CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (KSNW) – North Carolina Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams is retiring.
The last time Roy Williams left North Carolina, he was a virtually unknown assistant who was getting his first shot as a college head coach at tradition-rich Kansas.
Now Williams is leaving the Tar Heels again with a resume chock full of honors — as a retiring Hall of Famer with more than 900 wins, three national championships and a legacy built on more than three decades of success at two of college basketball’s most storied programs.
The school announced the decision Thursday, some two weeks after the 70-year-old Williams closed his 18th season with the Tar Heels after a highly successful 15-year run with the Jayhawks. In all, Williams won 903 games in a career that included those three titles, all with the Tar Heels, in 2005, 2009 and 2017.
Yet Williams described himself as a coach who was also bothered by losses and by his own mistakes over the past two difficult seasons, one marking the only losing record of his career and the other being a young group playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everybody wants to know the reason and the reason is very simple,” Williams said at a news conference on the Smith Center court bearing his name. “Every time somebody asked me how long I was going to go, I’d always say, ‘As long as my health allows me to do it.’
“But deep down inside, I knew the only thing that would speed that up was if I did not feel that I was any longer the right man for the job. … I no longer feel that I am the right man for the job.”
The Tar Heels lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in his final game, his only first-round loss in 30 tournaments.
“I love coaching, working the kids on the court, the locker room, the trips, the ‘Jump Around’ (pregame) music, the trying to build a team,” Williams said. “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.”
Williams thrived with lessons rooted in his time as an assistant to late mentor Dean Smith — he still respectfully refers to him as “Coach Smith” after all these years — even as he forged his own style. Williams always pushed for more — and typically he got it. His teams played fast, with Williams frantically waving his arms for them to push the ball. They attacked the boards with his preferred two-post style.
His competitive drive was fierce and only slightly obscured by his folksy sayings and charm from his time growing up in the North Carolina mountains.
His time as an assistant coach included the Tar Heels’ run to the 1982 NCAA championship for Smith’s first title, a game that memorably featured a freshman named Michael Jordan making the go-ahead jumper late to beat Georgetown.
“Roy Williams is and always will be a Carolina basketball legend,” Jordan said in a statement through his business manager. “His great success on the court is truly matched by the impact he had on the lives of the players he coached – including me. I’m proud of the way he carried on the tradition of Coach Smith’s program, always putting his players first.”
Williams spent 10 seasons at his alma mater under Smith before Kansas took a chance on him in 1988. He spent 15 seasons there, taking Kansas to four Final Fours and two national title games.
Williams passed on taking over at UNC in 2000 after the retirement of Bill Guthridge, but ultimately couldn’t say no a second time and returned as coach in 2003 after the tumultuous Matt Doherty era that included an 8-20 season.
Williams immediately stabilized the program and broke through for his first national championship in his second season with a win against Illinois, marking the first of five Final Four trips with the Tar Heels. His second title came in 2009 with a team that rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning every game by at least a dozen points, including the final game against Michigan State played in the Spartans’ home state.
The third title was delivered by a team that included players who had lost the 2016 championship game to Villanova on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. This time, the Tar Heels beat a one-loss Gonzaga team for the championship.
Williams had just that one losing season — an injury-plagued 14-19 year in 2019-20 — and otherwise missed the NCAA Tournament only in his first season at Kansas, when he inherited a program on probation, and in 2010 with a UNC team that reached the NIT final.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Danny Green, who played four seasons for Williams and was part of the 2009 title winner, said Williams had been a “father figure.”
“I became a man in four years there,” said Green, a three-time NBA champion who recently made a $1 million endowment scholarship gift to the Tar Heels’ basketball program. “He’s always been more than a coach to me. He taught me how to be a man and how to do things the right way.”
ROY WILLIAMS’ CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
(Provided by the University of North Carolina)
• 48 seasons as a basketball coach, including 33 seasons as a college head coach (18 at UNC, 15 at Kansas), 10 as assistant coach at UNC and five as head coach at Owen High School in Black Mountain, N.C.
• 2007 inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
• Third all-time in wins by a Division I head coach with 903
• Reached 900 wins in fewer games (1,161) and seasons (33) than any coach in NCAA history
• 903 wins in 33 seasons is 100 more than any other coach in NCAA history (803 by Mike Krzyzewski, 802 by Dean Smith)
• Second-winningest coach in UNC history and third in Kansas history
• Only coach in history with 400 wins at two schools
• Sixth-highest winning percentage (.774) in NCAA history
• Led UNC to three NCAA championships (2005, 2009, 2017)
• Third to take teams to the NCAA Tournament at least 30 times
• Consensus National Coach of the Decade (2000-09)
• Led UNC and Kansas to nine Final Fours, fourth most all-time
• Second in NCAA Tournament wins (79), second in No. 1 seeds (13), second in games (105), third in NCAA Tournament winning percentage (.745) and tied for fourth in NCAA championships
• NCAA-record eight wins over Associated Press No. 1-ranked teams
• Second in NCAA history in 30-win seasons (12) and tied for fourth in 20-win seasons (29)
• Tied for fifth all-time with 18 regular-season conference championships
• Third all-time in ACC regular-season wins (212)
• Third-most ACC road wins (93) and fourth-highest ACC road winning percentage all-time (.604)
• Second-most wins (208) in first 300 ACC regular-season games
• 32 NBA first-round draft picks (22 at UNC, 10 at Kansas)
• 52 former players in the NBA
• Four National Players of the Year, six ACC Scholar-Athletes of the Year, 10 consensus first-team All-Americas, 17 first-team All-Americas and three Bob Cousy Award winners
• Only coach to coach two Academic All-Americas of the Year (Jacque Vaughn at Kansas, Tyler Zeller at UNC)
THE WILLIAMS RECORD
Overall: 903-264, 33 seasons (.774)
Record at UNC: 485-163, 18 seasons (.748)
NCAA Championships (3): 2005, 2009, 2017 at UNC
Final Fours (9): 1991, 1993, 2002, 2003 at Kansas; 2005, 2008, 2009, 2016, 2017 at UNC
NCAA Tournament: 79-27 (.745)
NCAA Tournament at UNC: 45-13 (.776)
NCAA Finals: 3-3
NCAA Finals at UNC: 3-1
National Championship Games (6): 1991, 2003 at Kansas; 2005, 2009, 2016, 2017 at UNC
National Semifinals: 6-3
National Semifinals at UNC: 4-1
NCAA Elite 8s (13): 1991, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2003 at Kansas; 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 at UNC
NCAA Elite 8: 9-4 (5-3 at UNC)
NCAA Sweet 16s (19): 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2003 at Kansas; 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 at UNC
NCAA Sweet 16: 13-6 (8-2 at UNC)
NCAA 2nd Round: 19-10 (10-5 at UNC)
NCAA 1st Round: 29-1 (15-1 at UNC)
Conference Regular-Season Titles (18): 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003 at Kansas; 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2019 at UNC
ACC Regular-Season: 212-94 (.693)
ACC Home: 119-33 (.783)
ACC Road: 93-61 (.604)
ACC Tournament: 29-15 (.659)
ACC Tournament Titles (3): 2007, 2008, 2016
Conference Tournaments Titles (7): 1992, 1997, 1998, 1999 at Kansas; 2007, 2008, 2016 at UNC
Conference Tournaments (ACC and Big 8/12): 52-25
Home: 444-57 (.886)
Home UNC Record: 243-41 (.856)
Smith Center UNC Record: 241-40 (.858)
Away UNC Record: 123-77 (.615)
Against Ranked Teams (AP poll): 164-134 (most recent vs. Florida State, 3/12/21)
Against No. 1-Ranked Teams: 8-8