A couple of weeks ago, those of us with a few grey hairs starting to pop out sadly remembered the day twenty years ago with Dean Smith announced that he was retiring as the UNC head coach. I was reminded of my bad timing: being a freshman, looking forward to seeing a National Title contender with the Hall of Fame Coach, only to have him retire right as I was becoming a student. Many of us wondered if Dean had retired too early, but he had always told us the day that he didn’t feel like he could do the job 100%, he would leave. He was 66 after all, and he wasn’t going to coach forever.
I regale you with this story because the current coach of the basketball team is 67.
That’s right, the man who just cut down the nets in April (did we mention that the Tar Heels are the defending national champs?) is now older than his mentor was when he retired. It’s possible that in his later years, Coach Smith told Coach Roy Williams that he may have retired too soon, and to make sure to hold on for as long as he feels he can. You can’t argue with the results, and clearly recruits believe he’s here for a while longer.
An offseason of turnover wasn’t limited to just the players, and while Coach Williams will be breaking in new players, he’ll also be breaking in a new pecking order for a coaching staff. Let’s take a look at who’s sitting on the bench this season.
Head Coach: Roy Williams, 30th overall, 15th at UNC
The man in charge heads into the season with perhaps his best team after a national title. He also had an offseason that you could consider the best one he’s had in years. He’s just signed one of the best recruiting classes in the country, finally put the NCAA mess behind him, had two players drafted including his first one and done in years, and he's added a grandson to the family.
It could be argued that last season was one of Roy’s best as a coach, and not just because of the fact his team won the title. A team that suffers the blow they did the season prior can create quite a hangover for the next season (see Falcons, Atlanta after Super Bowl 51). Williams was also still recovering from a double knee surgery during the summer, and ended up only having his full compliment of players for two games the entire season.
All is not perfect for Coach Williams as the season opens; the coaching musical chairs claimed another assistant off of his bench, and Tony Bradley was an unexpected exit to the NBA. It will mess up the plan he likely had going into the season with an experienced group of starters and capable backups who’d get a chance to learn in limited minutes. Will he stubbornly stick to his inside-out brand of basketball, or will the raw front court require him to adapt to a smaller, more perimeter-oriented lineup?
If there is one thing for certain, it’s how Williams views the three acts to the season. Non-conference is to prepare players and figure out who’s ready for the ACC season, the ACC season is for solidifying lineups and getting ready for March, and March is for cutting down the nets. This means early in the season there will be a lot of guys getting minutes who won’t by the end, and several lineups that’ll make you scratch your head. Having Joel Berry out for a couple of games will only enhance that, and surely the screams from fans will be heard far and wide.
The scary part for opponents: as good as Williams has coached with all of these distractions going on, what is he going to do now that they are all gone? It doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon.
Assistant Coach: Steve Robinson, 15th at UNC
“Coach Rob” has turned into the Bill Guthridge for Roy Williams. While other assistants have moved on, Robinson has been with Williams for nearly 20 years between Kansas and UNC, with a stop as the head man at FSU in between stints. He is the man who is responsible for bringing the likes of Harrison Barnes, Danny Green, and Paul Pierce to Roy Williams.
As far as on-court duties, Robinson is the coach who primarily works with the perimeter players, ie, the point guards. In other words, he teaches “the system” to the men who play point guard. This year, that means working with Seventh Woods and newcomer Jalek Felton, and getting them ready to take over once Joel Berry moves on. These first couple of games should give Coach Robinson plenty of tape to use in helping their development.
If something happened to where Coach Williams would have to miss a game, or if he were ever to get tossed out of the game, Robinson would assume the mantle. Since Robinson was already considered the head assistant, his role really won’t change this year.
Assistant Coach: Hubert Davis, 6th at UNC
It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Davis left the set of ESPN and came to Chapel Hill to join Coach Williams on the bench. Before this coaching stint, he was part of my favorite College Game Day commercial ever:
I still remember the pudding Coach Williams brought out on the first visit they made to Chapel Hill after this commercial.
Coach Davis has been absorbing more responsibility each season, up to the point he’s ascended into the C.B. McGrath role this season. That’s going to put more scouting on his plate, and will take a bigger role in recruiting as well. He will still be the coach of the Junior Varsity team.
This chair is the same one that the aforementioned McGrath and current Stanford coach Jerod Haase occupied prior to taking on their own coaching job. It’s hard to think Coach Davis took this role to stay as an assistant forever, and the more Carolina succeeds, the more his coaching stock will rise.
Assistant Coach: Brad Frederick, 5th at UNC
The photo above is from the Getty archives when Frederick was a player at Carolina (check out the old Rameses head in the background). Frederick was a player on Dean Smith’s last team, and is the son of Roy Williams’ former AD at Kansas, Dr. Bob Frederick. After his playing career, Frederick has been in coaching, first at Vanderbilt before joining Williams in 2012.
This will be the first year that Frederick is called an Assistant Coach, as the prior seasons saw him the Director of Basketball Operations. His experience as an assistant at Vanderbilt should make the transition pretty easy, as he will slide into the Hubert Davis chair on the bench. Thus, Frederick will start adding some bench coaching, scouting, and recruiting to his responsibilities this eason.
Director of Basketball Operations: Sean May, 3rd at UNC
As the chairs keep moving, Sean May moves from being a player development/video coordinator to the Director of Operations. May will mostly be in charge of the day to day stuff needed to make a basketball team work, hence the Operations part of the title. May is also likely to play a key role in helping the development of the trio of freshman big men. The 2005 Final Four MOP continues through the coaching grind, and is a great resource when bringing in recruits to talk of Carolina’s history.
Player Devlopment/Video Coordinator: Eric Hoots, 14th at UNC
Eric Hoots is the glue guy of the staff, at Carolina almost as long as Coach Williams. With May moving up to the Operations post, Hoots adds video coordination to his role, but his primary one is something pretty vital to Carolina: go-between.
First and foremost, for current players, he’s the guy who helps keep everyone in line with their academic progress, coordinating with counselors and the athletic department to make sure the players get their coursework done while on the road. It’s an unsung role, but anyone who has worked on an athletic staff knows how important that job is.
Hoots is also the primary point of contact for any professional Tar Heel. If they want to come back, while the door is always open to a former player, Hoots is the first point of contact. He also bring experience of being a Head Manager to the table.
Strength and Conditioning: Jonas Sahratian, 14th at UNC
All you need to know about Sahratian-you know those photos that Joel Berry posted over the summer? That’s a result of the work with Sahratian. It will, no doubt, help him this season as he will be able to withstand the punishment of driving to the basket a little more than he has in the past.
And with that, let the NCAA title defense begin.