Book an emotional undertaking for Williams

Staff WriterNovember 1, 2009 

Even after 64 hours of interviews and months of editing, North Carolina coach Roy Williams says he still found himself tearing up the first two times he proof-read his autobiography, "Hard Work: A Life on and Off the Court" that will be released Tuesday.

"Talking about my childhood was the hardest thing,'' said Williams. "At one point, I thought about not saying anything, but then I thought it would be such a misrepresentation of my life, and it would be such a vanilla book, that it would be untrue. If it was going to be the true autobiography, it's supposed to be what happens to you."

In the $24.95 hardcover book, written with former Sports Illustrated reporter Tim Crothers, the two-time NCAA title-winning coach reveals that he observed his alcoholic father physically abuse his mother while growing up; at one point, a 14-year old Williams pulled his drunk and angry dad off his mom, shoved a bottle under his chin, and threatened to kill him if he didn't leave. His parents were separated at the time, Williams writes, and Babe Williams never returned to the house.

In an interview Friday with The News & Observer, Williams, 59, described the abuse "as some pushing and shoving, but my dad never hit anybody." He also said his father never abused him. They eventually reconciled, and Williams spoke at his father's funeral.

"The only worry I have about what people see about the book is, if they just remember that part of my dad -- and if they don't remember how he cleared things up at the end, if they don't remember the sense of humor, the jokester that he was," Williams said Friday. "If they don't remember anything but the negative things, that will bother me. Because regardless of what it was, he was my dad."

Williams said he doesn't believe that witnessing his parents' volatile relationship is what has made him so successful: "I don't think necessarily where I am today is because of where I was at that time."

But he recalls many of the people who had an impact on his childhood -- from his mother, Lallage, who worked multiple jobs to support her children and left him a daily dime for a Coca-Cola; to the third-grade teacher who ignited his competitive streak by routinely posting the top 10 readers in the class; to the policeman who caught him sneaking into a nearby elementary school to play basketball at night and eventually secured him a key.

"People don't realize how important a helping hand is," Williams said. "So many people have helped me out so many times in my life, especially when I was younger. ... I only brought out 1/100th of them in the book -- but those people could see a kid that they really tried to help. ... I think that when those people read the book, I hope they will understand their significance, and that more people in those positions will be able t to understand what their actions mean to some kids."

Williams also said Friday that "I worship the ground Coach [Bill] Guthridge walks on" even though he reveals in the book that his former freshman coach didn't speak to him for three years after he turned down the Tar Heels job when Guthridge retired in 2000.

Guthridge said recently that he regrets the silent treatment, and the two are again close. Williams said there were others at both Kansas and Carolina who distanced themselves after his difficult decisions to turn down Carolina's job in 2000 and then accept it in 2003, but he's reconciled with many of them.

"I know that there's some people that might be disappointed by some of the things that are said in the book, but it's all true," he said. " I do think that's a good thing, too, that in so many of those cases that were in the book, there were some things that really hurt me -- but true friends, people that are really important, we've had a second chance. And I think that's pretty good, too."

Williams said that even his closest friends may be surprised by some of the details revealed in the sometimes-serious, sometimes-funny 14 chapters, which are published by Algonquin. In the book, Williams also discusses his coaching philosophies, recruiting strategies and relationships with friends and family.

When he received his final copy of "Hard Work", he said, he read the first 98 pages one more time -- then set it aside, thinking 'Why would someone want to read this?' A few days later, he picked it back up, finished it, and put it away -- satisfied and dry-eyed.

"During the course of the project, I didn't know if I was even going to feel comfortable with it. I didn't know if I could say, 'Yeah, it was good,' or 'Yeah, I'm glad I did it,' " he said. " ... But when I finished, I said, 'That's OK.' "

And he's 99 percent sure he'll never write another one.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944.

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