For Williams, no place like Carolina home

Not in Kansas anymore, coach takes UNC job in his native state

Jayhawks lose leader of 15 years

`I wanted to coach both, but you can't,' he says

College Basketball

April 15, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Happily, Roy Williams went home last night to North Carolina.

Sadly, Williams also left his home in Kansas.

Emotionally, the 52-year old coach is still somewhere between the two towns, Chapel Hill and Lawrence, and their teams, the Tar Heels and Jayhawks.

Fifteen years after leaving Dean Smith's side to become one of the game's most respected men's basketball coaches, three years after nearly taking the job to follow Bill Guthridge, Smith's successor, Williams returned to his native state to take over a team and program in turmoil.

The announcement came a week after Williams coached Kansas for the last time, with the Jayhawks losing to Syracuse in the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. It came two weeks after Matt Doherty, his former assistant at Kansas as well as a former North Carolina player, was forced to resign.

"It's a good day," North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said in opening a nationally televised news conference in Chapel Hill. "Our players, our fans and the University of North Carolina should have the best coach in America to lead our men's basketball program. Tonight, I have the privilege of introducing you to that person."

Citing "my roots, my dream and my family" as the reasons for his decision, Williams spent more time talking about the players he left behind than he did about those he would be coaching in the future. Williams mentioned a teary farewell with his former team yesterday afternoon.

"There's no doubt that I'm excited to be here or I wouldn't be here," he said. "Other than a serious injury or death to my family, I've never had anything more difficult than what I went through this afternoon talking to my team and telling those 13 young men that I was leaving them."

One of those players, Wayne Simien, who dislocated his shoulder in January and later had season-ending surgery, appeared angry after that meeting.

"I gave my right arm for him, literally," said Simien, wearing a sling.

Williams credited Smith and Guthridge, as well as former North Carolina assistant Eddie Fogler, for the philosophy he brought with him to Kansas. Hired after several big-name coaches turned the job down - including Gary Williams, then at Ohio State - Williams went on to compile a 418-101 record that included 14 straight NCAA appearances and four trips to the Final Four.

"I was taught to run a program, not just coach a team," said Williams, who was an assistant to Smith at his alma mater from 1978 through 1988. "I was a Tar Heel born. When I die, I'll be a Tar Heel dead. But in the middle, I have been Tar Heel- and Jayhawk-bred. And I am so, so happy and proud of that."

Williams thanked his friends back in Lawrence for making him feel "like I was not just adopted, that I was one of theirs." Williams said that he never officially discussed the job with Baddour until he called the embattled North Carolina athletic director yesterday morning.

"Today has been extremely hard, as the last four days have been," Williams said. "To make this decision, two great places where I wanted to coach and I wanted to coach both. But you can't. Last time I decided to stay because it was the right thing. This time I decided to leave because it was the right thing."

North Carolina gave Williams an eight-year deal with an annual base of $260,000, The Charlotte Observer reported. The media and Nike contracts, yet to be negotiated, are expected to push Williams' salary into the neighborhood of $2 million a year.

What made the decision difficult this time wasn't so much the players who were returning from this year's Final Four team as the players coming into the program with whom Williams had become close, particularly Omar Wilkes, the son of former UCLA and Los Angeles Lakers star Jamaal Wilkes.

"On Friday morning at 5 minutes to 6 my time, I put my hand on the phone to call him [Baddour] to tell him that I couldn't come because I looked down on the desk and saw the picture of Omar Wilkes," Williams recalled. "A lot of people say, `Roy's too emotional,' but I care about those kids."

Looking at his new players, Williams said, "I'm going to care about you guys. And it's not going to be about the number of points and rebounds you get. I'm going to care about you every day of your life like the greatest coach in the history of any level of basketball taught me to do."

Kansas will immediately begin looking for his successor, with the most prominent name mentioned being Illinois coach Bill Self, a former assistant under Larry Brown with the Jayhawks.

Roy Williams' career record

(All years at Kansas)

Season W-L Pct. NCAAs

1988-89 19-12 .613 -

1989-90 30-5 .857 2nd round

1990-91 27-8 .771 Runner-up

1991-92 27-5 .844 2nd round

1992-93 29-7 .806 Final 4

1993-94 27-8 .771 Sweet 16

1994-95 25-6 .806 Sweet 16

1995-96 29-5 .853 Elite 8

1996-97 34-2 .944 Sweet 16

1997-98 35-4 .897 2nd round

1998-99 23-10 .697 2nd round

1999-00 24-10 .706 2nd round

2000-01 26-7 .788 Sweet 16

2001-02 33-4 .892 Final 4

2002-03 30-8 .789 Runner-up

Totals 418-101 .805

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