Roy likely to stay this time, but who's next for Heels?
Posted May 7
At age 63, Roy Williams is a long shot to make the basketball coaching jump from the University of North Carolina to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Williams had opportunities to coach in the NBA as a younger man, and at a time when Lakers were looking and had a roster top heavy with talent and experience.
This is not that team. After a 27-55 finish this season and with Kobe Bryant, 35, past his prime, the next Lakers’ coach faces a dim near future at the best.
For Williams, that prospect would be torture. In 26 years as a college coach, his worst records have been 19-12 at Kansas in his first year (1988-89), 19-11 in his first season at UNC (2003-04) and 20-17 in 2009-10.
But while there’s every reason to believe Williams will stay in Chapel Hill, the developments this week with the Lakers are the latest reminder that at some point in the relatively near future, Williams no longer will be Carolina’s coach.
Barring something strange, Williams probably could coach another seven or eight years if he chooses. Dean Smith retired at age 66 after reaching a Final Four and later said he probably should have stayed on another two or three seasons. In fact, Smith said as much to Williams.
However, there’s a big psychological difference between Smith at age 63 and Williams at 63. Smith could better suppress internal stress and frustrations with external forces beyond his control.
Williams dwells closer to the ground, often wearing his heart – and sometimes his temper – on his sleeve. He clearly takes losses much harder and more personally than his mentor, probably because Williams had a far more trying childhood than Smith. Williams has had to work longer and fight harder to make it big than the majority of his successful contemporaries.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Williams really does die a little bit with each loss, meaning he could wear out quicker as a coach than most.
AD alone won’t make decision
When the time does come that Williams retires, Carolina’s leaders without question will face their most daunting and important athletic personnel call ever. It will nothing like the natural transition from Smith to Bill Guthridge and eventually from Matt Doherty to Williams.
Beyond Roy, there’s not a clearly marked coaching road sign. There are three “Carolina men” on the staff – Hubert Davis, Brad Frederick and Eric Hoots – but it’s unlikely any would be seriously considered if athletic director Bubba Cunningham would have to a launch a search for another coach during the next four years.
East Carolina’s Jeff Lebo, 47, would get a look. So might Wes Miller, 31, currently coaching at UNC-Greensboro.
But for now, there’s every reason to believe Carolina’s next coach will be someone who didn’t wear a Tar Heel uniform or have a direct link to Smith.
When Cunningham had to make the football switch from Butch Davis' replacement Everett Withers, he moved fairly fast to sign Larry Fedora, whose days at Southern Miss coincided with Cunningham’s stint at Tulsa. Both schools were then members of Conference USA, so Cunningham was familiar with Fedora’s coaching style.
But when the time comes to find a new basketball coach, under no circumstances will Cunningham will have the same leeway from the university to make the hire.
Football may be a big money sport, but basketball will always be nearer and dearer to the hearts of Carolina’s big-money donors.
As much as those donors may admire and support Cunningham, they’re not going to let a former Notre Dame student and AD at an Oklahoma-based school make the decision alone about who will get the keys to the program Frank McGuire and Dean Smith built and Bill Guthridge and Roy Williams nourished.
To put it another way, it’ll take a village to hire the new Roy.