When one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history — a man with 903 wins, nine Final Fours, three national championships — retires, the farewell news conference is typically a victory lap.
In the case of Roy Williams, it was a postmortem.
“15 years at Kansas, I thought I was the right man. This time at North Carolina, I thought I was the right man,” Williams said. “I no longer feel that I am the right man for the job.”
The UNC coaching great announced his retirement on Thursday after nearly five decades of coaching, a career that took him from Charles D. Owen High School to head coach at two of college basketball’s biggest blue bloods. The announcement triggered a predictable waves of tributes and well-wishes for a man respected across the sport. In fact, maybe the harshest criticism of Williams came from the man himself when addressing reporters at the Dean Smith Center.
Speaking with tears in his eyes, Williams said his biggest reason for retiring, beyond more time with his wife Wanda and family, was that he simply doesn’t think he’s good enough to coach UNC:
Yes, I want to see my children and grandchildren more. I want to give Wanda more time. I still don’t know about getting in an RV and driving across the United States of America, though. I’m all-in for going to baseball parks with the grandkids. But the biggest reason we’re having this meeting is I don’t feel that I’m the right man any longer.
I love coaching, working with kids on the court, the locker room, the trips, the Jump Around music, the trying to build a team. I will always love that, and I’m scared to death of the next phase. But I no longer feel that I’m the right man.
For several minutes, Williams went through his lengthy career, noting the best moments and crediting the players who delivered them, but he also went in detail about the less fun times, like the last two seasons in which the Tar Heels went 32-30 with zero wins in the NCAA tournament:
The last two years have been really hard. 2020 … the injuries really did hurt, but I felt I made mistakes. We were up 3 against Clemson and I didn’t remind the guys to foul. They make a 3 and send it to overtime and we lost.
We had six games last year that were decided on last-second shots. We lost all 6.
Williams took responsibility for UNC’s struggles this season in particular. The team lost to Wisconsin in the first round of March Madness, which snapped Williams’ 29-game win streak in the first round of the tournament.
I just never got the team this year where I wanted them to go. I just didn’t get it done. I didn’t get them to buy in and focus on the things that I think are really big in the game of basketball. We got better. All season long, I think we got better, but not to the level some of our times have been. I didn’t push the right buttons.
Such an admission was a surreal sight, though maybe not so much from Williams, a man who seemingly went out of his way to stay humble throughout his career. It’s hard to see another coach of his level doing the same, at least.
With Williams’ departure, UNC now has to fill one of the biggest jobs in the sport. There will be no shortage of candidates in and out of the Carolina family, but we’ll see if the Tar Heels find the right man for the job.
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