Dad-gum it, Roy, really?
April Fool’s Day 2021 was too much for me like October 9, 1997, when Dean Smith retired after 36 seasons as senior basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, not only my alma mater, but also that of my father and two sisters. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot at work that day, listening to Dean on the radio, wondering if my luck and that of the Tar Heel Nation had reached midnight.
I wonder the same thing as I write this.
Roy Williams’s announcement Thursday that he’s retiring as the UNC basketball coach saddened me in a different way than Dean’s because, unlike his mentor, Williams – unlike his mentor – is leaving with two below average seasons, around his 18 years of age score. I feel like I can’t shake off the fact that Ol ‘Roy didn’t want to leave Stage Right like this.
Let me make a full disclosure: I am a blatant and unapologetic fan of Roy Williams, the coach, and the person.
Of course, I like the fact that he left Kansas in 2003 and went back to his alma mater, which he turned down three years ago to save a program in disarray. In the meantime, he has won 485 games and three national championships. He did so while setting a 33-5 record against NC State, a program that made my teenage years less enjoyable, and having beaten Dook twice in his senior season, which was a nice parting gift.
Consider this: Roy won one more game than Bob Knight with a record of 903-264, lost 107 fewer, and – I know this is sacrilege – a slightly better college career than Smith, winning 24 more games while playing 10 more lost, the three national titles against Smiths were two of the tiebreakers.
Roy would resist this suggestion and insist that Dean was not only a better coach, but a better person as well. I call this a tie.
I love that Roy is a really good person, some might say cheesy. He loves his alma mater, has won without a scandal, never blackmailed the UNC for extra money when the NBA called, and so often, has given the university millions of dollars to fund the education of young people and always had a friendly one Word to say about the opposing coach and the players after a defeat. His motivation for exercising was squeaky clean: he loved taking care of children and seeing how successful they were.
All of that was enough for me to overlook the fact that he is retiring with an estimated 3,000 unused timeouts and an aversion to the play zone.
When Roy made the announcement, in typical Roy fashion, he took the blame for everything that went wrong during his tenure at UNC and almost nothing that went well, and insisted that his coaching be done for the past two seasons had been to blame for mediocrity. His decision, Roy said, was because he no longer felt like “the right man for the job”. It was the first time I felt he was a little insincere.
Dad-gum it, Roy.
I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is me that some fans of UNC basketball applaud Roy’s decision to retire, their memories are obviously short and their desire for a homemade setting is unlikely. They offer the tired chorus that “the game passed Ol ‘Roy by,” arguing that in the four years since Roy led UNC to consecutive Final Fours and won the title in 2017, he has forgotten how to trained.
Roy is showing no signs of dementia and from my lounge chair seemed to be working harder than ever on the verge of COVID this year, unlike his colleague who was eight miles away on US 15/501 and just got up from his chair, to lower his mask and bark profanity from the referees. What has changed in my opinion are today’s players who care more about the name on the back of the shirt than the front, and who hang around just long enough to make money. I’m sure this is rubbing Roy the wrong way.
If you remember, Roy’s 2005, 2009, and 2017 championship teams were veteran teams who made a collective decision to stay long enough to hang a banner at the Dean Done and maybe a jersey too. The newer UNC team had the knack of delivering Roy # 4, but was instead chosen as a mere footnote in UNC’s glorious basketball history.
I think that’s why Ol ‘Roy said enough on Thursday, and not because he doubted his ability to fix this team.
I am often wrong in hoping I do it again, but I fear that in a few years ‘time those who felt it was time for Ol’ Roy to disappear will wish him the success he did he shared, did not have and will understand with all of us is in no way guaranteed.
Unlike when Dean retired, I don’t see any Roy Williams on the wings.
Sorry Roy, but I think you will stay the right man for the job. That is, hit it straight and enjoy Wanda, the kids and grandchildren, and baseball games. You deserve this and more, including my thanks.