Former players, friends react to ‘end of an era’ of UNC basketball

Here's a sampling of what people are saying about the retirement of Hall of Fame UNC basketball coach Roy Williams

Roy Williams leaves Smith Center with his wife, Wanda, after his retirement announcement Thursday as former UNC player Shammond Williams (left with blue tie) leads the cheers for the Hall of Fame coach. (Brett Friedlander / North State Journal)

CHAPEL HILL — Shammond Williams, like virtually everyone else when they first saw the news Thursday, thought it was an April Fools’ gag.

But when the former North Carolina basketball star realized that coach Roy Williams really was retiring, he knew he had to be there for the announcement — even though he played for the Tar Heels before Williams took over the storied program.

“He’s Roy Williams. He’s the Godfather of the program,” said Williams, whose career at UNC came during the tenure of Williams’ mentor Dean Smith from 1994-98. “Even though I didn’t play for him, we were raised by the same guy. When you’re raised by the same individuals and you have the same principles, you have a bond.

“It was extremely important for me to be here, not just for myself but as a representative of the guys who played for Dean. This is the end of an era, a great era for Carolina basketball. So it was important for me to be here to show my appreciation, to let him know that he’s held in high regard.”

The younger Williams wasn’t the only Tar Heel from the past to attend the Hall of Fame coach’s emotional farewell — which was held at the Smith Center on the court named in his honor.

A who’s who of Williams’ former players lined the periphery of the limited seating area as a show of support and appreciation — including another who shares the same surname as the man of the hour.

“I tell people all the time that Coach changed my life forever,” said Marvin Williams, who played a significant role in helping Roy Williams to the first of his three national championships in his only college season of 2004-05. “I’m from Bremerton, Washington, and to be quite honest with you, I’d still be there if not for him. He gave me an opportunity to make something of my life, and I’m forever grateful for that.”

While Marvin Williams said he was somewhat surprised by his former coach’s decision to retire, he understood the decision, having just done the same thing as a player at the end of last season.

“Being recently retired, you kind of know when it’s time, and he felt like it’s time,” Marvin Williams said. “I think everybody is happy and everybody who’s a Carolina fan is happy, so he deserves the time with his family now and playing as much golf as he wants.”

Roy Williams explained his decision to call it quits after 18 seasons at his alma mater and 33 seasons overall as a college head coach by saying, “I no longer feel like I’m the right man for the job.”

Williams went through a list of examples over the past two seasons he said proved that his coaching skills weren’t as sharp as they once were.

“I never got the team where I wanted it to go,” he said. “I just didn’t get it done consistently enough.”

Former UNC athletic director Dick Baddour, the man who hired Williams away from Kansas in 2003, wasn’t ready to accept that explanation, suggesting that the now-former coach was being too harsh on himself. 

“I disagree with him, but it’s his decision and I respect it,” Baddour said. “It’s not unlike what Coach Smith told me (when he retired). He went down some examples with me about how he didn’t do X, Y and Z during a game.

“I would have said the same thing to Roy that I said to Coach Smith: ‘You’re the best. You’re being hard on yourself.’ Nonetheless, I feel really good about his thought process and how he reached it. One thing about Roy Williams, if he thinks it and he says it, he really believes it. So I accept what he said and wish him the best.”

Here’s a sampling of what others are saying about Williams’ retirement:

Michael Jordan

“Roy Williams is and always will be a Carolina basketball legend. His great success on the court is truly matched by the impact he had on the lives of the players he coached — including me. I’m proud of the way he carried on the tradition of coach Smith’s program. Always putting his players first. I wish Roy all the best in retirement and look forward to catching up with him on the golf course sometime soon.”

Mike Krzyzewski

“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. Roy has led two iconic programs as a head coach and did so in exemplary fashion. I have the utmost respect for Roy and his family, who represented themselves and their institutions with class, grace and humility. 

“While we were on opposite sides of college basketball’s greatest rivalry, we both understood how lucky we were to be part of it and always tried to represent it in the way it deserved. Personally, I will miss competing against him, seeing him at coaches’ meetings and having the opportunity to discuss how to make our game even better. Roy is a great friend, and our sport was very fortunate to have him as long as it did.  His legacy is secure as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.”

UNC football coach Mack Brown

“Congratulations to Coach Williams on his retirement. He is one of the greatest coaches, in any sport, that has ever done it. Factoring in his work on the court, his role as a mentor, his generosity and his kindness, there aren’t many like Coach Williams.

“He’s been a wonderful friend as we’ve journeyed through this profession together and while I’m sad to see he’s putting his whistle down, I wish him nothing but the best as he moves on to the next chapter. I’m forever grateful to call him my friend.” 

Former Tar Heel national champion Theo Pinson

“One hell of a career and even better person! Thank you for everything coach. (It was) truly an honor playing for you!”

Former Tar Heel Kenny Williams

“Can’t thank this man enough for what he did for me! Allowed me to live out my dream!! A legend.”

ESPN analyst and former Duke All-American Jay Williams

“My Duke people will not like this but I grew up a UNC basketball fan..(It’s) sad to see a legend retire in Roy Williams. Roy has always been a class act and is one of the greats. Big decision time for a program in which I admire and always respected in our rivalry.”

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips

“On behalf of the ACC, we extend a heartfelt congratulations to Roy Williams on a remarkable career. His resume of accomplishments speaks for itself. More importantly, the countless lives he positively affected surpasses all of the individual honors and awards. Roy’s fingerprints will forever be on the sport of college basketball, and specifically the Atlantic Coast Conference. We wish him, Wanda and his entire family all the best as he begins this next chapter of an amazing life.”

NC State coach Kevin Keatts

“Congratulations to Roy Williams on an incredible career. He’s a Hall of Fame coach and his impact on the programs he had led, as well as the state or North Carolina, has gone far beyond wins and losses. I wish he and his wife Wanda all the best in retirement.”

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton

“Growing up in North Carolina and being a tremendous fan of ACC basketball, I recognize the historical importance of North Carolina to the ACC and college basketball. Coach Williams carried on so well the rich tradition of the UNC basketball program, and he did so with great professionalism and loyalty.  He has been a fantastic ambassador for our great sport.  

“The landscape of college basketball has changed tremendously but the Carolina tradition because of Roy Williams is as strong as it has ever been.  He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the title, and we want to wish him and his family well as they begin this new phase of their lives.”

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim

“He’s one of the great coaches in the game of basketball, it’s pretty simple. There’s not a handful of coaches better than Roy Williams and you can go back as far as you want. He proved it. That’s really his legacy. 

“He did it the right way, he’s a good guy. There’s not many people that would say otherwise. He’s well liked and respected, and that’s a pretty good legacy.”

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour

“He’s a legend. That’s the best way to put it. He’s done so much for basketball and that university. I think it’s a great time to celebrate all that. He’s been a true champion, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to enjoying the rest of his life.

“I’ve met him once with my father-in-law (former NC State player and assistant, and UNCA and Davidson coach Eddie Biedenbach), who knows him because they kind of grew up together coaching. And I met him at the beach, actually, and I don’t even know if he remembers meeting me. So it was very brief. But he’s a legend. That’s the best way to put it and (he’s) done so much for basketball and that university. I think it’s a great time to celebrate all that. He’s been a true champion, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to enjoying the rest of his life.”

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo

“Roy Williams is one of the best coaches and best people in college basketball. I’ve had the privlilege to coach against him many, many times and I’ve always had great respect and admiration for not only what a great coach he is, but how he has run his program and the class he has brought to college athletics. It will be different to look at the North Carolina sideline and not see Roy there, but I wish him the very best after an incredible career as one of the great coaches in college basketball history.”

NC Central coach LeVelle Moton

“College basketball took a hit today. When I was hired, the first person to reach out and offer support was Roy Williams. Over the years, we became great friends. Thank you for your support, friendship, and making our game better.”