Roy Williams SuccessStory
Very few coaches can leave a lasting legacy like Roy Williams. After recently announcing his retirement, Williams finishes a 33-year college basketball coaching career with over 900 wins and three national championships as well as the title of being one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time.
Roy Allen Williams was born in Marion in the state of North Carolina, United States on August 1, 1950. After spending his early years in the North Carolina towns of Marion and Spruce Pine, Williams together with his family moved to nearby Asheville where he spent most of his childhood.
Williams attended T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville where he finished high school. At a young age, Williams’ love for basketball was already evident not just in playing but also in coaching. While playing for Coach Buddy Baldwin at T.C. Roberson, he was named all-county and all-conference in 1967 and 1968 as well as being named as part of the all-western North Carolina team in 1968.
Williams then enrolled at the University of North Carolina (UNC) where he became an apprentice under Coach Dean Smith. Although he played during his freshman year, it was during his sophomore season that he started to take more of a coaching role. He would then take notes during Smith’s practice sessions and also kept statistics during home games. By 1973, Williams would not just obtain a bachelor’s degree but also a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from North Carolina.
Early Coaching Years
After obtaining his Master’s degree, Williams got his first coaching job at Charles D. Owen High School in Black Mountain, North Carolina. There, he was the coach for the boys’ basketball and golf teams for around five years before becoming the school’s athletic director for two years.
Before the start of the 1978-79 season, Coach Smith invited Williams back to North Carolina as part of his coaching staff. Throughout Williams' first run with the North Carolina Tar Heels, the team made two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) appearances, winning one in 1982. And the best player on that 1982 championship team? Michael Jordan. Williams is widely credited to be one who recruited young Michael who attended Emsley Laney High School at Wilmington, North Carolina. After playing three years for the Tar Heels. Jordan didn’t just go on to have a productive 15-year NBA career but essentially became the greatest athlete to have ever played the game of basketball.
Although many consider the recruitment of Jordan to be Williams’ career highlight, his coaching portfolio speaks for itself. The 1982 championship was only the tip of the iceberg of what Williams would be accomplishing over the next 30 years.
Kansas Jayhawks Head Coach
In 1988, Williams became the head coach of the University of Kansas Jayhawks and would coach the Jayhawks until 2003. He replaced Larry Brown who went to coach in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Jayhawks were barred from participating in the 1988-89 postseason due to recruitment violations made by Brown in previous years, the team bounce back in the years that followed under Williams’ leadership.
Williams led the Jayhawks to a winning record each year in his 15 years with the team eventually finishing with a 418-101 record. He also won nine Conference titles and won three Coach of the Year awards (1990 Henry Iba Coach of the Year, 1992 AP Coach of the Year, and the 1997 Naismith Coach of the Year).
Kansas would also be a force to be reckoned with year-in and year-out in the NCAA Tournament with the team becoming the number one seed in the tournament six times, appearing in the Final Four four times, and reaching the national championships twice. Unfortunately, Kansas’ appearances in the 1991 and 2003 NCAA Finals would result in losses.
Despite Williams not winning a single national championship with the Jayhawks, he was still instrumental in the development of several players including Paul Pierce, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, Raef LaFrentz, Drew Gooden, and Jacque Vaughn among many others. Pierce went on to become one of the best players of the 2000s, leading the Boston Celtics to an NBA Championship in 2008. The other Kansas stars also went on to play decade-long careers in the NBA, particularly Hinrich and Collison who became fan favorites playing for the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder respectively. Hinrich was named in the 2007 All-Defensive Second Team.
North Carolina Tar Heels Legend
Williams made a triumphant return to his alma mater after he rejoined the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2003. With the team suffering from multiple coaching changes in the past six years, they were looking at Williams for stability and a return to national prominence. Williams did just that and immediately launched the Tar Heels back to the NCAA Tournament in 2004.
After failing to lift the national championship trophy with Kansas, the tide would turn for Williams in his second stint with North Carolina. In fact, he would win three national titles (2005, 2009, and 2017) in 18 seasons with the Tar Heels. He would also lead the team to a 485-163 record, becoming the winningest coach in UNC history and also the first coach to earn 400 or more wins at two different schools.
The 2005 Tar Heels were led by Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, Sean May, and Rashad McCants who all would become instrumental in the finals game against the Illinois Fighting Illini. After the win, the four would declare for the NBA Draft with Williams becoming the 2nd overall pick. Williams and Felton would play in the NBA for 15 plus seasons with Williams recently announcing his retirement in 2020.
The 2009 championship squad featured Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington who led North Carolina to one of the most dominant runs in NCAA history. Ranked number one in the country, the Tar Heels won every game by at least 12 points and only trailed a total of 10 minutes throughout the entire tournament. In the finals, the team ran through the Michigan State Spartans en route to its second title in four years. Hansbrough also capped his UNC career by winning the 2008 National Player of the Year and also becoming the school’s all-time points and rebounds leader.
Williams would win his third and final NCAA trophy in 2017 after the Tar Heels narrowly beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the championship game. Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Luke Maye, and Cameron Johnson were the top players in Williams’ winning side with Jackson being named as the ACC Player of the Year in 2017. Jackson and Johnson are currently in the NBA while Berry and Maye are playing overseas.
The Tar Heels would continue to compete in the NCAA Tournament in the succeeding years except in the 2019-2020 season which would become Williams’ only losing season in his college coaching year. After North Carolina exited the 2021 tournament with a Sweet Sixteen loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, Williams officially announced his retirement after 33 seasons (a total of 48 including his first coaching job). He finishes fourth all-time in NCAA Division I victories with a 903-264 record (.774 winning percentage). In a recent interview, he mentioned that he was willing to "keep going as long as his health allowed it" but his decision would immediately change if he “did not feel that he was any longer the right man for the job.”
Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski whom Williams battled numerous times in the past three decades expressed both sadness and praise in Williams’ retirement, saying "college basketball is losing one of its greatest coaches and a man who genuinely cares about the game of basketball, and more importantly, the people who play it.” Michael Jordan also shared the same sentiment, saying "(Williams') great success on the court is truly matched by the impact he had on the lives of the players he coached— including me.”
Williams and his wife Wanda have two children and three grandchildren. His son Scott played for the Tar Heels between 1997 and 1999 while his daughter Kimberly was a member of the UNC dance team in 2000 and 2001.
In March 2021, Williams and Wanda donated $3 million to support various scholarships for UNC and also donated $600,000 to support athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although college basketball will no longer see a familiar face in the years to come, the game will always remember Head Coach Roy Williams as a symbol of determination, perseverance, and most importantly, winning.