out the sword. Williams is gone, and the administration must find its third head coach in 15 years.
Nearly every name under the sun has been tossed about regarding this position, which speaks more to Marquette’s "standing" in the game than the fact Tom Crean and Williams have left. Would Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall or Brian Wardle be interested in the job? Sure. Why not? Would a high level assistant at Kansas, Duke or Louisville? Sure. Why not?
It’s a funny thing, having to talk about Marquette’s "standing" or its "reputation."
It’s funny, to me, that alumni feel "disrespected" when a coach leaves for another program. It’s 2014. Coaches are going to leave voluntarily if you’re not Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina. It is what it is. And it’s no disrespect. Crean left, Williams came in and won. Williams has left, and the next coach will come in and win. There’s no reason to pine for what’s gone or worry about what’s to come.
This isn’t DePaul.
Marquette runs a premier program. It spares no expense. All of that works, too. There are few teams who have accomplished as much as the Golden Eagles since the turn of the century, as the team has averaged 23 wins a season since 2001-02 and had a run of eight straight years in the tournament broken this year.
Over the last week, with much of the nation’s media in Milwaukee for the tournament and programs from large conferences vying for a berth to the Sweet 16, there was a lot of talk over the Big East and how "weak" it is. Perhaps this is why the coach left.
No longer could Marquette draft off Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut. Is that a bad thing? In some ways, maybe.
I see it the other way. It’s the flagship program in a conference now. The expectation is for it to win 20 or more games, contend for a conference title and make tournament runs.
It’s an enviable position to be in, but there’s more pressure because of it.
There will be plenty of qualified coaches lining up to take that on, though, and recent history says Marquette will find the right one to do just that.
And at about this time next year, when Duane Wilson, Deonte Burton and Luke Fischer have Marquette in the top 20 and rolling into the Sweet 16, people may wonder why the old coach left, but will likely revel in the fact that he did.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.