Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats": Jacksonville and Furman's Joe Williams

November 6th, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer spent some time with Joe Williams, who put together impressive runs at both Jacksonville and Furman. During his time at JU Williams led the Dolphins to an NCAA title game appearance, coaching Artis Gilmore and Rex Morgan on that 1970 team. Williams also led Furman to multiple NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure there.

Jon Teitel: According to my interview of Artis Gilmore, you had no training rules and scribbled scouting reports on the backs of envelopes. Is that true, and do you think it was easier for you relate to your Jacksonville players because you were such a young man yourself?

Joe Williams: My only two training rules were the attend class (or explain why you did not attend) and play hard when you stepped on the court (whether it was a preseason drill or an NCAA tourney game).

JT: In 1970 your team at JU became the first to ever average 100+PPG for an entire season, despite no shot clock or three-point line. How was your team able to score so many points, and what kind of offense did you run?

JW: We ran a controlled break. Broadcaster Ed Jucker once said on the air in a specific game that he had not seen us take a bad shot yet. Rex Morgan had averaged almost 30 PPG the previous year and then we added Artis who averaged about 20 RPG, so the only way to make sure everyone would have good stats was for the point guard to quickly push the ball up the court with two guys out on the wing. We had a rule that unless you had a wide-open 2-on-1 situation, you had to wait for Artis to come down the floor so he could have a chance to rebound!

1970 NCAA Tournament

JT: Your basketball program had such a small budget that you had to "pass the hat" among the boosters to raise enough money to pay for the team's hotel rooms. How big of a disadvantage was the size of your program, and do you feel like your run in the tourney helped save the program?

JW: We played in Dayton that year and it was snowing pretty hard. We got a restaurant recommendation that turned out to be a little more expensive than we thought, so a booster helped pay for the meal. When I first got to JU I had to teach five classes and I had a $250 recruiting budget. As we got better we started to sell more season tickets and got money from the booster club to increase our budget.

JT: You beat Western Kentucky (led by Jim McDaniels with 29 points) in your school's first-ever game on national TV after walking into the gym and seeing a "Jacksonville Who?" sign. Did you feel that your team was getting no respect at all, and how big a deal was it to get the first tournament win in school history?

JW: It was a big sign that everyone could see. Western Kentucky had a great team and built an early lead before setting up a press against us. We had a lot of good ball-handlers so we just kept dribbling around them and getting some easy shots. After that game nobody pressed us anymore (not even UCLA!), which was a compliment to our team.

JT: You had a one-point win over Iowa (led by Fred Brown with 27 points) when Pembrook Burrows tipped in a last-second miss by Vaughn Wedeking for the win (and later wrote a song about the game). Did you think that your team was going to hang on after Artis Gilmore fouled out, and where does Burrows' tip-in rank among the best fantastic finishes that you have ever seen?

JW: I heard that there were some people in Iowa who broke their TV sets after that shot! Iowa had a great team: anytime you can make it that far you have to be a little lucky. We had to slow down the pace of the game and control the tempo because they kept scoring and scoring.

JT: You had a six-point win over Coach Adolph Rupp's top-ranked Kentucky team (led by Dan Issel with 28 points and 10 rebounds before he fouled out with 10 minutes left). Did the momentum completely turn once Issel fouled out, and what did you learn from walking around the day before in a brown suit?

JW: I only had one really nice suit, but I got the brown suit because Coach Rupp had a brown suit. My birthday is in February and the boosters picked out some clothes for me to wear and presented them to me during a TV interview.

JT: You had an eight-point win over St. Bonaventure (who played without star center Bob Lanier, who injured his knee in an earlier tourney game against Villanova). Do you think you would have won that game if Lanier was healthy, and how far did you think that your team was going to go?

JW: We just really enjoyed playing and our team had a lot of charisma. We played in Hawaii earlier that year and the entire team ended up getting Hawaiian shirts and puka shell necklaces. When the players walked into the gym for their game dressed up in their new attire, the home crowd gave us a huge ovation. Everywhere we went to eat people complimented us on how good our team was. The key to discipline is not about screaming and hollering, but whether a player does something that you ask him to do.

JT: Gilmore shot 9-29 from the field before fouling out in a title game loss to Coach John Wooden's UCLA team (led by Sidney Wicks with 17 points and 18 rebounds, who blocked four of Gilmore's shots despite being six inches shorter). Did you consider your run in the tourney to be a success (due to making it to the title game) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)?

JW: We were very proud of our team: I told the players not to say anything negative because we played hard and lost to a great team, so there was nothing for them to be ashamed of. That was one of the first years that almost all of the games were televised. Every time we came back from another tourney win, the entire route from the airport to campus was full of fans who were excited about our team. A Louisville newspaper even wrote about how nice it was to see a losing team not blame anyone else for the loss.

JT: After that game you left JU to become coach at Furman. Why did you make the switch, and did you have any regrets?

JW: I had previously been an assistant coach at Furman, and it is a beautiful part of the country. They offered me a tremendous financial offer to come and build a program, and JU did not really do anything to try and keep me there. At the end of every season you have to assess what you want to do.

JT: What are your memories of the 1973 NCAA Tournament (you were down by 18 with 10 minutes to go against Syracuse, and fought all the way back before losing by one)?

JW: That was a great game: we actually had the lead late. Syracuse pressed us and one of our players was called for traveling, but today the refs let that call go all the time. Syracuse went on to the Final Four, so they were a good team.

JT: What are your memories of the 1974 NCAA Tournament (upset South Carolina before losing to Pitt)?

JW: We had an outstanding player named Clyde Mayes, but South Carolina had a great club featuring Alex English. Clyde just took over the game in the second half. We had a slight lead against Pitt late in the game but they had a four-point play that gave them the momentum, and Billy Knight was pretty tough.

JT: In 1978 you left Furman to go to Florida State, where you joined a short list of coaches who have taken three different teams to the tourney and had a winning record at each school. How were you able to have so much success at so many different schools?

JW: The key is to have good players and a sound system. If they play hard and get good grades, then you will probably win. Coach Wooden (who was nice to everyone) once told me that even though people like to talk about who the best coaches are, the coach with the best players is usually the one who wins. He also said that the way to tell if you have a good defense is not how many points you allow, but how big your scoring margin is.

JT: You are on an even shorter list of men who are the best coaches in the history of two different schools (Furman and Jacksonville). Did you enjoy one job more than another, and do you think that is a good litmus test for seeing just how good a coach someone is?

JW: I enjoyed both jobs even though they were different kinds of programs. They are both in big cities, so I got help from both communities in building up the programs. I told people that since our school is called Jacksonville University we were representing the entire city. When you play in a big downtown arena it helps the chamber of commerce and local business get behind you. The players also enjoyed playing in a big arena. You can find unique things at each school to "sell" people on it. One of the reasons that I was successful at Furman was because of all the success I had at JU. Back in the day you could go see high school players a lot to aid in the recruiting process, but the NCAA now limits such things, which gives a big advantage to big schools. Butler is a great example of a school with a great tradition that has a big arena that is tied in with a large city.

JT: Your son Blake was recently named an assistant coach at Furman. Did you inspire him to go into coaching, and do you think it will be easier or harder for him to coach at Furman after all of your prior success there?

JW: Both of my sons were captains of their high school and college teams. Blake loved basketball and worked really hard on drills to become better. Blake played on some great summer league teams in high school. One of his teammates was Amare Stoudemire! When you have the passion like he and I do it is not considered "hard work", just "time-consuming". I think that my success at Furman will make it easier for Blake. I was invited back there to speak recently and everyone is still excited about the basketball program. Head coach Jeff Jackson is a fine young guy and he is excited about Blake being there.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?

JW: When I was coaching I had some really fine players who graduated. At Furman every single freshman we had ended up graduating, and Artis was the first person in his family who graduated. All of my players were good students/positive kids.

Coach Williams is on Jon's list of best coaches in both Atlantic Sun and SoCon history.

Belmont: Rick Byrd (1986-present) 518-278, 4 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
East Tennessee State: Murry Bartow (2003-present) 162-98, 3 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Florida Gulf Coast: Dave Balza (2001-2011) 153-121, 1 NCAA tourney
Jacksonville: Joe Williams (1964-1970) 92-61, 1 NCAA tourney
Kennesaw State: Tony Ingle (2000-2011) 178-165, 1 D-2 national title, 1-time national COY, 1-time conference COY
Lipscomb: Don Meyer (1975-1999) 663-181, 1 NAIA title, 2-time national COY
Mercer: Bill Bibb (1974-1989) 222-194, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2-time conference COY
North Florida: Matt Kilcullen (1999-2009) 98-186
South Carolina Upstate: Eddie Payne (2002-present) 120-146, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY
Stetson: Glenn Wilkes (1957-1993) 552-435

Appalachian State: Buzz Peterson (1996-2000, 2009-2010) 103-52, 1 NCAA tourney, 4 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Charleston: John Kresse (1979-2002) 560-143, 4 NCAA tourneys, 9 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
Chattanooga: Mack McCarthy (1985-1997) 243-122, 5 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Citadel: Les Robinson (1974-1985) 132-162, 2-time conference COY
Davidson: Bob McKillop (1989-present) 401-263, 5 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 6-time conference COY
Elon: Bill Miller (1959-1979) 329-224, 2 conference titles
Furman: Joe Williams (1970-1978) 142-87, 5 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Georgia Southern: Frank Kerns (1981-1995) 244-132, 3 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
UNC Greensboro: Fran McCaffery (1999-2005) 90-87, 1 NCAA tourney, 1 conference title
Samford: Jimmy Tillette (1997-present) 218-200, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY
Western Carolina: Steve Cottrell (1977-1987) 145-133, 1-time conference COY
Wofford: Mike Young (2002-present) 137-139, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles