COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Buzz Williams valued his time as an assistant under coach Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M more than a decade ago so much that as he was heading to the airport to fly to Texas to be introduced as the school's new coach he made sure the last call he made was to his former boss.
"I said: 'thanks and I'm coming home,'" Williams said choking back tears.
Williams, who was born and grew up in Texas, was introduced as Texas A&M's coach on Thursday, returning to the school where he spent 2004-06 as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
The former Virginia Tech coach raved about his two seasons with Gillispie and said he owes much of his success to him. Gillispie coached the Aggies from 2004-07, taking them to the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, and now is the coach at Ranger College.
"Coach means the world to me and if you look back at my career it's easy to say that if (Gillispie) wouldn't have hired me, I wouldn't have had the chances I've had," Williams said.
Williams replaces Billy Kennedy, who was fired last month after the Aggies went 14-18 in his eighth season. Williams comes to Texas A&M after spending five seasons at Virginia Tech, where he made the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons, capped by a trip to the Sweet 16 this year.
He never imagined returning to Texas A&M as the head coach.
"I think it's bigger than any dream I had ... I can't even believe this happened," he said.
The school held a pep rally-like event to welcome Williams to Texas A&M. Held on the basketball court it featured the school's band, dance team and a speech by Texas A&M system board of regents chairman Charles W. Schwartz. He made four jokes involving the word "buzz" during the short speech and fans entering the event were given white T-shirts emblazoned with maroon letters that read: "The Buzz is Back."
Williams led Virginia Tech to at least 20 wins in each of the past four seasons and the team finished 26-9 and 12-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. The appearance in the Sweet 16 was the second in school history and it's the first time the Hokies have made the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons.
He met with his new team on Wednesday night and immediately scheduled a 6 a.m. workout for Thursday so he could start getting acquainted with his players. Sophomore guard TJ Starks described Wednesday night's meeting with Williams.
"It was intense," Starks said. "He just came with a lot of energy, he wanted to make a statement, let it be known that he wanted to make a change for the Aggie culture. ... He just implied that it's going to be his way or the highway so we just have to listen to him and do whatever he says and just trust that he's going to get us to where we need to be."
Williams didn't visit campus before taking the job and said he hadn't been to College Station since he left in 2006. His conversations and meetings with Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward made it clear to him that this is where he wanted to be.
"We had great symmetry from the very beginning," Williams said. "Anytime there's alignment from the top down I think that's always a great starting point."
Texas A&M made the Sweet 16 in two of the previous three seasons before this year's struggles. The Aggies hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2011 before their appearance in 2016 in Kennedy's fifth season.
Before taking over at Virginia Tech, Williams spent six seasons at Marquette. He went 139-69 and led the Golden Eagles to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, with a trip to the regional final in the 2012-13 season. His first head coaching job came at New Orleans, where he went 14-17 in 2006-07 before moving to Marquette as an assistant.