The tar heels were blown out of this year’s Wisconsin NCAA tournament and Williams’ streak of 29 straight first-round wins captured. After the game, Williams spoke about coaching difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I started the season when I was 70 and now I feel like 103,” he said. “It’s been a busy year … 2020 and the first part of 2021 I didn’t like that much.”
Williams’ 903 wins rank third all-time. Inducted into the 2007 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the player has 900 wins in fewer games (1,161) and seasons (33) than any other coach in NCAA history.
“It’s amazing news, even though we all knew that Roy Williams was nearing the end of his coaching career than it was to begin,” said Jay Bilas, basketball analyst at ESPN College, on a Twitter video on Thursday. “This one surprised everyone on April Fool’s Day, but Roy Williams has been one of the great coaches throughout his career, not only in college basketball but also in American sports. …
“He had a great career in Kansas, which was a Hall of Fame in its own right, and added another Hall of Famer career in his North Carolina years. … Just an amazing achievement from a coach, but more importantly, he was an amazing person. He’s a great guy and I think when you talk to a player they not only love him but adore him not only for his coaching skills but also for the way he treats them as people. He has great respect for his players, great love for his players and has shown it over the years. “
After serving as assistant to legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for 10 years, Williams took the job as head coach in Kansas in 1988. In its third season, the Jayhawks rose to the national title game, where they lost to Duke, and so would they make three more trips to the Final Four in 1993, 2002, and 2003.
That final year the Jayhawks lost in the national championship game against Syracuse. In a CBS Sports interview immediately after the game, Williams blurted out, “I could now give an s — about North Carolina” in response to a question about speculation that he would go to the job vacancy at his alma mater to take over.
A week later, North Carolina announced that Williams would be hiring, and he set about promoting the program nationally after three disappointing seasons under Matt Doherty. The Tar Heels won the national championship in Williams’ second season, defeating Illinois in the title game with one of the statistically strongest teams of all time. In 2009 and 2017 they would be back at the top.
“To choose his own way to get away from the game if he wants,” said basketball legend Michael Jordan, who played in North Carolina when Williams was assistant and close to him, of the coach’s decision. “It’s great that he can now spend more time with his children and grandchildren.”
Since Williams came to North Carolina in 2003, the Tar Heels have led or equaled NCAA tournament victories (45), Final Four appearances (five), national title game appearances (four), and national championships (three) . In comparison, ACC rival Duke has 37 NCAA tournament wins, three Final Four appearances, two national title appearances and two national titles during this period.
Williams is the only coach with two programs running at least four Final Fours each, and the only coach with at least 400 wins in two Division I programs. His exit creates perhaps the most prominent coaching position in college basketball, and the opening will attracting a number of top names.