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Roy On His Decision in 2000

The N&O published an excerpt from Roy Williams' recently released autobiography, "Hard Work, A Life On and Off The Court" that details how the Roy ultimately came to the decision to stay at Kansas in 2000. Nothing really surprising to that part of the story. It is known that Roy was very torn between both schools and at the end of the day he wanted to follow through on a promise he made to Nick Collison to coach him throughout his Kansas career. The interesting detail to the story has to do with the time period beginning in April, 1997 until Roy was offered the job after Bill Guthridge's retirement.

In April 1997 Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge, Coach Fogler, and I met in Fort Myers, Florida, for a two-day golf vacation. During that trip, Coach Smith brought up the idea that he was thinking of retiring before the start of the next season. The subject of me possibly replacing him came up. "I can't tell you if I would take the job, because I don't know what I'd tell my players," I said. "Somebody tell me what I would tell my players."

Coach Smith retired in October. It was a sad day for college basketball and for me, because the man I saw as the role model for our entire sport was walking away. By that time, Coach Guthridge had decided to be his successor, but in my mind Coach Guthridge was only going to coach North Carolina for one season. He and I talked regularly during his first year, and he wavered about whether he wanted to coach UNC for a second season in 1999. He decided to come back, and then we spent another season talking periodically about whether he would coach a third. Whenever the subject of who would take his place came up, I told Coach Guthridge that I just didn't know what I would do if faced with that possibility. Those conversations drove me crazy because I was constantly enduring these heart-wrenching thoughts about having to make a choice between the two schools I dearly loved, Kansas and North Carolina. So when Coach Guthridge decided to remain at UNC for a third season in 2000, I called Coach Smith and told him that I was never going to even think about the North Carolina job again until it was actually open.

What I find compelling here is the small spark which set off a six year long wildfire in UNC basketball. That spark was the decision by Dean Smith to announce his retirement in October as opposed to April.  Once it was slated to go down that way, there was no way Roy was leaving Kansas right before the start of basketball practice which left you with only one alternative and that was Guthridge.  Which was fine.  Dean had his reasons for handling it that way.  He always said he never wanted to make the decision at the end of the season since that is when you are most exhausted.  Dean also wanted to leave a loaded roster in place and if he announces after the season, the chances players leave for the NBA increases.  In my mind there is no faulting Dean's initial logic on the transition from his tenure to Guthridge.  The real issue crops up with how long Guthridge ended up staying.  Roy says he thought it would be one year which was a safe bet.  The UNC team was a preseason Final Four favorite and there was a great chance Guthridge could win a national title with them, then ride off into the sunset.  That did not happen but all throughout that year Roy stayed in contact with Guthridge trying to gauge whether the UNC job would be open.  I am guessing the way UNC lost in the 1998 Final Four left a bad taste in Guthridge's mouth so he came back for 1999 and then 2000 all the while keeping Roy on a string as to when the job might open up.  It becomes clear after Guthridge signs up for a 3rd season that Roy is fed up waiting on the job to open up so he tells Dean that he will not think about it until something actually happens.

When the job does finally open in 2000, various dominoes have fallen at Kansas including Roy bringing in a solid recruiting class which he has often cited as the one that restored his faith(so to speak) in college basketball.  Roy had reached a point where he was not happy with how recruiting worked and even considered a jump to the NBA.  Then he brought in the class which included Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison including a promise to coach Collison to the conclusion of his college career.  Once that was set into motion, getting Roy out of Kansas became a tougher proposition or rather tougher than it may have been had Guthridge coached one season then retired.

This information also sheds new light on why Guthridge was upset with Roy after he turned down the UNC job the first time.  Due to the constant contact between Roy and Guthridge, it is easy to see why the Guthridge assumed Roy would come in as soon as the former retired.  However, Roy apparently became annoyed with what can only be described as Guthridge's dawdling.  I have always thought and this seems to confirm it that had Roy been tapped as soon as Dean retired or after only one season of Guthridge heading the program, he would have left Kansas for Chapel Hill.  However because Guthridge strung out his tenure and the conditions on the ground in Lawrence changed in terms of Roy's relationship to specific players, when the job did open up, it was no longer a slam dunk.  In fact it came down to a perfect tie between the two jobs and Roy broke the tie by acting out of loyalty, which was exactly what Dean had taught him to do.

The bottom line is it simply took six years longer than it probably should have to get Roy to Chapel Hill and doing the tremendous things he has done in the past five seasons.  It all worked out in the end but the process we all went through to reach it is fascinating nonetheless.