Thanks to a cold Roy Williams just can’t shake, he couldn’t make it through a routine press briefing without coughing so often he needed to call for a lozenge.
“I’ve been doing this for three weeks,” the North Carolina coach said Friday. “Just gotta live with it.”
These are difficult times for Williams, a state of affairs reflected not only in his persistent cough but the deepening furrows on the weary coach’s face.
North Carolina heads to Syracuse facing the very real possibility of its first 0-3 ACC start under Williams. He has described the long-running P.J. Hairston saga as the most difficult experience in all his years as a head coach. One of his former players, Will Graves, was cited on drug charges while at a house he rented from the coach.
He faced more questions after Wednesday’s stunning home loss to Miami about the academic issues that continue to batter away at the university’s national reputation. And in the aftermath of that loss, Williams said he felt “mentally probably worse than I’ve ever felt as a head coach,” a statement he said Friday he regretted.
“It hasn’t been the most pleasant time period in my life the last seven or eight months,” Williams said.
A recent story by one of Bleacher Report’s professional writers found among Williams’ friends and family a growing sense that the coach might need a break from what had become an increasingly demanding and frustrating job. And at 63, Williams is only three years younger than Dean Smith was when Smith walked away entirely of his own accord.
As he feels the strain of this trying season, even Williams will acknowledge it’s fair to wonder how much more of this he wants to endure – but only to wonder.
“You try to never think about it, because I want to coach a long time, but this has been frustrating beyond belief,” Williams said. “But when I’m laying there at night, I’m not thinking about why don’t I run to the first tee. I’m thinking about how I can get the next basket to go in, instead of miss.”
Williams can still coach and recruit, so despite the small but vocal faction of North Carolina fans who annually insist upon disparaging Williams’ coaching ability, there’s no imperative for him to depart. He has won two national titles at North Carolina, rebuilt the bridges back to Kansas and his teams still invariably improve as the season wears on, always the best measure of a coach’s effectiveness.
Given its pattern of unpredictability, the Tar Heels are certainly capable of going up and beating Syracuse on Saturday, even though no team in the country plays the 2-3 zone – Carolina kryptonite this season – any better. They’re also capable of getting blown out. That’s the challenge facing Williams with this talented, if erratic, team.
“I love this group of kids,” Williams said. “They are a fun group to be working with. How can you not like working with Marcus Paige? Just think about that. That’s what I try to focus on.
“I’ve had 26 years, and lot of those years have been really pretty doggone good. You should expect to have some problems. My deal is that I’ve got to change so we can stop these problems. That’s where I get the energy, that I can do some things that will help us turn that around.”