A great deal has been made of “cantankerous” Roy Williams, to use his own description, during this Final Four, but it’s nothing anyone who has actually paid any attention to North Carolina hasn’t seen before, on Tuesdays and Fridays during the ACC season, after games, at the ACC tournament.
It’s Roy being Roy, and he hasn’t slowed down during the NCAA tournament – in his parlance, he doesn’t give a frickin’ flip kind of thing. It has nothing to do with what’s been written in the national media or the local media, although his friends do like to rile him up by passing things along at times. If he has let his full Roy shine, it’s because this team’s postseason success is a direct refutation of the criticism that comes from his own fans, especially after the home loss to Duke.
It’s a response to the bankers and the lawyers who know less about basketball in their whole bodies than Williams does in his little finger, the North Carolina fans who email his radio show asking why Marcus Paige isn’t playing point guard or why Isaiah Hicks isn’t starting or why he doesn’t ever, ever, ever call a time out?
There’s no question Williams wants to beat Villanova on Monday to capture his third national title for his seniors, Paige and Brice Johnson and Joel James. There’s no question he wants this to defray the damage done by the academic scandal that has engulfed his program, his university. And there’s also no question Williams wants this to prove something to North Carolina’s own fans, many of whom have always been harder on Williams than coaches elsewhere with a comparable record.
“I think a lot of it’s unfair,” Paige said. “You don’t hear a lot of it right now that we’re in the championship game. Everyone’s behind us. Everyone’s like, ‘Roy’s the man.’ But just a couple weeks ago, it wasn’t that way. For some reason, I feel like he has a shorter leash than other coaches.”
Has there ever been a coach this successful who is merely tolerated by a significant portion of his own fans? It’s not just the Internet tough guys who wanted Williams fired after the Duke loss. There also are the grandees who traffic in faint praise, whose disdain for Williams is marked by disclaimers and qualifiers, who see him as a pale imitation of his mentor.
Is it merely that he’s not Dean Smith? Or did things go irreparably wrong when Williams went back to Lawrence after Bill Guthridge retired? When he wore the Kansas sticker? Or when he didn’t call timeout, against Georgetown, against Kansas, against Duke, against Duke?
“We don’t know anything. We always make the wrong decisions. We’re recruiting the wrong guys,” assistant coach C.B. McGrath said. “We can’t do this; we can’t do that. I don’t read (Twitter) any more. I don’t need that. I know we’re doing the same job we did in 2005. We’re trying to do the same thing. It’s worked for a lot of years.”
For every North Carolina fan who thinks Williams can’t coach, there’s an N.C. State fan who was told Herb Sendek was the best he could ever expect. There’s a Virginia fan wondering if Tony Bennett will ever get over the hump. There may even be a Wake Forest fan left.
Think you can roll out the ball at a blue-blood program and win a national title? Ask Billy Gillespie or Matt Doherty. UCLA hasn’t won a national title since 1995.
“A lot of teams would take what we’ve had the past couple years,” Paige said. “You say it’s been a long time between championships, and there’s been a lot of schools that also haven’t won since 2009 that would love to have won since then.”
In 13 years under Williams, UNC has gone to four Final Fours and is on the verge of a third title. Only Mike Krzyzewski has won more NCAA tournament games. With a win Monday, only John Wooden, Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp would have more national titles.
Williams finally, after seven years, was able to heal the wounds in Kansas caused when he went home to North Carolina. Maybe a third title would win over the detractors he still has here.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock