“Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault. I’m gonna blow your head off.”
ó Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) to John Fain (Richard Boone) in “Big Jake”By Bret Strelow
SAN ANTONIO ó Roy Williams is still defending his emotional decision to move back east five years ago.
A famous line from a John Wayne western sums up Williams’ feelings.
North Carolina and Kansas, the two schools that have employed Williams as a college head coach, will square off tonight in the second Final Four game at the Alamodome.
Williams arrived at Kansas in 1988, declined an offer to coach UNC in 2000, then accepted another offer three years later.
He didn’t get along well with Kansas athletic director Al Bohl, who took over for Bob Frederick in 2001, and the school fired Bohl two days after the Jayhawks lost the 2003 national championship game.
North Carolina hired Williams five days later.
“My last couple years at Kansas, things hadn’t been as smooth,” Williams said recently. “We had changed athletic directors, and his fault, my fault, nobody’s fault.
“My situation changed, but those faces I was looking at in that room, they hadn’t changed and they were the same kids. For two years I was ecstatic for two and a half hours every day, and that’s when I was on the court with my team.”
Williams has spent the last week answering questions about his departure from Kansas. His relationship with Bohl was a factor, but Williams had plenty of reasons to return to his alma mater.
The Tar Heels plummeted to 8-20 in Matt Doherty’s second season and played in the NIT a year later. They reached the second round of the NCAA tournament during Williams’ first year back in Chapel Hill and captured the national title in 2005.
Williams embraced the opportunity to see his estranged father, Mack, who died in 2004. Williams also visited his sister, Frances Baker, who had Alzheimer’s disease and died the day before UNC opened last year’s NCAA tournament.
Their father, known as “Babe” around the Asheville area, wasn’t heavily involved in his children’s lives.
“It wasn’t the greatest relationship in the world, but in the first 13 months I was back here that my dad was alive, I saw him 15 times,” Williams said. “That’s more than I saw him in the 15 years I was at Kansas. There was a lot of reconciliation there and some private moments that we were able to share.
“I was able to do some things with and for my sister that I didn’t want to be the rich little brother back in Kansas sending a check. That was a small part of it.”
Williams said he’s passed up offers from about a dozen NBA franchises ó including the Los Angeles Lakers (three times), Boston Celtics and Miami Heat ó during his coaching career. He had a chance to take over a professional team in 2003 and told his wife, Wanda, he’d only leave Kansas if UNC was his destination.
Williams was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September, and former players from both schools attended the ceremony. Williams said he was especially touched by the presence of Wayne Simien, who was a junior at Kansas in Bill Self’s first season as head coach.
“It’s been five years since Roy went to Carolina,” Self said. “As Kansas fans, representing Kansas, we should be proud of the time that Roy gave us because excellence was definitely the standard while he was there.”
Kansas made four Final Four appearances in Williams’ 15 seasons there, and the Jayhawks are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2003.
Williams said he heard from eight former Kansas players in the first two days after Self’s team beat Davidson in the Midwest Regional final, and four current Kansas players had a picture taken with him Thursday night.
Williams remains an avid fan of the Jayhawks. On the first day of his summer camp at North Carolina, he tells the kids they can wear UNC or Kansas gear.
All other schools are out.
“It was difficult in 2000 when I said no to North Carolina and didn’t come,” Williams said. “It was difficult in 2003 when I said yes to North Carolina and came.
“People in Kansas don’t really have any idea of what we have here, and people here have no idea what they have in Kansas. Everybody is in their own world, which is OK, but it’s just two marvelous, marvelous places, and I’ve been very lucky to coach in both places.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.
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