UNC Basketball: Why every UNC fan should love Roy Williams


Despite criticism from fans and colleagues, Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams stands the test of time

Over the course of his 28-year career as a head basketball coach, Roy Williams has been the consummate picture of consistency.

Through adversity and the challenges of a changing culture in college basketball, Williams has remained consistent in his approach. To the chagrin of some, he’s been reluctant to change his style of coaching and recruiting. But the results he’s produced are hard to argue with.

In 1988, Williams took over a Kansas basketball program that faced probation due to violations that took place before his arrival. The Jayhawks were banned from postseason play in his first season in Lawrence.

After that year, his teams would never miss the postseason again and appeared in four NCAA Regional Championships.

Upon accepting the vacant head coaching position at the University of North Carolina, Williams knew he’d have to rebuild a program that had been underachieving under the tutelage of head coach Matt Doherty. Just two seasons into his tenure at UNC, Williams led the Tar Heels to a victory in the 2005 NCAA Championship game. It was his first title as a head coach and the teams’ first since 1993.

Throughout his time as a head coach, Williams has been publicly criticized by many. At Kansas, the criticism revolved around his inability to win a national championship. Although his teams were often considered the best in the country, not once was he able to cut down the nets and hoist the NCAA championship trophy.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Since being at North Carolina, Williams has been widely criticized for not adapting to the current era of college basketball.

Many disagree with his reluctance to modernize his coaching style in an ever-changing environment. Despite winning two national titles with the Tar Heels, fans continue to show their frustration with Williams.

Some, nearly annually, call for his dismissal from the program.

Even his own colleagues are critical of him.

In a 2012 poll of nearly 100 college basketball coaches, 23 percent voted that Roy Williams was the most overrated coach in college basketball. Second to Williams was Rick Barnes with 17 percent and Baylor’s Scott Drew rounded out the top three with 11 percent.

One coach anonymously stated of Williams, “He’s won at Kansas and UNC. But who couldn’t do that … besides Matt Doherty?”

Through it all, Williams has defied his critics and proven them wrong.

After eight Final Fours, four national title game appearances and two national championships, Roy Williams remains one of the most relevant and dominant individuals in the coaching profession.

With an undying passion and an unwavering hand, he continues to lead his program the way he always has.

And likely always will.

His love of UNC

Williams loves the University of North Carolina.

It’s just a few hours from where he was born in Marion, North Carolina. Not much further is the town of Asheville, North Carolina where he spent his formative years.

It’s there that he attended T.C. Robertson High school where he lettered all four years and was named to both the all-county and all-conference teams in 1967 and 1968. He’s given credit to his high school basketball coach, Buddy Baldwin, as being one of the greatest influences in his life.

Williams went on to the University of North Carolina where he would play basketball as a freshman under head coach Dean Smith. It was in his sophomore year though that he found his true passion; on the bench. It was then that he began learning from Smith as he sat in the bleachers during practices, taking notes on Smith’s coaching.

In 1978, after coaching five years at Charles D. Owen High School, Williams came back to Chapel Hill to take an assistant coaching position under Smith. Williams is said to have been instrumental in the recruitment of Michael Jordan, who would hit the game-winning shot of the 1982 national championship game. Williams spent 10 years as an assistant coach before taking the vacant head coaching position at Kansas.

Williams was loved in Lawrence, and he was wildly successful as the Kansas basketball coach. After four Final Four appearances and narrowly missing a national championship on two occasions, he was in line to have the court at Phog Allen Fieldhouse named after him. Of course, these things made it exponentially tougher to return home when he was given the opportunity.

After turning down the UNC head coaching position in 2000, he eventually agreed to return home in 2003 to fill the vacancy left by the departed Matt Doherty. It was then that Williams’ career, and life, had truly come full circle.

He was back to the place that he’d attended college thirty years prior. He was back to the place where he’d first met his wife, Wanda as a freshman in 1968. He was back to the place that he had learned the game of basketball from the game’s greatest coach.

His loyalty

Roy Williams has been questioned about a great many things, from his coaching style to his ability to lure big time recruits to his program. He’s answered seemingly endless questions regarding NCAA allegations revolving around the UNC academic scandal. Even questions of his confidence in one player over another in the starting lineup seem exhausted by now.

One thing that is never questioned of Roy Williams is his loyalty.

It’s loyalty that kept Williams from taking a head coaching position until he was 38 years old. As an assistant under legendary coach Dean Smith, Williams was perfectly comfortable in his position learning from his friend and mentor. It wasn’t until the storied University of Kansas men’s basketball program approached Williams that he finally left UNC to accept his first head coaching position.

It was loyalty that kept Williams at Kansas in 2000 when Smith called and offered him the head coaching position at UNC as successor to Bill Guthridge. As understandable as it would have been for Williams to leave KU for his alma mater, it was loyalty to his players that kept Williams in Lawrence. He’d stay at Kansas to finish what he saw as a possibility to win a national title with players like Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison.

As it turns out, Williams, Hinrich and Collison fell just short of that goal in a national title game loss to Syracuse in 2003.

Yet again, it was loyalty that brought Williams back to UNC after the heartbreaking loss in the 2003 NCAA Championship game. Having already turned down his beloved friend three years prior, Williams was unable to reject Smith’s offer the second time around.

After a week of deliberation, Williams accepted Smith’s offer and became the head coach of the North Carolina men’s basketball program. The prospect of returning to his home state and alma mater was simply too much for Williams to turn down.

Loyalty has been at the forefront of every Roy Williams decision since he became a head coach in 1988. It’s his loyalty and not his wins, that should define Roy Williams long after he’s retired from the game of basketball.

His steadfastness

Williams isn’t easily rattled. He’s never a victim of the moment.

He’s not quick to make changes even when something appears to be broken. He’s far more likely to stick with a plan too long than to abandon it prematurely. He’ll see a situation through and explore multiple solutions rather than look for an exit strategy at the first sign of trouble.

Williams is confident in his approach and won’t change his methods due to short-term results that may not reflect his initial plan. This is demonstrated by his reluctance to change the strategies he’s been using on and off the court over the past three decades.

Apr 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams gestures against the Villanova Wildcats in the first half in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men
Apr 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams gestures against the Villanova Wildcats in the first half in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men /

He’s often been criticized for refusing to call a timeout and forcing his players to work their way out of trouble, a strategy he learned from former UNC coach Dean Smith. Smith preferred his players figure it out the hard way, knowing that it would better prepare them for difficult situations during more important games in the future.

Williams has also remained confident in players rather than replacing them when they struggle. His support of Marcus Paige, who suffered a shooting slump for the better part of two years, never wavered. He believed in Brice Johnson and continued to show confidence in him despite his lack of physical and emotional maturity during his first two seasons in Chapel Hill. Although Reyshawn Terry struggled mightily through his first two seasons at UNC, Williams helped the young player work through his troubles and Terry became an important contributor as a junior. Despite “personality conflicts” with shooting guard Rashad McCants, he stuck with the talented sharpshooter the entire way through their national title run in 2005.

The English word “steadfast” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “very devoted or loyal to a person, belief or cause : not changing”. Google defines the word as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering”.

Perhaps it’s this word, steadfast, that best describes the stubborn, resilient nature of North Carolina’s Hall of Fame head coach.

His admiration for Dean Smith

“Coach Smith”.

That’s how Roy Williams addressed UNC head coach Dean Smith when he took an assistant coaching position with the Tar Heels in 1978. It’s how he addressed him 10 years later when he left to take his first head coaching position at Kansas. It’s the way he referred to him throughout his 15 years at the University of Kansas before returning to North Carolina in 2003. He called him “Coach Smith” just days before his passing in 2015. During Williams’ eulogy of Smith, he still spoke fondly of him using the same moniker.

And still, today if you hear Roy Williams speak of his mentor and friend, nothing has changed. It’s with the utmost reverence and admiration, using only the title “Coach Smith”.

It’s not because Smith wanted Williams to address him in such a way. Smith had asked Williams to call him “Dean” on a number of occasions and the notion was swiftly denied. Williams felt and still feels like it would be disrespectful to refer to Smith by anything other than a formal title like “sir” or “coach”.

“If you ever hear anybody say that Roy Williams said Dean said this, you know it’s a lie,” Williams said. “Because I’ve never referred to him as anything other than Coach Smith.”

Roy Williams didn’t just respect Dean Smith. He revered him. He cherished him as a friend, a colleague, a teacher and a mentor.

Williams continues to conduct himself in a way that reflects the teachings of Smith. Many of the methods in which Smith recruited players and coached them is still the basis for which Williams approaches the game of basketball.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit,” Smith used to tell his players. It was one of his favorite quotes from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who Smith looked up to as a young man. Williams has continued to use the quote in the years since Smith’s coaching career ended, teaching his players that the team is greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps the greatest and most symbolic tribute to the late coach was Williams’ use of the “Four Corners” offense in a 2015 game against Georgia Tech. Just after the game’s opening tip, on the first offensive possession of the game, Williams called the play from the UNC bench. Williams stood up and with four fingers held high in the air, he signaled to point guard Marcus Paige to run Smith’s signature offense.

And they played it to perfection.

With the Tar Heels in their 1980’s throwback uniforms, Paige threw four fingers in the air as he dribbled the ball near mid-court. The UNC starters responded, each player moving to his respective corner of the court.

After just a few seconds, Paige found a cutting Brice Johnson in the low post for a reverse lay-up.

His resume

With nearly 800 wins, eight Final Fours and two national titles, Williams has asserted himself as one of the most dominant figures in the coaching profession.

Between his time spent at Kansas and North Carolina, he’s had 11 seasons of 30 or more wins. His teams have finished at the top of the conference standings 16 times and won their conference tournament seven times.

He’s made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament 26 of the 28 seasons he’s been a head coach (ineligible in 1988-89). Of the 26 times he’s been in the NCAA Tournament, his team has earned a number-one seed 11 times. He’s won 70 NCAA Tournament games to only 24 losses. His postseason win total is second all-time only to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Williams has never lost a first round NCAA Tournament game. Krzyzewski has lost four such games.

And if written form doesn’t impress you, just take a look below at the list of Williams’ accomplishments.

National Championships – 2
(UNC – 2)

Final Four Appearances – 8
(Kansas – 4, UNC – 4)

NCAA Tournament Appearances – 26
(Kansas – 14, UNC – 12)

NCAA Tournament Number-One Seeds – 11
(Kansas – 5, UNC – 6)

Conference Championships – 16
(Kansas – 9, UNC – 7)

Conference Tournament Championships – 7
(Kansas – 4, UNC – 3)

Wins/Loss Record – 783-209
(Kansas – 418-101 / UNC – 365-108)

30-Win Seasons – 11
(Kansas – 5, UNC – 6)

National Coach of the Year – 3
(Kansas – 2, UNC – 1)

Conference Coach of the Year – 9
(Kansas – 7, UNC – 2)

College Basketball Hall of Fame – 2006

Basketball Hall of Fame – 2007

So I Ask You…

So I ask you, entitled UNC “fan”, what will it take for you to approve of Roy Williams? What must he achieve to get your support and respect? When will you quit trying to petition his termination on a yearly basis. Will your Twitter rants ever end? Will your anonymous forum posts ever take a positive stance? At what point will you stop offering your genius advice about who you’d have replace him? Even Tony Bennett and Shaka Smart are tired of this narrative.

Perhaps the worst of all fans is you, entitled forum basher. It’s you who sits behind your computer lashing out at those who’ve achieved so much, yet don’t live up to your impossible standards.

We’re not telling you to support a different team, though we know you’re likely a Yankees, Patriots and Crimson Tide fan. We’re simply asking you to stop your complaining. We’re asking you to ease up on your “Fire Roy” hashtags. Take a day off from your knee jerk reactions on fan forums.

It’s okay to question the status quo, but a one point loss to a top-25 team in December might not warrant the firing of a Hall of Fame coach.