GLENDALE, Ariz. — UNC's Roy Williams goes to work in a building named for the man who made him what he is today, and thatis exactly the way he wants it.
He won’t even pull his car into Coach’s parking place, even though it is technically his space now. Williams is well into his second decade as the head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels.Dean Smith left the job not quite 20years ago.
So here is where it gets tricky for Ol’ Roy. He has a problem for which there really is nosolution— aside from losing, which certainly is less desirable and does not appear to be in the plans. Williams is about to snatch the pebble from his master’s hand.
Heading into Monday’s championship game against 37-1 Gonzaga, the Heels are the favorite to win the 2017 NCAA championship, and that would be the third of Williams’ during his 14-year tenure with the Heels. That is one more than Smith managed in 35 seasons as their coach.
It will be a glorious moment if it arrives Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. But it's always at least a littleawkward when the student surpasses the teacher.
It needn’t be as graceless asthe one-on-one scene from “The Great Santini,”but it’s always a little strange.
Williams' nine Final Fours are more than all but three other coaches in the history of the game —including record-holders John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski — but still two fewer than Smith. So at least Williams is leaving him that. For now.
But this is what Smith wanted for Williams, from Williams, when he talked him into leaving Kansas in 2003. Roy had declined a first offer to take over the Carolina program upon Bill Guthridge's retirement three years earlier. He stayed in Kansas, pledged his future to the Jayhawks andtook them to two more Final Fours. Officials there began to discuss at what point it might be prudent to attach Williams’ name to Allen Fieldhouse.
That's right: Perhaps after winning a title, that wouldn't be required.It would have been Allen-Williams Fieldhouse. There were family considerations in Williams’ decision to accept the Carolina offer, with his children Scott and Kimberly settled in the state. But the Tar Heels family was a huge part of his decision.
Williams was not a varsity player for the Tar Heels. He played on the freshman team, then requested permission to observe practices during his remaining college years. He worked Smith’s summer camps and then, after graduation, started as a high school coach in 1973 in Black Mountain, N.C. Five years later he got the chance to join Smith’s staff as an assistant, worked in that role for 10 years and got the break of a lifetime when Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick boldly offered him the Jayhawks job. Smith recommended him, of course.
This season, Williams became the 11th Division I coach to pass the 800 victory mark; he has 815 now, with the Heels at 32-7.
It would be a heck of a thing for Williams to win a third championship. You know who’s done that or better? Wooden, Krzyzewski, Rupp, Calhoun, Knightand no one else who hasever blown a whistle in practice. That is how daggum hard this is, and Williams has a great shot at joining that club even while frequently being derided as, somehow, a lightweight among giants.
His reputation as a suspect strategist might follow him to his retirement, but Williams is on a coaching tear through this tournament.
He challenged the Heels to respond to adversity during a timeout huddle when they trailed by 5 against Arkansas with fewer than threeminutes remaining in the NCAA Tournament second round. They scored the final 12 points. Against Kentucky in the regional final, he sprung a zone on the Wildcats that kept them scoreless for fourof the last five minutes. In the Oregon game on Saturday, Williams was bold enough to match his big men against Ducks point guards Payton Pritchard and Casey Benson so that wing defenders Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson could concentrate on holding Tyler Dorsey and All-American Dillon Brooks to a combined 5-of-22 shooting.
WhenCBS Sports did a polla few years back of coaches in the business, Williams’ peers voted for him as the most “overrated” in the game. He had two NCAA titles at that point, but no matter. “He’s won at Kansas and UNC,” one coach said anonymously. “But who couldn’t do that … besides Matt Doherty?”
You know what’s funny about that poll? No. 5 was Jay Wright and No. 7 was Jim Boeheim. Those two and Williams own a combined four titles.
It could be five soon. Where would that leave Dean Smith? Still as the game’s greatest coach, Williams would tell you. Nothing he or anyone else could do will ever change Roy’s opinion about that.
(This article is an updated version of one that ran in advance of the 2016 Final Four, Williams' eighth as a Division I coach).