Gary Williams got to say one last emotional goodbye -- and deliver one more fist pump -- thanks to a successful Facebook campaign by students to add the retired basketball coach as a speaker at the University of Maryland's graduation.
His name wasn't even in the program, but Williams was by far the big attraction Thursday before thousands of students, guests and families inside a packed Comcast Center. He was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of "Gary" as he stood behind the podium inside the building that he essentially built over 22 years and a school-record 461 wins.
But it was the mention of the Terrapins' former home that had him fighting back tears during his short but nostalgic speech.
"We all have some talent, and we have to put it to use. I was fortunate to be able to do it here at Cole Field House," Williams said.
He then paused to gather himself. The crowd cheered. Someone yelled "We love you, Gary."
Williams went on to reference the three men's basketball seniors who were graduating, ending with: "I thought I'd go out with you guys. Beat Duke!"
"It was hard. It was hard to put into words,'' Williams said afterward. "I was always considered an emotional coach, so I tried to get into that mode because you're in Comcast Center. A lot of
times when you're coaching you're right on the edge of doing something really stupid, so I was able to use that today to get through that. But that was probably one of the tougher speeches I've ever given."
But he wasn't done.
The students asked him to return to the stage to give a fist pump as the signal to move their tassels and make their graduation official. The spectators accompanied the moment by lowering their arms and saying "Whoooosh" -- as if a Maryland player was making a free throw.
Now, Williams is done with his goodbye speeches.
"This is the new coach's time. He needs the cooperation of everyone," said Williams, who will serve as an assistant to athletic director Kevin Anderson. "I'll do my part, but it'll be behind the scenes."