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Thursday, January 11, 2018

An Open Letter to Roy Williams’s Haters

Posted by on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 2:25 PM

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I overhear you at Sutton’s lunch counter and around the long communal table at Merritt’s. I read your interminable threads on social media, spewing your misinformed vitriol. I can’t avoid the grumblings of the disgruntled as we shuffle out of the Dean Dome in a post-loss haze. I hear you calling into the local sports talk shows, huffing and puffing about the changes that need to be made and fast.

Your gripe: Roy Williams.

Your solution: He needs to go.

You present this resolution with such nonchalance, as if world-class college basketball coaches are just waiting around the payphone for a call from Bubba Cunningham’s office. And while, yes, many coaches would jump at the opportunity to helm one of basketball’s most storied programs, I beg of you to please realize what the Tar Heels have in Roy, and more importantly, what he’s given back to the University of North Carolina.

You’re talking about a coach who has guided his teams to two straight Final Fours, a coach who has brought three national championships to Chapel Hill since beginning his tenure in 2003, a coach who has won nearly eight out of every ten games over his career, and a coach who has focused his program on three- and four-year players as opposed to the one-and-dones we all too often see in the exclusive echelon of college-hoops Blue Bloods.

You’re talking about firing him.

And you’re talking about it every. Single. Season.

Carolina dropped their fourth game of the season this past week—their second in a row. That they were both conference games on away courts notwithstanding, the Heels are teetering on the business end of the Top 25, currently in the lower half of the conference standings, and, depending on who you talk to, either woefully underachieving or exactly where they should be given their current roster. Last month, they lost to Wofford, after which most of Chapel Hill had to Google Wofford to find out where Wofford is.

Right now, the Tar Heels are not a national championship-caliber team. Right now, they’re a team that will be lucky to get past the second round of the ACC tournament. But it’s a long season, and few teams are as skilled at making adjustments once tourney time rolls around as the Tar Heels. Few coaches are as adroit at preparing his team for the biggest stages as Roy Williams. Thus, right now, you could still argue that the Tar Heels could make a deep run in the tournament.

But you won’t. Because you’ve had enough and you want Roy gone. After four losses, it’s time for him to be sent packing, time for Carolina to pluck an elite-level coach out of the pool that has produced no one with Roy’s accolades over the last decade and a half, time for the Tar Heels to move on to someone that can do better than three titles in fourteen seasons.

Consider for a moment how lucky, how blessed, and how fortunate Tar Heel fans have been over the better part of the past century. You needn’t look past the Dean Dome’s light blue rafters, at the bevy of accolades, of Final Fours and National Players of the Year, at the mile-long list of tournament appearances and conference championships, to see that the North Carolina men’s basketball program is in a historically rarified air. And you needn’t look past the last decade and a half to see the man who has been in charge of one of the most fruitful eras in the storied history of this program.

Any coach who can start nearly every season with a Final Four berth as a realistic goal is not one who should come anywhere near the hot seat. Any coach who has won a national championship three times in fourteen years should be able to coach as long as he damn well pleases without the weight of a deluded faction screaming that he’s gotta go.

And when you consider the swath of teams around the nation whose coaches have enjoyed far less success than Roy and whose faithful have far more patience than that of Tar Heel nation, the entire notion of the Roy-Must-Go mob becomes ever more ridiculous.

Consider those teams that, while they expect to make the tournament almost every year, don’t quite foresee themselves cutting down the nets at the beginning of the season. Consider the stability with which those fans regard their head coaches. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, and Ohio State’s Thad Matta are just a handful of the long-tenured coaches whose seasons generally end well outside of the Final Four, and they’re still afforded untouchable, Head of State-like status at their respective universities.

Consider a team like Villanova, which, though a perennial power in one of America’s premier basketball conferences, is a relative newcomer to the brotherhood of Blue Bloods. Their recent national championship notwithstanding, ‘Nova has earned a reputation for early tournament exits, bequeathing their dapper coach with the dubious nickname “Second-Round Wright.” Yet ‘Nova fans, having suffered through the awful nineties under Steve Lappas, are more than happy with a coach who keeps them firmly in the Top 10 every season, even if Elite Eights aren’t the norm.

And we can’t talk about managing expectations without mentioning Jim Boeheim. Boeheim is one of the NCAA’s most revered figureheads. In his forty-plus years at the Orange’s helm, Boeheim has two fewer national championships than Roy. Not to mention (as I have mentioned) that it only took Roy fourteen years to get those three.

Is Roy Williams a faultless basketball coach? Absolutely not. Such a thing does not exist (unless his name is Pat Riley). But Roy Williams is far beyond average. Roy Williams is always very good, often great, and sometimes transcendent as he paces up and down the Dean Dome’s sideline in his country-club-issued sport coat. Chapel Hill is lucky to have him, lucky to take him for granted, and lucky that he tolerates the level of impatience he gets from segments of the Tar Heel fanbase.

To wield such impatience can only mean one thing. That the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has had so much success on the hardwood that anything less than a national championship is a disappointment.

And for that level of success, you mainly have two people to thank: the venerable Dean Smith and, like it or not, Roy Daggum’ Williams.

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