In 15 seasons at Kansas, Roy Williams coached 519 games. Now in his 14th season at North Carolina, Williams has coached 480 games. The Tar Heels’ next game, on Wednesday night at Indiana, will be Williams’ 1,000th game as a head coach.
There are 351 Division I college basketball teams. The sport has been around now for more than 100 years. And in its history, only 21 men have coached at least 1,000 games. It’s a milestone few ever reach. And so approaching his 1,000th game, what keeps Williams going?
That was the subject of our recent profile of Williams. And that story was based on an extended interview with Williams before the season began. The first half of that interview is presented here, edited in parts for clarity and length.
The setting: Williams’ spacious office at the Smith Center. Photos on the walls. Memorabilia on book shelves. A desk full of notes, papers, reminders. Williams is wearing a sweater. The time: A Wednesday morning, two days before the start of the season.
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Andrew Carter: You recently adjusted your retirement timeline from six to 10 more years to five to nine – what would make you want to continue coaching for nine more years?
Roy Williams: Enjoy it as much as I’m enjoying it right now. It wouldn’t have to change. I would just have to enjoy it as much as I am. Last year was a fantastic, fantastic ride. And if I was able to emphasize the good things, and not just fight all the junk that was going on, and having a relationship with that team, and getting them to believe in what I had as a goal, and what I saw as a realistic goal for them, and so to me, I’m enjoying it. So why should you stop if you enjoy something?
AC: Is your passion and energy for the job still the same as it’s always been?
RW: Maybe even more so. I think I’m doing more work now than I’ve ever done, in terms of getting on the plane and going recruiting, so I haven’t felt any of that diminish whatsoever.
AC: Amid all of “the junk,” as you call it, have others – family and friends – encouraged you to step away with the thought that you don’t need the stress anymore, that it’s time to enjoy a life beyond basketball?
RW: No. Wanda wanted me to quit after we won our second one in 2009. But no, nobody else has ever said anything, and she knows how much I enjoy it, too. You know, most people say they want to keep enjoying it because they want to keep me doing it even longer. That’s what my friends would say – maybe they like their tickets.
AC: What was Wanda’s argument back in 2009?
RW: Oh, just saying you’ve won two of these now. You have a group that won the national championship, had eight seniors, all of them graduated and how can it get any better than this? But when you get to be 60, I think your partners start thinking about how many years are left and what you want you do, and there are still some things that they want to enjoy. And it’s stressful. No doubt it’s stressful. And she sees the stress that the basketball coach at North Carolina goes through. But she also knows how much I love doing what I’m doing, so it’s a battle for her, too.
AC: Can you envision a life beyond basketball, 10 years from now or whenever the time comes?
RW: Never thought about it, never will think about it, until it’s time.
AC: Might you decide to stay even longer than nine years, then?
RW: Andrew, seriously, think about it – if I said six to 10 for four years, shouldn’t that change? And so I said five to nine. I just did that to get people to think what I’m thinking. I’m not looking down the road. I’m really not. I don’t consider it, don’t think about it. I think if you spend time thinking about that all the time, it’s time to do that. So I don’t do that. I really don’t. I enjoy what I do. I’m serious – I answer that question from you more than I do all the other people in the world put together. I’m being truthful. … What do we have in the country, 300 million people? You have brought that question up more than all the other millions of people in the world put together. I’m serious.
AC: What makes you so determined to see the program through the other side?
RW: Because I don’t want there to be any doubt about how much I love the program. I don’t want there to be any doubt about the willingness I have to work through the junk. I don’t want there to be any doubt about the fact that I was not involved in any of the junk, and have never been involved, never will be involved. But the competitive side is, why would you want to leave when things aren’t as rosy as they can possibly be? I’d like to think that when I leave, things will be in pretty good shape, and there won’t be any questions, won’t be doubts. But the reason I’ve stayed is because I want to coach. It has not driven me to stay, with one exception is that question. And I don’t want to – when I got here it was North Carolina basketball, but we had some problems. And hadn’t been to the tournament two years in a row, there was some dissatisfaction, there was some disgruntled people, everybody wasn’t on the same page. And so we got through that. I’d like to make sure that there’s not any problems when I leave.
AC: Has going through the difficulties of the past several years changed you in any way?
RW: Very much so.
AC: How so?
RW: I’m so much more skeptical about people and their reasons for doing things, their own dynamics and goals. It’s also even fortified my beliefs that we’re doing things the right way. It’s strengthened my resolve to make sure that we do things the right way. It’s made me tougher. I’ve always felt like I was pretty competitive but this has made it even more so, because I know. It hasn’t been pleasant. I haven’t enjoyed having people shove microphones under face and say, ‘Do you think you’re going to survive?’ I haven’t enjoyed people writing articles about so-and-so knew this or so-and-so knew that. And yet it’s world we live in.
AC: When you say skepticism about people and their reasons, motives, can you be more specific?
RW: Just, I mean the sensationalism. Everybody writes about, oh, this is the blankety-blank-blank of whatever. It’s media, internet – everybody wants to write something. But I’ve lived it. And so that’s probably made me more determined to make sure that I’m here when it’s over with. But no, I haven’t enjoyed it. I used to walk into every press conference and say, hey, there’s some good guys in here. Now I walk in with skepticism. I used to talk to everybody, whether it was media or just people, and right now I’m skeptical of everybody in the world. And that’s not the way to live your life. And so I have to fight that off all the time, because some people have different roles. And there’s a bit of a world out there that like to tear people, or things, down that’s made them more evident to me. So it’s harmed me in that way, in that I haven’t enjoyed people nearly as much as I used to. I haven’t enjoyed – even, things are going poorly, you’re losing or whatever – I’ve never been driven by the fact that, ‘I’ll show you.’ And I’m more driven by that fact now than at any other time.
AC: Has it created, in your mind, a me vs. the world dynamic?
RW: I don’t think it’s that. I just think it’s a sad state of affairs. I mean, how this thing has been so sensationalized has bothered me. And we made mistakes. You’ve heard me say that from day one. We made some mistakes. But I think in my opinion, it’s been more sensationalized than actually what is there. And yet, I’ll say again, we made some mistakes I’m not proud of, I’m mad about, sad about. Any way you want to describe it. But I’m more skeptical about people. I used to start everybody in the middle, and they could prove me that they were good or they could prove to me that they were bad. And now I’m more skeptical about anybody and everybody. Anytime somebody asks me to do something, I’m trying to figure out, what’s the ulterior motive in this?
AC: Does your skepticism go beyond media requests and obligations?
RW: More the media stuff than anybody else. I mean, I trust people. I always have. I genuinely like people. That has never changed. I wave at people before they wave at me. I drive the car, I always wave at people walking, I don’t have any idea who that is. And that part has never changed, and that never will. But every time I would go into any group – I mean, you were at the Final Four, a guy accused me of trying to control the media by saying ‘you can’t ask me this question.’ The guy before me, Jimmy Boeheim, said, ‘Don’t ask me that, ask Roy.’ Well that’s controlling. I just said, ‘Guys …’ How am I controlling the media? I’m answering your question. But that was put in Sports Illustrated. We had somebody in this campus that said if you think Roy Williams didn’t know what was going on, you think pigs can fly. I’ve never seen that guy in my entire life. He has no idea what he’s talking about. But, wouldn’t that make you skeptical? Then it’s like, I’m not abnormal. But I’ve always loved people, enjoyed people. I can walk outside and sit down and talk to anybody. I enjoy that, whether I’m on the golf course, at the restaurant, at a service station – people come up and I enjoy people. So it hasn’t changed me that way. But it’s made more skeptical about other people that come up, more so from the media, by far, than anybody else.
AC: You went through some difficult times as a young man, experiences you wrote about in your book, Hard Work. Have the past several years been more difficult than those times when you were younger?
RW: Yeah, I didn’t know it was difficult at that time. I just thought that’s the way it was. Looking back on it, I wish it had been a little different. But that was just something that I went through.
AC: Did going through that help you go through this?
RW: Could have. You know, that’s probably getting into Roy Williams’ brain too deeply, and I never try to do that. I think when you do that, you try to build a picture that’s not there. Nobody lived my life at that time. Nobody lived my life right now. And, to be honest with you, I don’t think that many give a darn about how I felt at that time or how I feel right now. But you guys got to write something. You ought to print that.
AC: How do you think the job of being a college basketball coach has changed from 5, 10, 15 years ago?
RW: The scrutiny has gotten much deeper by people that make evaluations without information. Much more so. Just like I talked to you. If a writer for the Raleigh News & Observer, Charlotte Observer, however you want to call yourself, there’s some principles that you believe in, that were taught to you, that you think is the way it should be done. And those things have gone by the wayside with all the blogs and all the Internet and then the chat rooms and all that. And …
Williams stands up and walks to another side of his desk. He picks up a laptop. It’s blue and chunky and looks old.
AC: What is that, your computer?
RW: Hasn’t been opened in eight years. I’m serious. I honestly had to look to see if it was even back there. … It hasn’t been opened since I moved into this building from the other office.
AC: So you don’t have a laptop?
RW: No. No. And the reason I don’t is because I don’t want to spend my time worrying about some things that are being said by people that have no information. And I don’t have a Facebook. I don’t have any of that stuff.
AC: I know you’re not on Twitter.
RW: I’ve never done that my entire life. I couldn’t – I used to, when computers first came out, I had email from my son and my daughter. I was at Kansas, they were in school here. And a guy that owned a bunch of golf courses, he had my email address. And it used to be cute. I’d open it up when I got up in the morning and it’d say, ‘You have mail.’ And then all of a sudden, my email address got out, and so every day I’d come in, there’d be 200 emails in there. And some of them, people want to sell me something that I did not want or need. Some people telling me, giving me evaluation of the job I was doing, which I did not want or need. You know, and it got to be time consuming. I let other people’s interests dominate my day. And I said that’s it. And so at the end at Kansas, I never used a computer at all. I’ve not been on a computer – now, I do use a laptop that they put the games on the computer for me and I watch the laptop on the plane or in the office or something like that. And I go home at night and I look for the tapes of somebody we’re getting ready to play, or I look at tapes of a high school player, somebody we’ll recruit. I’ve eaten with my phone now. Yeah, I’ve got it in my pocket. Half the time I leave it in the car. It’s a something six, so whatever that is. But I’m not going to let those things dominate my life and dominate my day. I want to do my work. I want to be concerned with people. And I have kept since the spring of 2015 – I’ve got a guy that called me house. Told me it was going to be a cold day in Hades when the Carolina people are going to be satisfied with the job that I was doing because Brandon Ingram signed at Duke.
AC: Somebody called you at home and said that?
RW: Yeah. And left that message. And said that he hoped that I was either on my way to airport all the way to Atlanta to recruit Jaylen Brown because the Tar Heel nation wasn’t going to stand for Coach K signing Brandon Ingram instead of coming to North Carolina. And so I’ve kept it. I can go into my office and I can press that button right now and listen to it again. And you know, we had a pretty good year last year. With 4.7 seconds, we’ve still got a chance to win the national championship. Three-hundred fifty-one teams started the season. So I’ve kept that the whole time. And when I quit, I will call the guy and have a discussion with him.
AC: So to get this straight, your number’s not listed. So somebody who either knew it or found it somehow called and left that message?
RW: Yeah, called me on my phone. And left that message, for my wife to hear. So that’s one of the reasons, I don’t get involved with all that junk. Because the John Wayne in me comes out. Because I would like to tell that guy exactly what I think, and show him exactly what I think. But I have his number, and I have that message. And I’ve had it since, well, you go back sometime in April with Brandon Ingram announced that he was going to Duke. So I’ve had that message on my phone. … How dare somebody call my home phone and my wife have to listen to kind of junk. And so that’s the reason I don’t get involved in all these things. I would never go on the – they’ve asked me to put a Facebook or my page or whatever all that crap is. And I don’t know any of it. And I would never do that, because I’m not going to allow somebody to do something like that. But to call me at home and leave that kind of message?
AC: That has to be a rarity, a one-time thing?
RW: It’s happened before.
AC: I thought I had it bad with hate messages from UNC fans.
RW: (laughs) Well it’s just, you know, somebody that doesn’t have any idea what we’ve gone through, and what we went through in recruiting for the last three years. And to leave that kind of message on my phone is something that I don’t appreciate.
Part II, on recruiting and more, coming on Wednesday …