Roy Williams says goodbye to UNC

The longtime Tar Heels coach no longer feels he’s the “right man for the job”

Roy Williams acknowledges the crowd at his retirement press conference (photo by Shawn Krest)

CHAPEL HILL — Roy Williams announced his retirement as head coach of the University of North Carolina on Thursday.

Williams, UNC chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and athletic director Bubba Cunningham spoke at an emotional press conference at the Smith Center. In addition to the media, current and former Tar Heel players — including Leaky Black, Marvin Williams and Kenny Williams —  attended to show support for Williams. Former UNC athletic director Dickie Baddour, who twice attempted to bring Williams to UNC, the second time successfully, also was in attendance.

“It has been a thrill,” Williams said, fighting back tears. “It’s been unbelievable. It’s coaching, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Williams said he wasn’t satisfied with his performance the last two seasons.

“Everybody wants to know the reason, and the reason is very simple,” he said. “Every time anybody asked me how long I was going to go, I would always say, ‘As long as my health allows me to do it.’ But deep down inside, I knew the only thing that would speed that up was if I did not feel like I was any longer the right man for the job. I’m not going to say the best man for the job, because I never thought I was the best man for anything.

“I no longer feel that I am the right man for the job,” he concluded.

The 2019-20 Tar Heels finished 14-19, the worst season of Williams’ coaching career. The team lost at home to Clemson for the first time in program history, was swept by Duke and, had the NCAA Tournament not been canceled due to the pandemic, would have gone without a bid for the first time since 2010.

“I felt that I made mistakes,” he said, bringing up overtime losses to Clemson and Duke at home as examples. “We had six games decided on last-second shots, and we lost all six of those. My first year as Coach Smith’s assistant, we had five games where the other team had a last shot that would have won the game. They missed all five. That’s the difference between me and Coach Smith.”

This year’s team featured six true freshmen and a redshirt freshman and finished an uneven season with an 18-11 record, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Williams’ head coaching career.

“We didn’t get done what I wanted to do,” he said. “We never got the team this year where I wanted them to go. We just didn’t get it done. I didn’t get them to buy in and focus on things I think are really important. We got better, but not to the level some of our teams have been. I didn’t push the right buttons.”

Williams met with Cunningham last Tuesday, four days after the season-ending NCAA loss, and told him what he was thinking. He met with Guskiewicz on Sunday, and the chancellor asked him to take another 24 hours to think about it. Williams joked that he didn’t sleep until Monday, when he confirmed that his mind was made up.

Williams then spent two days golfing at Augusta National but said he couldn’t enjoy the experience because he was worrying about how he was going to break the news to his players. He informed the team via Zoom call on Thursday morning.

“I want to see my children and grandchildren more,” he said. “I want to give (wife) Wanda more time. … I love coaching, working with kids on the court, the locker room, trips, the Jump Around music, trying to build a team. I will always love that, and I’m scared to death of the next phase, but I no longer feel like I’m the right man.”

Williams spoke for 27 minutes, answered several questions, then stood to a round of applause in the Smith Center. He stepped from the podium, took Wanda’s hand and walked off the court that’s named after him, to begin the rest of his life.