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Saturday April 17th

Column: Roy Williams thought he couldn't be Dean Smith. Now UNC is looking for the next Roy

University of North Carolina coach Roy Williams, left, embraces former coach Dean Smith during the Celebration of a Century at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Friday, February 12, 2010. This is the 100th year of Carolina basketball. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
Buy Photos University of North Carolina coach Roy Williams, left, embraces former coach Dean Smith during the Celebration of a Century at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Friday, February 12, 2010. This is the 100th year of Carolina basketball. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

Dean and Roy: two short, simple names that will never be separated. 

Both men are tied to the four-man link that shaped the sport. Roy was taken under the wing of Dean, who was coached by Kansas legend Phog Allen, himself a pupil of the game's inventor, Dr. James Naismith. 

In terms of basketball achievements, the connection is obvious. Dean won 879 games; Roy won 903. Dean went to 11 Final Fours; Roy went to nine. And as fans in Chapel Hill will most remember, Dean won two national titles; Roy won three. 

Their first days as the leading figure of the Tar Heels also draw parallels. Dean inherited a program in turmoil and built it into a powerhouse. A half-century later, Roy took that dying power that went 8-20 in 2002 and cut down the nets in just three years’ time.

And now, after the many highs and few lows of their respective careers, it is only fitting that both have similar shocking endings. Dean called it quits just weeks before his team’s Final Four defense in 1997, and Roy, after weeks of denial, has stepped away on a seemingly random Thursday morning. 

If you were to ask Roy what he thought of these attachments, you’d surely get some mixed emotions. 

On one hand, he’d flash his trademark grin, knowing that his Hall of Fame legacy will forever be tied to the man that first helped him land an assistant coaching gig for his home state’s most prestigious team.

On the other, his humble personality would likely prevent him from thinking he was ever a fraction of the coach Dean was. 

It didn’t matter that he finally eclipsed his mentor in both national championships and total wins. At the end of the day, he still remembers his days as a student sitting in the bleachers of Carmichael Arena, taking notes and hoping to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the Dean of basketball.  

But on the day of his retirement — April Fool’s Day, no less — it is time to put all jokes aside and restate the obvious: Roy’s legacy at UNC equates to the man who once seemed unsurpassable. 

Throughout his time in Chapel Hill, Roy adopted many of Dean’s coaching philosophies. Teams ran the break, fed the post and acknowledged one another for their unselfishness.

But most importantly, he reinstalled Dean’s strongest orders: Play hard, play smart and play together. 

As time went along, some questioned whether the game had passed him by. College basketball became more and more dependent on the one-and-done style of roster construction, and the Tar Heels were heavily dependent on more experienced players. 

In three separate instances, he silenced the critics by taking home the hardware. For each of those championship teams, Roy was loyal to those that were loyal to him, as each member of the starting lineup was an upperclassman. 

Although each of these strategies led to success in his 18-year tenure at UNC, perhaps his most lasting trait has been off-the-court leadership. 

Sure, Roy has not yet had the opportunity to gift each of his former players $200 to treat their families to a nice dinner, as Dean did when he passed in 2015, but maybe such a possibility will exist in the future. For the time being, he’ll have to rely on the senior night speeches from Marcus Paige, Cameron Johnson and others to describe his “life-changing” influence. 

The near future is uncertain for UNC basketball. In the coming weeks, a search will be conducted to find someone to fill in the assorted Carolina blue Air Jordans that Roy left behind. 

But for the next few days, fans should simply sit back and reminisce about the glory days of yesterday. Watching two figures on the doorstep of the sport's Mount Rushmore is something that few get to experience.

@nelsonhunter_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 




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