On 2021 April Fool’s Day the sports world received breaking news. Roy Williams, the head men’s basketball coach of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, publicly announced his retirement from arguably the most coveted coaching job in the United States. Coach Roy, as he is fondly known within Tar Heel nation, spent 18 years as the leader of a Blue Blood powerhouse, winning three NCAA national titles and winning 77% of his games in his overall career. Clearly, his records are nothing for fools to sneeze at and yet, he broke from his very predictable coaching life to be rather unpredictable and step away from it all. Considering the state of big-time college basketball, I agree that Coach is not the right man for the job.
I am certainly not the first or the loudest academic, analyst or fan to question the demands and complexity of NCAA Division I men’s college basketball. Here’s my take on why Williams is spot on with his decision. Coach Roy is not the right man for the job if it means the following:
- Catering to the mighty media dollar. Due to the commercialization of NCAA Division I Power Five conference scheduling, teams can be scheduled to start the jump ball at 9:00 p.m. EST, which means going to bed after midnight. Late night travel and meals can lend itself to an unhealthy lifestyle. Many argue that the game is no longer controlled by coaches but by the media partners who want to showcase their product to as many watchers and listeners as possible. Thus, the schedule doesn’t often consider or care about the student’s academic commitment. And March Madness takes it to the next level. According to public records, the tournament drives the NCAA’s operating budget for its 1,268 members. The games are the primary source of the Association’s income. The purse of $800 million in annual tournament revenue is 72% of the NCAA’s $1.1 billion annual total. Coach, please eat your greens at a decent hour and go get your Zs now!
2. Pulling your hair out if you don’t know who is coming or going — hello, transfer portal. The NCAA legislation now allows students to enjoy free agency. That is, before, during or after the season players can decide to pack their bags and move on to another university’s team without sitting out a year. More recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference approved intraconference transfers too. Disappointed with your situation? Well then, just put down the interlocking NC jersey and head on over to the Seminoles or Tigers! While on the surface it appears to be wonderful freedom for players seeking college hoops nirvana it places nerve-wracking and almost impossible conditions for coaches to effectively and efficiently develop deep relations with families and recruits. The clock is ticking just too fast to make everybody happy, and so invariably coaches end up with players who believe the grass is greener and bulbs shine brighter at the other campus. From the outset if students can’t evaluate the value of a UNC hoops and academic experience, good riddance! Watch this pleading and packing from your rocking chair, Coach.
3. Working with parents who are living their unfulfilled sporting career through the experience of their elite son’s journey. However, these often-well-intentioned guardians with access to social media, expert analysts, uninformed fanatics, and online tours of rock-star, multi-million dollar facilities have now become the experts of Xs & Os and athlete development. Will my son start? Can he handle the ball more? Is there room for him to shoot more 3s? What size is his locker space — not locker? How many games are on national television? What can you offer us to ensure first round draft pick status? How many pairs of Jordans do we receive? Ad nauseum. No more making parents feel their child is the most special or the chosen one. Everyone is valued at Carolina. Everyone is family. Everyone’s a winner for being a part of the team. That’s the Carolina Way. Pick up your putter, Coach. It’s poor etiquette to talk and field questions on the green.
4. Knowing that you desire and have the means to financially assist one of your low-income students but you can’t. Providing impermissible benefits to players only helps the highly-resourced programs continue to get bigger and better. However, not being about to help hurts deep down. The only option is to funnel everything through an athletic department administrator to receive NCAA dedicated funds, which requires documentation (aka paperwork), layers of administrative approvals, and a breach of privacy that makes things really uncomfortable. There has to be a better way to support the members of your family. Coach, you can’t change the NCAA guidelines but you don’t have to be frustrated with rules that actually and often do more harm than good. You don’t have to look over your shoulders anymore. Slip the young man working at the convenience store a Benjamin and don’t look back.
5. Answering stupid questions at required press conferences. Coach Roy’s response to the reporter, who just seemed happy to be able to address the Hall of Fame icon, made the mistake of asking a generally acknowledged dumb question regarding the sensibility of scheduling Marquette after the immediate loss to the Golden Eagles. The rest is history. “We can’t operate in damn hindsight. God almighty. If you told me we were gonna lose, hell yeah, we wouldn’t have played the game. If you told me we were gonna beat the Lakers, I’d have scheduled them.” These classic and timely comeback comments just add to the Williams’ persona of being downright loveable in the midst of great difficulty. Although you garnered respect and made many friends in the media, it probably won’t be hard to not miss the uncomfortable questioning. No more squirming to avoid throwing your staff and/or players “under the bus” or revealing insights that only belong in the locker room amongst your team. Take a long and deep breath forevermore.
6. Having to hold your tongue about university decisions that affect your program. Surely, the past decade has been troubling for UNC alumni, faculty, staff, and students. In particular, it has felt like we have been playing “whack-a-mole” with self-induced mistakes and challenges. Watching politicians and campus leaders tripping over themselves while many times only making matters worse made your ability to be that bright light for the UNC sports-minded community ever so tough. The ongoing effort to bring healing to matters of systemic racism, sexual assaults, academic improprieties, and Silent Sam maneuverings have made for an extra heavy lift for recruitment and retention. No more headaches. No more forced “silence is golden.” No more requests to win the big one to lighten our burden and to make people happy in the midst of it all. Just like many other retired giants of the game, you can now sit back and be that armchair quarterback.
I applaud Coach Roy’s decision to smell the roses while he can. His decision to acknowledge that he is not the right man — to choose to walk away with a smile from commercialization, media-driven scheduling, player departures, parental egos, limitations to sensible giving, illogical media inquiries, and questionable leadership decision-making is worthy of all of our respect and gratitude. They say that we often don’t respect or miss our greats until they are gone. His living legacy belies that sentiment. There is consensus that his stamp on UNC basketball is deep and wide. Williams is definitely the right man to rest and reflect on his amazing gift to the Carolina community, the state of North Carolina, and the basketball world. Congratulations, Coach Roy.