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College basketball

Williams gone to Carolina this time

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Roy Williams returned home to North Carolina, hoping to win the national championship that eluded him for 15 seasons at Kansas.

The men's basketball coach, who grew up in the North Carolina mountains and learned his craft as an assistant to Dean Smith, resigned as Jayhawks coach Monday to take the job at his alma mater.

"I was a Tar Heel born. When I die, I'll be a Tar Heel dead. But in the middle, I have been Tar Heel and Jayhawk bred, and I am so, so happy and proud of that," Williams, 52, said during a news conference inside a practice gym at the Smith Center before cheering boosters.

Smith and former coach Bill Guthridge stood nearby, and Tar Heels players wore suits and sport jackets. Outside, a crowd gathered, and the students could be heard cheering before the announcement.

North Carolina gave Williams an eight-year deal with an annual base of $260,000. The media and Nike contracts -- to be negotiated -- are expected to push the salary to around $2-million annually.

Williams met with his players in Lawrence to inform them of his decision. He then flew to Chapel Hill, where his hiring was announced at a news conference.

"Other than serious injury or death to my family, I've never had anything more difficult than what I've been through this afternoon with my team, and telling those 13 young men that I was leaving them," he said.

The decision came one week after Syracuse beat Kansas in the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. Williams replaces Matt Doherty, who resigned under pressure April 1.

Doherty endorsed the hiring of his mentor, wishing Williams and the Tar Heels well.

"The university made a great hire in hiring Coach Williams," said Doherty, who coached under Williams at Kansas in 1992-99. "He'll do a great, great job with those kids and the program, and I'll be pulling for them."

Williams returns to North Carolina three years after rejecting an offer to take over the program. When Doherty resigned, there was immediate speculation that Williams would be the front-runner, but he angrily refused to answer questions about the job after the loss to the Orangemen.

When he left the meeting with his players, an emotional Williams tried to put his feelings about Kansas in perspective. "This is personal, fellas. There is something I want to say," he told reporters, fighting back tears. "This has been a special place. I really appreciate the way you have treated me."

Williams took the Kansas job a few months after Larry Brown coached the team to the 1988 national title. After going 19-12 his first season, Williams guided the Jayhawks to the NCAA Tournament 14 consecutive times.

The fourth-fastest coach in Division I history to reach 400 victories, Williams (418-101) won nine Big 12 and Big Eight championships and took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours, including two appearances in the title game. He has the most NCAA Tournament victories without a title.

Wayne Simien, who dislocated his shoulder in January and later had season-ending surgery, appeared angry after the team meeting in Lawrence. "I gave my right arm for him, literally," said Simien, wearing a sling.

At North Carolina there was elation. A school that saw Williams leave as a highly regarded assistant now welcomes him back as one of the country's most respected coaches.

"This has been a very, very long process," UNC freshman Sean May said. "It's good to finally have a coach -- and a great one at that."

Among the coaches mentioned as possible replacements for Williams are Illinois' Bill Self, Marquette's Tom Crean, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Gonzaga's Mark Few. Kentucky's Tubby Smith might be a possibility because he reportedly is not happy with the Wildcat scene.

Self, who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant to Brown at KU, is thought to be the front-runner. "I have not been contacted by Kansas," Self said in a statement. "There are some programs in America we won't be able to match tradition with over time. But that doesn't mean we can't accomplish some great things here and be considered among that group."

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