Joel Berry on UNC Coach Roy Williams: 'I love him a lot'
Roy Williams won his 800th game on Monday, and after he said, “I hope that I get a few more. I really do.” By games, Williams, the North Carolina coach, became the second-fastest to reach 800 victories, only behind Adolph Rupp. By seasons, Williams is the fastest to reach 800.
Only seven other Division I men’s college basketball coaches have won as many games as Williams has (Mike Krzyzewski, 1057; Jim Boeheim, 996 (895, according to the NCAA, after 101 wins were vacated); Bob Knight, 899; Dean Smith, 879; Jim Calhoun, 877; Rupp, 876; and Eddie Sutton, 806).
Now the question is how many milestones Williams has left.
He has said – and he reiterated recently – that he plans to coach for five to nine more years. If he goes toward the longer end of that timeline, and if UNC continues to win at its current pace, then Williams at some point, perhaps as early as 2025, would win his 1,000th game.
Krzyzewski, the Duke coach, is the only men’s basketball coach who has won that many. He crossed the milestone during the 2014-15 season, his 40th as a head coach. Williams, meanwhile, won his 800th game in his 29th season.
UNC has averaged 28 victories per season over the last five years. Let’s say UNC finishes this season with 30 wins – a conservative estimate, perhaps – and averages 25 (another conservative estimate, given Williams’ record to this point) until he decides to retire.
That’d give him 988 victories by the end of the 2024-25 season. That’s another seven seasons from now, and Williams, who will turn 67 on Aug. 1, will be approaching his 75th birthday. Does he want to coach until he’s 75? He hasn’t said he wouldn’t like to coach that long.
And another seven years – or eight, or nine – fits into the timeline that Williams has outlined. If UNC does average 25 victories during the next seven years, Williams would have a chance to win his 1,000th game either in late 2025 or early 2026.
There are a couple of factors that could preclude Williams’ pursuit of 1,000 victories – if it’s a goal that he’s pursuing at all. The first is health. Williams is moving around much better since his knee replacement surgery over the summer, but last season – before the surgery – was a painful ordeal.
Williams went through a cancer scare in 2012, and he might have his other knee (the left one) replaced, too. After his latest surgery, Williams appears to be pain-free. The grimaces and painful expressions so frequent a season ago haven’t been around this season.
Even so, remaining healthy is a moving target. At Duke, Krzyzewski is out indefinitely following another back surgery, one to correct a problem that kept him in almost constant pain. The day-in, day-out grind of coaching is demanding, and it becomes more and more challenging as every year passes. And so, physically, coaching long enough to reach 1,000 victories will be an exhausting challenge for Williams.
Another factor: the “junk,” as Williams likes to put it, with the ongoing NCAA investigation. A mention of men’s basketball is back in the notice of allegations – the third one UNC has received in this case – and it’s anybody’s guess what that means, in terms of penalties and sanctions.
Does Williams have victories vacated, even though he hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing? It seems unlikely, given the way the NCAA enforcement staff has constructed its case against UNC, but with the unpredictability of the NCAA, and this specific case, it seems almost anything is possible.
One thing is clear enough, though: Williams wants to help lead UNC to the other side of the investigation, whenever it ends. Asked before the start of the season why that’s so important to him, here’s how he answered:
“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.
“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.”
In answering that question Williams made another important point: He simply wants to coach.
When UNC reached the Final Four last spring, you might remember the national media pondering whether Williams had reached the end of his road. On the outside, it was perhaps a valid line of thought. Here was Williams limping around before his knee surgery, two wins away from a national championship. The years of “the junk” had clearly taken a mental toll.
So you could understand why some thought it might make sense for Williams to want to retire. What some underestimate, though, is his passion for what he’s doing, and his desire to make sure that, whenever he retires, he leaves UNC basketball in better shape than he found it in 2003 – and in the best shape it can possibly be in. That desire might well lead Williams, years from now, to 1,000 victories and beyond.