MILWAUKEE — There are butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Lion chasers, too.
Welcome to the world according to Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Throughout his four-year tenure as the Golden Eagles’ head coach, Williams has gone out of his way to say that “it’s not about me’’ — that people should pay attention to the accomplishments of his players rather than anything he does.
But then Williams is liable to say something that gets people, well, buzzing. Just like he did during a news conference after Saturday’s victory over Murray State, when an emotionally drained Williams paid tribute to his wife, Corey, for putting up with him during his unlikely journey to become the head coach at a major program.
“The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, show up and go to work and do it every day no matter what’s surrounding you,’’ said Williams, speaking slowly and nearly at a whisper after yelling himself hoarse during the game. “That’s really hard, man. You got to be a lion chaser to be married to me. She’s tougher than all them kids we play with. It’s really humbling. Really humbling.’’
The clip became fodder for social media, sports talk radio and newspaper columns — yet another example of Williams’ unfiltered approach generating attention.
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Williams also made waves with his feet earlier this year, earning the ire of West Virginia fans by dancing on the court after his Golden Eagles beat the Mountaineers. A few days before his team began NCAA tournament play, Williams noted that the Golden Eagles “peed down our leg’’ in a Big East tournament loss to Louisville.
With his team preparing to board a plane for Phoenix to face Florida in a regional semifinal matchup Thursday, Williams was reminded that many people in his profession go out of their way not to say or do just about anything that might be considered interesting.
“I probably shouldn’t do it,’’ Williams said. “Because I think maybe the reason why a lot of guys don’t do it, in hindsight, they’re probably more mature and have more wisdom than I do. Because the critique of my postgame comments, it’s taken on, it’s become a world of its own. And about 95 percent of what I have been emailed and called and written has been extremely positive. But the five percent I haven’t, it’s been astonishing to me. I’ve learned a lot since Saturday night.’’
Asked what’s wrong with showing a little personality, Williams said it “backfires on you sometimes’’ but didn’t seem inclined to change.
“I can only be who I am and who I am has nothing to do with my title,’’ Williams said. “And sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad I guess. But I am who I am. That doesn’t mean that it’s right, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I don’t say any of it in an arrogant way. None of it is a show. It’s raw emotion. It’s who I am. And whether I’m the head coach at Marquette or somewhere else, I’m going to be who I am. And if that works, that works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’’
So far, it works. Williams was relatively unknown when he was elevated from assistant to head coach in 2008 after Tom Crean left for Indiana. Now Williams is taking the Golden Eagles to the second week of the tournament for the second year in a row.
And a school that celebrates the legacy of Al McGuire certainly is used to colorful coaches.
Williams’ accomplishments certainly have caught the eye of other college programs. And while Williams’ name seems to come up more and more with each passing offseason, he has so far spurned offers to leave.
Williams speaks frequently about character, praising players who weren’t highly regarded recruits coming out of high school and came to Marquette from junior-college backgrounds.
That message has been derailed at times by a handful of off-the-court incidents. The most recent came Tuesday, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that six players had been ticketed for being in a nightclub earlier this year despite being not old enough to drink.
Williams said he handled the situation when it happened in January. He did not disclose details of any discipline.
“All I can do is be accountable to our kids,’’ Williams said. “And they’ve been accountable, and I’ve been accountable.’’
Players speak fondly of Williams, and acknowledge that his coaching style is unique — an avalanche of statistics, with some offbeat phrases and unique motivational techniques mixed in.
Forward Jamil Wilson said he didn’t watch his coach’s most recent news conference that got everybody talking. But he certainly heard about it.
“After the last one, one of my friends texted me,’’ Wilson said. “And he was like, ‘What is your coach talking about? What did he mean? He said something about a baker.’’’
Wilson said spontaneous is the best way to describe Williams’ style.
“He might say some things that you’ll be like, ‘What?’ Or just a bunch of numbers and you’re like, ‘Huh?’ But that’s just him,’’ Wilson said. “He’s a good guy and there’s a motive behind everything that he does, even though at the time you’re like, ‘This isn’t really going anywhere.’’’
It wasn’t Williams’ first memorable news conference. Asked about his humble roots during last year’s tournament, he spent several minutes retelling a significant chunk of his life story.
In his defense, it’s a pretty good story.
He got his start in coaching as a student assistant at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. He went out to meet every college coach he could from there, then began writing frequent letters to all of them in hopes of getting his foot in the door. He eventually landed a $400-per-month assistant job at Texas-Arlington in 1994, and worked his way up the ladder.
“You’ll never meet another coach like him,’’ Big East player of the year Jae Crowder said.