Tar Heels’ Roy Williams retiring after 18 seasons at UNC, 3 NCAA titles

NCAA Basketball

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams celebrates after his team’s 89-72 victory over Michigan State in the championship game at the men’s NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament in Detroit, in this Tuesday, April 7, 2009, file photo. North Carolina announced Thursday, April 1, 2021, that Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams is retiring after a 33-year career that includes three national championships. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

North Carolina announced Thursday that Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams is retiring after a 33-year career that includes three national championships.

The decision comes two weeks after the 70-year-old Williams closed his 18th season with the Tar Heels after a highly successful run at Kansas. In all, Williams won 903 games in a career that included those three titles, all with the Tar Heels, in 2005, 2009 and 2017.

North Carolina scheduled a campus news conference for Thursday afternoon on the Smith Center court bearing his name.

The Tar Heels lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in his final game, which was Williams’ only first-round loss in 30 tournaments.

“It’s been a difficult year, but everybody’s had the problems with COVID that we’ve had,” an emotional Williams said after the game. “It’s been a hard year to push and pull, push and pull every other day to try to get something done. But how can you be any luckier than Roy Williams is coaching basketball?”

Williams spent 10 seasons at his alma mater as an assistant coach to late mentor Dean Smith before leaving to take over the Jayhawks program in 1988. He spent 15 seasons there, taking Kansas to four Final Fours and two national title games.

Williams’ time as an assistant included the Tar Heels’ run to the 1982 NCAA championship for Smith’s first title, a game that memorably featured a freshman named Michael Jordan making the go-ahead jumper late to beat Georgetown.

“Roy Williams is and always will be a Carolina basketball legend,” Jordan said in a statement through his business manager. “His great success on the court is truly matched by the impact he had on the lives of the players he coached – including me. I’m proud of the way he carried on the tradition of Coach Smith’s program, always putting his players first.”

Williams was one of the many college coaches who had kind words for UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian when he died in 2015. A game against North Carolina was always a barometer of UNLV’s progress.

He also noted Tarkanian’s devotion to family.

Williams said he was inspired by a picture of Tarkanian with his son Danny on the bench together.

Williams passed on taking over at UNC in 2000 after the retirement of Bill Guthridge, but ultimately couldn’t say no a second time and returned as coach in 2003 after the tumultuous Matt Doherty era that included an 8-20 season.

Williams immediately stabilized the program and broke through for his first national championship in his second season with a win against Illinois, marking the first of five Final Four trips with the Tar Heels. His second title came in 2009 with a team that rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning every game by at least a dozen points, including the final game against Michigan State played in the Spartans’ home state.

The third title was delivered by a team that included players who had lost the 2016 championship game to Villanova on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. This time, the Tar Heels beat a one-loss Gonzaga team for the championship.

Williams won three Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles with the Tar Heels after winning seven league tournament titles with the Jayhawks.

Williams had just one losing season — an injury-plagued 14-19 year in 2019-20 — and otherwise missed the NCAA Tournament only in his first season at Kansas when he inherited a program on probation and in 2010 with a UNC team that reached the NIT final.

Along the way, Williams spoke with a folksy style from his time growing up in the North Carolina mountains — which became a bit of a trademark in his home state.

“Dadgummit! Roy Williams, legendary coach and wonderful person is hanging it up!” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper posted on Twitter. “We hate to see you go but Godspeed Coach.”

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