Williams humbly passes Smith, joins elite coaching company
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Roy Williams was simply not having it. No matter how many NCAA championships the North Carolina coach wins, no matter what the record book says, Williams will never see himself as measuring up to his former boss, longtime mentor and dear friend.
”I don’t think Roy Williams should ever be put in the same sentence with Dean Smith, I really don’t,” Williams said.
Williams became the sixth coach to win at least three NCAA championships Monday night when North Carolina knocked off Gonzaga 71-65 in the national title game. That gives Williams one more championship in 14 seasons leading the Tar Heels than Smith had in 36.
Smith, who died two years ago at the age of 83, is one of the most revered figures in college sports. He won 879 games in his career, but he meant so much more to those who played and worked for him.
”I think Coach was the best there’s ever been on the court,” Williams said. ”And he was an even better person. And so it’s a little staggering.”
Williams, 66, always seemed the perfect coach to replace Smith when Smith retired after the 1997 season. He grew up in North Carolina and played junior varsity for the Tar Heels. He spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, learning life, basketball and the value of humility under Smith.
Williams left for Kansas in 1988 and spent 15 seasons with the Jayhawks, churning out great records and conference titles but never winning an NCAA Tournament.
His loyalty to KU kept him in Lawrence until 2003. Not only did he not have to follow Smith, he didn’t even have to follow the coach (Bill Guthridge) who took over for Smith.
After being the guy who couldn’t win the big one at Kansas, Williams led North Carolina to a national championship in his second season in Chapel Hill. He got another in 2009 and then his Tar Heels lost the championship game on a buzzer-beater by Villanova last year.
A third puts him in a group reserved for the all-time greats; John Wooden (10 championships), Mike Krzyzewski (five), Adolph Rupp (four), Bob Knight (three) and Jim Calhoun (three). Smith is one of eight coaches with two NCAA titles.
”When I looked up at one of the boards tonight and saw those guys, they had more titles than our North Carolina teams had, not Roy Williams, because I don’t like it that way, but that was a little emotional for a second,” Williams said. ”But I really – I don’t know what to say. I mean, because that is – I’m very, very lucky. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do is to coach kids and trying to get them to have a common goal and make sacrifices. And it’s number three. But they’ve all been fantastic, and I’ve been very fortunate.”
This one was at the expense of another dear friend. Gonzaga’s Mark Few is still looking for his first championship after 18 brilliant seasons leading the Bulldogs from a tiny Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington, into college basketball’s big-time.
Few and Williams spent much of this past week telling tales about how much they enjoy each other’s company. Few called Williams a mentor.
Williams shared one more story about Few on Monday night to close his news conference.
”I mean, one of the funniest looks I’ve ever seen was we have a private plane and I had given him a ride, and we go from Vegas to Orlando to see another recruit, and the door seal has a leak. And it starts whistling the most shrill, uncomfortable feeling you’ve ever seen,” Williams said. ”And he’s sitting there like this, his hands in his ears, saying: `Why did I follow Roy Williams in this plane?’ But we got through it OK and the whole bit.”
Williams has coached against Smith and he has faced off against former players and assistants such as Jerod Haase and Mark Turgeon. Those matchups have always been difficult and this one was no different.
”Almost never saw Mark during the game tonight, because I don’t focus on the other coach. But as I started to walk down there, we’re jumping around, and I realized that I hadn’t shook his hand,” Williams said. ”And I started down there, and it was the same kind of feeling I had when I coached against those guys that I’ve either coached or been my assistant. And I told him: I was sorry that it had to be against you. I know how you feel. And it was almost emotional because I do respect the youngster so, so much. And he calls me his mentor or one of his mentors, and that’s a pretty damn neat thing.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAp
For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-Top25