I’ve never enjoyed goodbyes, going out of my way in a lot of cases to avoid them. I’ve quietly left my share of parties out of a handy side door to avoid making a spectacle of my exit. I sometimes struggle with things coming to an end; I seem to be predisposed to moments of suspension, that feeling of being split between the past and the future and the uncomfortable introspection that it brings. The night before I graduated high school, my best friend and I sat on the tailgate of his truck into the wee hours of the morning, talking and trying to come to grips with the change that was unavoidably coming. The night before I graduated from Appalchian State was much the same; although this one I spent on my own, up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, bidding adieu to my college years and working through the impending shift in my life. I’ve even put off reading the final chapters of books I loved, simply to hold on a little longer.
I turned 27 a few months back. I have memories of a time before Coach Williams came home to Chapel Hill, but they’re fuzzy and getting fuzzier with each passing year. At least, they were. There are freshmen in Chapel Hill right now who have never known a world in which Ol’ Roy Williams is not hoarding timeouts for the Tar Heels. This will be a weird time for them, especially the lucky ones who grew up as Tar Heels.
I teared up when Coach Williams said he no longer felt like he was the right man for the job; for the majority of my life, he was not only the right man, he was the only one. That cognitive dissonance is what I think makes goodbyes so difficult, and what I think makes each major change such a bitter pill for me to swallow; reconciling the reality that is Coach Williams riding off into the sunset with the long-held belief that there is no one better for the sport, the team, or the University of North Carolina than Roy Williams. We were lucky to have pulled for a team that was coached by Roy Williams. There’s only one other fan base that’s even close to that lucky, and Chapel Hill was the only place that could pull him away from that team.
There are a lot of discussions being had about what’s next; about who will be calling plays from the bench in the Dean Dome next season, about how the team will look under new guidance. I find myself suspended, as usual, between this curiosity about the future and a wistfulness for the comfort that a Roy Williams team brought to my life each basketball season. A goodbye is not something that I had expected at the end of this season, not even after Coach Williams kissed the floor of the Dean Dome, not even after a disappointing exit in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Williams was such a constant, for so many years, that this loss feels like we’re saying goodbye to a lot more than one man.
Thanks for everything, Coach.