The mood in Roy Williams' post game press conference following the Tar Heels 63-57 loss to Miami was incredibly tense and somber. That is not wholly unexpected since UNC had just fallen to 0-2 in the ACC. Even when UNC wins games and plays poorly, Williams can be in bad mood. Following a loss the expectation is a coach who is simply upset they lost or a coach who is angry at his team's performance.
This was neither.
It started out routinely enough. Williams was visibly upset and expressed disappointment over the loss. He delved a little into the game details and pivoted to his oft used post-loss mantra of needing to do better as a coach. Then it took a strange turn, one that moved the discussion away from a single ACC game on a Wednesday night in Chapel Hill to the proverbial bigger picture.
When you go to school here and you coach here as an assistant and you come back and coach here, it's a feeling of ownership, it's a feeling of pride. And right now I'm not doing a very good job with this basketball team and that's the hardest thing there is that I've ever had to say. We have wonderful kids that help us out a great deal.
Their coach coached better than I did. I have, as I said, great kids in that locker room, and we're going to keep going to work every day, and we're going to try and practice hard as we can and try to do a better job. Miami came in 0-2 and it was a great win for them. That's what I told some of the kids. That's a great win because you don't want to be 0-3. The bottom line is what we've got to do something better the next game or we're going to be faced with the same thing. I do feel mentally probably worse that I've ever felt as a head coach right now. And that also shows what a blessed life I've had, but I've got good kids. I've got to do a better job with them.
Now, to anyone who has watched Roy Williams for over ten years at North Carolina and even during his tenure at Kansas know he is given to wear his emotions on his sleeve and engage in some hyperbole. Except this didn't feel like the latter and it was well beyond just the normal emotional expression you get from Ol' Roy. This was a coach who sounded nearly broken and not just by a loss to Miami or an 0-2 ACC start. Banged up by the turmoil of the summer. Thrashed by reports in the media regarding the academic reputation of the school he loves not to mention the suggestion that his basketball program may have acted improperly.The team he has now is not the team he though he would have six months ago. The list goes on which a season teetering on the edge of disaster following the latest nasty bump in the road.
When Williams spoke of "ownership" of and "pride" in the Tar Heel basketball program he seems to be indicating that perhaps he is failing in his responsibilities as caretaker of what Dean Smith's had built. When he talked about his love for his players and what great kids they were, he seemed to be saying that perhaps it was him who was failing them and implying that they deserved better than what he was giving them. Reading between the lines, this wasn't a coach torn up over one game but a coach devastated that he might be failing the program and those in it. As a coach, losses happen and you move on. At North Carolina the off the court issues coupled with some slipping from the normal level of success has undoubtedly caused Williams many sleepless nights. After so much success in his first six seasons, the up and down nature of the past four to five seasons with all the peripheral issues has undoubtedly cause much trepidation about what the future holds.
The good news is Roy Williams is hardly the kind of guy who simply gives up amid adversity. These things which are a burden to him also serve as a motivation. While the road has certainly been much rockier than anyone could have imagined, there is nothing to indicate Williams motivational fires have been dampened. He is still going to work hard, still going to fight and ultimately UNC basketball will be just fine. Certainly there are no quick fixes or magic wands to be waved. The troubles of the summer has led to a winter of discontent. Fortunately, winters in North Carolina don't usually last too long.