Legendary college basketball coach says it’s time

Roy Williams/Photo Courtesy of Gerry Broome(Associated Press)

Legendary college basketball coach says  it’s time
April 07
12:36 2021

At first I thought it was an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke. Once I realized that it was true, I couldn’t believe it. The iconic Roy Williams has retired from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

As I type the words, it still does not seem real to me. At 70 years of age and 33 years as a head coach, he has done it all as a head coach. Williams has also had some chronic health issues that have come up as well, but that still does not ease the sting of his retirement.

Williams spent 15 years as the head coach for the Kansas Jayhawks before coming home to coach the Tar Heels. He spent 18 seasons as the head coach in Chapel Hill, collecting three national championships along the way, one more than his mentor and former UNC head coach, Dean Smith.

Over the years, Williams has accumulated enough accolades, trophies and honors to fill any room. His 903 wins rank third all time and he is the only coach in history to have 400 wins at two different schools. He was also elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

“It has been a thrill. It has been unbelievable. I’ve loved it,” said Williams during a news conference to announce his retirement at the Smith Center. “It’s coaching.  And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since the summer after my ninth-grade year of high school. No one has ever enjoyed coaching like I have for 48 years.”

Williams began his head coaching career at Kansas as a relatively unknown assistant coming from UNC. He not only succeeded during his tenure at Kansas, he carried on the storied tradition of the school. Williams was 418-101 overall and 175-49 in conference play. He took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours and two national championship game appearances in 1991 and 2003.

Kansas was the winningest team of the 1990s. The Jayhawks had several teams during Williams’ tenure that had what it took to win the national championship, but always came up short. It began to feel as though Williams would always be a runner-up at best, because he was never able to get his teams over the hump. That all changed once he arrived in Chapel Hill, however.

His arrival in Chapel Hill happened a few years later than many people assumed. Bill Guthridge took over for Smith when he retired in 1997. Guthridge led the Tar Heels for three seasons before retiring in 2000 and many thought that Williams was next in line to take the position.

There was a media storm surrounding the Williams’ decision. After a week of speculation, Williams chose to stay at Kansas and Matt Doherty was hired at UNC. Doherty’s time in Chapel Hill only lasted three years, which once again opened the door for Williams and this time he came home.

UNC was coming off some down years, but luckily for Williams, he inherited some top talent from Doherty. McDonald’s All-Americans Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants were already on the team. Williams added freshman Marvin Williams in his second season, which was enough for Williams to win his first national title as a head coach in 2005.

Williams continued his winning ways throughout his time in Chapel Hill. He tacked on two more national championships in 2009 and 2017. Williams ended his career at Chapel Hill with a blowout loss to Wisconsin 85-62 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This marked the first time Williams has lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a head coach, as he was previously 29-0.

“Everybody wants to know the reason, and the reason is very simple,” Williams said. “Every time somebody asked me how long I was going to go, I’d always say, ‘As long as my health allows me to do it.’

“But deep down inside, I knew the only thing that would speed that up was if I did not feel that I was any longer the right man for the job. I no longer feel that I am the right man for the job.”

I must admit that I was shocked to hear that Williams was retiring. It seems that Chapel Hill was headed in the right direction with the current roster and the recruits they had coming in next season. I thought at the age of 70, that Williams might stick around a few more years to make another run at a championship.

“I love coaching, working the kids on the court, the locker room, the trips, the jump around music, the trying to build a team,” Williams continued. “I will always love that. And I’m scared to death of the next phase. But I no longer feel that I’m the right man.”

Williams will go down as one of the greatest college basketball coaches in the history of the game. If you want to be honest, he really had two hall of fame careers with what he was able to accomplish at Kansas and with the Tar Heels.

One of the biggest things I think will be affected is the rivalry between UNC and Duke University. It is arguably the best rivalry in all of sports, whether collegiate or professional. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke head coach, says he was “surprised” to hear that Williams was retiring.

“College basketball is losing one if its greatest coaches and a man who genuinely cares about the game of basketball, and more importantly, the people who play it,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Roy has led two iconic programs as a head coach and did so in exemplary fashion. I have the utmost respect for Roy and his family, who represented themselves and their institutions with class, grace and humility.

“While we were on opposite sides of college basketball’s greatest rivalry, we both understood how lucky we were to be part of it and always tried to represent it in the way it deserved. Personally, I will miss competing against him, seeing him at coaches’ meetings and having the opportunity to discuss how to make our game even better. Roy is a great friend, and our sport was very fortunate to have him as long as it did. We have all benefitted from his longevity in and commitment to coaching. His legacy is secure as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.”

I am wondering how the retirement of Williams will affect the recruiting of players that have already signed their letters of intent, along with the players that are considering UNC. That puts even more importance on the successor to Williams.

There were several names mentioned as possible contenders for Williams’ position.  Names like Jerry Stackhouse, Steve Robinson, Hubert Davis, Scott Drew and Wes Miller. All the coaches mentioned are quality guys, but we all know it takes more than that to lead the Tar Heels. The ability to recruit in a tough ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) is a necessity. The suspense ended when it was announced that Hubert Davis, assistant coach for the Tarheels, will take over as head coach, becoming the first Black coach for UNC.

Davis will join an elite club. The UNC job is one of the best in college basketball. 

Coach Williams will be missed and will never be forgotten as a legend in Chapel Hill.

About Author

Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors