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The Most Tar Heel Of All Tar Heels: Roy Williams Announces Retirement

North Carolina Williams Basketball
Paul Sancya
/
AP
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams celebrates after his team's 89-72 victory over Michigan State in the championship game at the men's NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament in Detroit, in this Tuesday, April 7, 2009, file photo. North Carolina announced Thursday, April 1, 2021, that Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams is retiring after a 33-year career that includes three national championships.

In the most famous picture of the most iconic moment in Carolina basketball history, Roy Williams is sitting calmly on the bench at the Louisiana Superdome. Next to him are Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, and in front of him, knocking in a 17-footer from the left wing, is Michael Jordan.

Four Carolina legends over six decades. One photo.

Legends.jpeg
Allen Dean Steele / News & Observer via State Library of NC
Michael Jordan, as a UNC freshman, launches the winning shot against the Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 NCAA championship game in New Orleans.

Roy Williams may have been the most unlikely of those success stories, but with his retirement announcement on Thursday, there is no doubt he leaves the scene as the most Tar Heel of all Tar Heels.

Williams came to Carolina as an undersized hard-working teenager from a single-parent household in Asheville, and rose from student assistant to assistant coach, selling team calendars in the summer to supplement his then-middling coaching salary.

After a highly successful stint as a head coach at Kansas, he was everyone's first choice to replace Smith when he retired as Carolina's coach in 2000. Williams visited campus, talked to Smith, and eventually turned the job down.

Three years later, UNC fired Matt Doherty, and the North Carolina head coaching job was open again.

CBS reporter Bonnie Bernstein asked Williams about it mere moments after Kansas lost the national championship game.

Williams was not amused.

"I gotta think that in tough times that people should be more sensitive," he said, clearly agitated with Bernstein's question. "I could give a s**t about North Carolina right now."

A few weeks later, a calmer Williams announced he was coming home to Chapel Hill.

North Carolina Williams asketball
Ben McKeown
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., in this Tuesday, March 10, 2020, file photo. North Carolina announced Thursday, April 1, 2021, that Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams is retiring after a 33-year career that includes three national championships.

What followed was a run of success that challenged even his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams won three-quarters of his games in 18 seasons, including three national titles in 2005, 2009, and 2017.

Along the way, Williams' "daggums" and his locker room dancing spawned memes and parody Twitter accounts, and his coaching record reached Hall-of-Fame heights; he was inducted in 2007. He retires as the third all-time winningest NCAA Division I men's basketball coach, with 903 wins.

"I am scared to death of the next phase. But I no longer feel that I am the right man."
Roy Williams

That's 24 more than Smith.

He and his wife Wanda, UNC-Chapel Hill Class of 1972, raised two Carolina grads, and just a few weeks ago gave $3 million to the school, for academic scholarships.

At his retirement press conference on Thursday, Williams cited a long list of coaching decisions he called his "failures" over the past two seasons, and said he had come to the decision that he was no longer the "right man" for the job.

"I love coaching," Williams said. "Working with kids on the court. The locker room. The trips. The jump-around music. The trying to build a team. I will always love that. And I am scared to death of the next phase. But I no longer feel that I am the right man."

Williams repeated that sentiment throughout the one-hour press conference. The sense that he was no longer the best coach for Carolina. And the fear of what comes next.

"I don't know what the future holds" he said. "In some ways, I'm very sad and as I said, I'm scared. But as I also said, I'm really proud. We did OK."

Fan speculation has already turned to who will replace Williams. As they did when they clamored for his return, many will demand his successor be someone from inside the Carolina Family. An alumnus. Maybe a former player. But certainly someone who bleeds Carolina Blue.

Someone, say, exactly like Roy Williams.

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