Family comes first for Marquette coach
After securing a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament’s Round of 16 last Saturday, a smiling Marquette coach Buzz Williams climbed into the stands to find his family.
Once he got to them, his 8-year-old son, Calvin, jumped into his arms and hugged him. He also got a hug from his 10-year-old daughter, Zera, as his wife, Corey, patted him on the back.
Williams then leaned down and hugged his 2-year-old daughter, Addyson, whom he kissed on the top of the head.
Later, after his third-seeded team’s victory against No. 6 seed Murray State advance to Thursday’s West Regional semifinals, Williams praised his wife, with whom he has four children, for her sacrifices during his nomadic journey to becoming a head coach.
"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 an exhausted Williams, who spoke in a slow, gravelly voice.
"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 moment was among the most emotional of this NCAA tournament and humanized the folksy Williams in an era of often-robotic coaches.
But for all his candor, he is extremely guarded about a topic he has never spoken about publicly — his transient childhood, one in which his parents divorced before he started grade school.
"I’m not talking about it now," Williams said Wednesday.
Williams won’t because his parents’ divorce still torments him, decades later.
"That’s something in his life that he regrets growing up like that," said Lewis Orr, a team consultant for Marquette, who gave Williams his first coaching job at Navarro College in Texas as a student assistant in 1990.
Asked about his childhood Wednesday, on the eve of his Golden Eagles (27-7) facing No. 7 seed Florida (25-10), Williams dodged the matter repeatedly. He did so by talking about Van Alstyne, Texas, a rural town of about 3,000 almost an hour north of Dallas, where he lived a majority of his childhood.
He recalled how mechanical traffic-counting cords ran across Van Alstyne’s main intersection from when he was in fifth grade to his junior year of high school. They were to determine if a traffic signal should be installed, but after those seven years there still wasn’t enough vehicles to replace the juncture’s stop signs.
"I just grew up in a country town," said Williams, 39, who has a 96-44 career record. "Very simple values, morals. Go to church when the doors are open, be on time, go to school every day. If you don’t have to go to school, you need to wake up early and go to work."
But Williams lived in a couple of such Texas towns before he finally settled in Van Alstyne, where his father, Jim, and stepmother, Connie, still reside. They married in 1977, when Williams was 5 years old.
After his parents’ divorce, Williams and his mother, Trina, left Van Alstyne and moved about 35 minutes away to Celina, Texas, a town of about 5,200. He started grade school there and was known then as Brent, not Buzz, a nickname Orr gave him for buzzing around players.
Williams lived with his mother during the weekdays but stayed with his father in Van Alstyne every other weekend and some holidays. Back then, his father was a teacher and the music director at Elmont Baptist Church in Van Alstyne, which Williams attended during his youth.
Later, Williams and his mother, who also remarried, moved to Winnsboro, Texas, a town of about 3,500 an hour and a half southeast of Van Alstyne.
Yet throughout all the upheaval, Williams always adjusted well because of his outgoing personality, Connie Williams said.
"I’m not going to say that it wasn’t difficult for him, because what child wants their parents to be divorced?" she said. "But he took the situation in stride and was always very respectful. We were very fortunate."
Williams finally settled in Van Alstyne in fifth grade when he moved in with his father and stepmother, with whom he lived until he graduated from high school in 1990.
"It was just the right time for Brent to make the decision that he wanted to be back in the area that he knew well," said Connie Williams, who still refers to her stepson by his birth name.
She said Williams never was a problem for her and his father, who still is active in music as part of a Christian bluegrass duo called Gospel Fare.
"We were very fortunate and blessed," Connie Williams said. "He’s always kind of been the type where he knew what he wanted to do, knew what he wanted to achieve and he did it."
But while Williams is known as a tireless worker, especially in recruiting — and had nearly a dozen different coaching jobs in 18 years before succeeding Tom Crean at Marquette — his stepmother insisted his priorities, in order, are his faith, his wife and his children.
"Then I think basketball falls in there somewhere," Connie Williams said. "Family is important to him, and we’re thankful for that. We’re seeing him instill that in his children, and that’s important to us, too."
Williams’ dedication to his family was evident Wednesday. He walked into US Airways Arena with his arm around Calvin and later made sure the youngster went with him to a news conference.
"When you come up one way, you want to make sure you don’t have that in your family," Orr said of Williams’ parents’ divorce. "You want to make sure your family is a solid, unified group."
The Williamses seemed to be just that amid all the celebration after beating Murray State. Just like Buzz Williams always wanted.