Welcome to The Dean’s List! The weekly segment that brings readers hot takes, freezing cold takes, and everything in between from the world of Carolina athletics.
Life has moved at the speed of light for Carolina fans everywhere over the last 6-7 days. On April 1st, Roy Williams accomplished being cruel and depressing at the same time when he retired as the head coach of UNC. After pondering the decision for close to a week now, I have come to the conclusion that there were clear signs that this was coming sooner rather than later. It just seemed like the game began to wear on him in ways that it didn’t wear on him before, even during the NCAA investigation. We’ve always heard him blame himself for various things in post-game pressers, but it truly became more and more frequent over the last couple of seasons. Realizing that this was inevitable doesn’t soften the blow of it actually happening: I still get emotional when I process the fact that we are not going to see him on the bench in November. However, what’s done is done, and we are now entering a new era of Carolina basketball.
Once the discussion of Roy Williams’ replacement started to pick up steam, I realized that this was a unique opportunity for Bubba Cunningham to bring in one of the big guns from the college basketball universe. For me, Mark Few’s name lived rent-free in my head. He has had an amazing career with Gonzaga, has a modern college basketball system, is a truly caring individual, and perhaps most importantly, would’ve gotten Williams’ seal of approval. In my mind there wasn’t any other choice outside of the Carolina family, and within the family I felt like it could only be three people: Wes Miller, Jerry Stackhouse, and the biggest wildcard of the three, Hubert Davis. We now know how that played out, as Bubba Cunningham announced that Hubert Davis would be the next head coach for the Tar Heels.
For a number of years now I suspected that Hubert Davis would inevitably step into Roy Williams’ shoes. When the job opened up, however, I felt like the team had been in such a weird place that things needed to be shaken up. Scorch the Earth of the old system, start over, and find a way to stay up to speed with what college basketball is seemingly becoming. Admittedly I wasn’t sure that Hubert Davis could do that, and if I’m being transparent I’m still not sure that he can. In fact, I’m not sure what he will be like as a head coach at all, as he is the only name that I mentioned before without any head coaching experience. The territory that UNC is entering is the same territory that Kansas entered when they hired Roy Williams, and it’s only fair to point out how well that turned out. Truly it’s a risky proposition, but what I’ve realized over the last 24 or so hours is that if Cunningham is going to gamble on anybody, it has to be Hubert Davis.
By now you’ve heard all of the stories about how Davis talked Dean Smith into offering him a scholarship, and how the NBA claimed he was too slow of a player to have any success, which is funny in hindsight because he retired as one of the best shooters in NBA history. While all of these things are essential to Davis’ qualifications, it also can’t be understated that he has a connection with players that is simply incredible. It’s practically impossible to find one former player that has anything negative to say about Hubert Davis, and there are a number of them that have bonds with him that are stronger than anything any of us are meant to understand. Truly he has done an incredible job over the years earning the trust and love from the players, and that alone is worth taking the risk.
Yesterday afternoon, however, is when I became more and more convinced that Bubba Cunningham made the right decision. Every ounce of fire, passion, and determination was on full display during his introductory press conference in the Dean Smith Center. He discussed what he felt like it’d take for the program to succeed, the role that his faith and family played in him getting to where he is today, and even discussed how determined he was to recruit Walker Kessler back to Chapel Hill. Everything he said was powerful, and perhaps most importantly, everything he said was believable. Yes, the fact remains that he has zero head coaching experience, but to me Coach Davis already sounds like...a coach. There’s still going to be a lot of questions in the coming months about whether or not he succeeds in the X’s and O’s department, but truly he has done nothing but shown he deserves the chance ever since the announcement was made.
In a program that has sky-high expectations, every Tar Heel around the world now has to do the one thing that is admittedly very heard to do, and that is exercise patience. The 2021-22 season will essentially be a rebuilding season, as Hubert Davis will attempt to teach Roy Williams’ players how to play his own style of basketball. We will see a lot of similarities, we will see a lot of differences, and most importantly, we will see some mistakes. Championship expectations should be placed on hold indefinitely, but also Hubert Davis has such a fire in him that we also shouldn’t be surprised if he gets closer to a championship than we expect him to. What I am saying is expect nothing, but be prepared for anything.
My final thought on the hiring of Davis is a personal one. As an African-American, it was an extremely proud moment to witness the hiring of the first black head coach at UNC. Dean Smith laid the foundation years ago for what has happened this week, and I somewhere he is grinning ear to ear knowing that the sacrifices that he made for the black community are still yielding fruit. Now that the glass ceiling is shattered, we can only hope that success follows, but for now it is an incredible moment for the program and everyone that loves it to dearly.
In short, I am devastated that Roy Williams decided to retire, but I am excited for Hubert Davis and the players. There will surely be ups and downs next season, and maybe even for some time after that, but ultimately all we can hope for is that in the long run this hire ends up being a success. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for former head coach, the new head coach, and of course, Carolina basketball.
Stay safe, be kind to one another, and Go Heels!