Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Tar Heels get their man in Williams

Looks like he's not in Kansas anymore

By David Droschak
The Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - In the end, Roy Williams knew it was time to return to his roots, to the storied program in powder blue where he learned his craft as an assistant at his beloved alma mater.

The coach who grew up in the North Carolina mountains went home Monday, rejoining the Tar Heels to try to win the national title that eluded him for 15 seasons at Kansas.

He resigned as Jayhawks coach exactly one week after losing in the NCAA championship game - and almost three years after turning down the North Carolina job the first time he had a chance to take it.

"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 said during a news conference inside a practice gym at the Smith Center, before a crowd of cheering boosters.

Former coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge stood nearby, and the Tar Heels' players wore suits and sport jackets. Outside, a crowd of students gathered, and they could be heard cheering before the announcement.

Williams met with his Kansas players in Lawrence earlier in the day to tell them his decision. He left Allen Fieldhouse nearly in tears, and later flew by jet to Chapel Hill.

"Other than serious injury or death to my family, I've never had anything more difficult than what I've been through this afternoon with my team, and telling those 13 young men that I was leaving them," he said at the news conference.

When Matt Doherty resigned April 1, there was immediate speculation that Williams would be the front-runner, but he angrily refused to answer questions about the job after the Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in the title game.

Williams took the Kansas job only a few months after Larry Brown coached the team to the 1988 national title. After going 19-12 in his first season, Williams guided the Jayhawks to the NCAA tournament 14 straight times.

The fourth-fastest coach in Division I history to reach 400 victories, Williams (418-101) won nine conference championships and took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours, including two appearances in the title game.

"It's sad for the program and the players who are here," said Jeff Boschee, who was a senior at Kansas last year and attended Monday's half-hour meeting. "It's tough for them."

Other players had different reactions. Wayne Simien, who dislocated his shoulder in January and later had season-ending surgery, appeared angry after the meeting.

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

At North Carolina, meanwhile, there was elation. A school that saw Williams leave as a highly regarded assistant now welcomes him back as one of the most respected coaches in the country.

"Certainly, we have the entire package, in my opinion," Smith said. "He's proven he's an outstanding coach. He doesn't hide from tough games, and his teams play hard, they play together, they execute and they play smart."

Williams played for Smith as a freshman with the Tar Heels during the 1968-69 season and was his assistant from 1978-88. During that time, North Carolina advanced to the national title game in 1981 against Indiana and won the championship the following season, when Michael Jordan hit the winning shot.

Doherty, a former assistant to Williams at Kansas, had been coach at Notre Dame for just one season when he was hired at North Carolina, after Williams turned the school down. Doherty, who played for the Tar Heels in the early 1980s, had a terrific first season on the sideline, winning The Associated Press national coach of the year award in 2001.

But the Tar Heels slipped badly the next season, going a program-worst 8-20. Doherty's young team went 19-16 this season but missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Doherty also was criticized for alienating some players and athletic department staff.

Williams' fierce loyalty to his players kept him at Kansas when he was first offered the job in Chapel Hill, and many Jayhawks fans hoped he would stay in Lawrence for good.

In June 2000, Williams spent an agonizing week following the retirement of Guthridge, who had succeeded Smith. Williams was forced to choose between two programs that desperately wanted him.

After a weeklong vacation at his home in South Carolina, and a day spent in Lawrence thinking it over, Williams announced his decision to 16,000 Kansas fans at Memorial Stadium.

"I'm staying," Williams said simply.

Given a second chance at North Carolina, he decided to go.

"The last time I decided to stay, it was because I thought it was the right thing," Williams said Monday night. "This time, I decided to leave because it was the right thing."

Smith talked to Williams, his close friend and golfing buddy, about the job last week. On Wednesday, Kansas fired athletic director Al Bohl, with whom Williams had a chilly relationship, but the school said the move was not made to placate the popular coach.

Williams file

Years as head coach: 15

Career record: 418-101

Kansas record: 418-101

NCAA Tournament appearances: 14

NCAA title games: Two

Conference championships: Nine

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