Sunday, April 6, 2003

Final Four week tarnished by coaching speculation

Gannett News Service

NEW ORLEANS - Here's what college basketball needs, as everyone crowds around the Final Four. A new rule.

That's painful to say. Look at the NCAA regulation book now - the one as thick as the Tokyo white pages - and it's clear college sport needs more rules like it needs more Las Vegas Bowls.

But this one is due:

Coaching changes cannot be made during Final Four week.

If not a rule, then at least a guideline. Suggested policy. Whatever.

Look at what Roy Williams went through the past week. This has gotten silly enough.

Williams snaps

Next week, Williams is fair game. North Carolina can throw all the money it wants at him and beg him to come home. The will-he-or-won't-he drumbeat can drown out the tractors in Kansas.

There is a time for some juicy speculation. The past week wasn't it.

College basketball seldom looks more frantic than when there is a famous job to fill. The questions flow, the names fly. Fact gets trampled by a good rumor. So, for that matter, does tact.

Such things make the talk show world go round, and there is nothing particularly unhealthy about that. Except when it gets in the way of a Final Four.

Williams took his team against Marquette Saturday night after a week of batting down questions of his future. The North Carolina mutiny that sent Matt Doherty overboard could not have come at a worse time.

Williams wants to stop being the main contender for title of best coach never to be a national champion. He's had ghosts to exorcise, past misses to forget, and Marquette to prepare for. He's been booked.

Yeah, but what about the North Carolina job?

As the week wore on, Williams faced a dilemma no Final Four coach should have to face.

He could spend energy pondering the question long enough to answer it. Or he could let himself be distracted by daily dodging it. Or he could snap.

All he really wanted to do was get ready to play Marquette. Ask him about stopping Dwyane Wade, not restoring the glory of Dean Smith. A reasonable enough request.

"Before you make every decision in your life, you ought to think about it," he was saying Friday. "And by God, I'm not going to think one second away that's going to take me away from Nick Collison or Kirk Hinrich.

"If your son was playing for Kansas, you wouldn't have a lot or respect for a coach that wouldn't give them 100 percent. And I'll be darned if there's ever going to be a parent that thinks I haven't given my team everything I can possibly give."

He said it like he meant it. Which, regardless of how Saturday night turned out, he apparently did.

"Every word that has come out of his mouth," guard Keith Langford said earlier in the week, "is about Kansas."

Follow NFL's lead

The NFL has a policy against teams making coaching news during Super Bowl week, when the chilled shrimp is supposed to be the main diversion.

The NCAA should do the same thing. This week has not been fair to Williams. Not when his players should have been focusing on the delights of the Final Four, but instead were asked to assess the damage to the Kansas program if Williams ends up a Tar Heel.

"I don't want to answer that," Hinrich said.

"The great satisfaction you have," Williams said of reaching the Final Four, "is something I'm not going to allow anybody to take away from me."

Nor should he have to. Something needs to be changed, and there's always room for another rule.

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