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Former DTH sports editors tell their Roy Williams stories

Head Coach Roy Williams speaks to the press after the game against N.C. State in the Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. UNC beat N.C. State 85-79.

After UNC men's basketball head coach Roy Williams announced his retirement on Thursday, senior writer Brian Keyes reached out to several previous sports editors of The Daily Tar Heel to ask them about their thoughts on the moment and their memories of the Hall of Fame coach. Here's what they had to say.

Brooke Pryor, Fall of 2013 Sports Editor

My dad and Roy grew up in the same area of Western N.C. at the same time. My dad always told me a story that he and Roy played against each other in high school. My dad fouled Roy, he fouled out, Roy missed the foul shots and the game went to overtime and Hendersonville (my dad’s team) won. When Roy’s book, 'Hard Work,' came out, a photo my dad swears is him from that game is included.

I don’t ask for autographs. Ever. But I made an exception for this one and asked Steve Kirschner if Roy could sign the picture in a copy of the book for a Christmas present. After a weekly avail, Kirschner called me back and I met Roy outside the work room and relayed the story. Roy said, “Now I don’t know about that.” And then gave a totally different description of the game, including starters for both teams, where his group won. 

He signed the book, 'Doug, We need to talk. Roy.' When people ask me why I love sports, I tell them it’s the people. Roy is the best example of those people.

Chris Trenkle, 2018-2019 Sports Editor

The first time I covered a men’s basketball press conference I was admittedly nervous. It was a few days before UNC’s ACC opener against Wake Forest during the 2017-2018 season and Jalek Felton had just scored 12 points against Ohio State, so I knew I wanted to ask if his performance could lead to an increase in playing time. I remember getting my first question out of the way and Roy gave me a decent answer, so I was feeling confident in asking about Felton. I started to ask if Felton would get more playing time after his OSU performance and Roy gave me a deadpan look. 

“Did you watch the game before Ohio State?” he asked. “I mean come on now…think about your questions. He sucked.”

Reporters around me started chuckling at what Roy said. I started to feel embarrassed, but as another reporter asked a question Roy looked at me and said “You haven’t been here as long as some of these other guys have.” At the time I didn’t think much of that, but now I look back at that video and laugh. 

The point is, if you covered the team enough times, you were going to get one of those Roy responses. It made me work harder. It made me try and ask better questions. And it removed any intimidation I had at future press conferences, since there was no way I could do any worse than I did at that first one. Plus, getting told off by a Hall of Fame coach makes for a pretty good story.

Aaron Fitt, 2004-2005 Sports Editor

When Coach Williams was hired, it felt like a truly monumental and historic moment for those of us working at the DTH. It felt like there couldn't possibly be any bigger news story anywhere in the world — this was Carolina basketball finally catching its white whale. I'll always remember that introductory press conference in the practice gym, with a huge throng of boosters giving him a thunderous round of applause, and Roy handling questions from the media with the grace and humor that we would all get to know over the next two decades. 

He was extremely gracious with us student reporters from the get-go, and covering his first season as a senior was an experience I will always be grateful for, even though I missed the 2005 national title by one year. I remember when he left the locker room in Denver after that second round loss to Texas — his eyes were red, he had clearly been crying, and it was so obvious how much he cared about the young men in that locker room. He never stopped caring for each and every one of the men he mentored over the years.

C Jackson Cowart, 2016-2017 Sports Editor

When I was watching Roy Williams' press conference on Thursday, one thing he said struck me in particular: "Nobody has ever enjoyed coaching like I have."

He's right. I've never seen anybody who loves his players more than Williams in my time covering high school, college or pros. It's one of the things I miss most about covering this team — and what we'll all miss in this strange post-Roy era.

I was there for every turn of that 2017 title run, and the way he trusted and empowered his players was a gift to see up close. He trusted Joel Berry on two sprained ankles in the title game; he trusted Theo Pinson and Luke Maye to make the right play in a frenetic final few seconds vs. Kentucky. They trusted him, too, and the joy that group shared on the stage in Phoenix was as much for what they’d accomplished as who they’d accomplished it with.

Nobody I’ve covered has appreciated the weight of their role quite like Roy, whose name is literally etched onto the court he patrolled for the better part of two decades. We’ve all reaped the rewards as he restored the foundation of the program he held so dearly, through tragedy and triumph, and he’s earned the right to walk away on his terms. Now, it’s on us to love these post-Roy teams — low as they might fall — in the way we know he would.

Pat James, 2015-2016

Where I come from, Roy Williams is God. Well, not quite, but almost.

Although microbreweries and drum circles are what you think of when talking about Asheville, for many of us who grew up there in the 2000s, having one of our own at the helm of the North Carolina men’s basketball program was one of the many things we were proud of.

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Despite speaking with Williams on several occasions during my time at The Daily Tar Heel, I never told him where I’m from. But with every “daggummit” and story from his childhood, I was reminded of home – and of how much Asheville remains a part of him.

About 12 years ago, Williams and his wife Wanda – also an Asheville native – bought some land near Kenmure Country Club in Flat Rock, 40 minutes south of Asheville. They built and moved into a home there not too long after, and in recent years, he’s noted that’s where they’ll retire.

“You know, it’s always home,” he told WNC Magazine after winning his third national title in 2017. “You get that good feeling when you’re going up Interstate 40 and you get a little bit short of Old Fort and you start seeing the mountains.”

Now, 48 years after he embarked on a coaching career that not even he could have imagined, those daggum mountains are calling him home.


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