The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has announced the retirement of men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, who steps down at 70 after guiding the program to three NCAA titles.
The decision was announced Thursday, two weeks after Williams ended his 18th season as Tar Heels head coach with a loss to Wisconsin in the first round of the ongoing NCAA Tournament. It was Williams’ only first-round loss in 30 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Williams, who worked as a North Carolina assistant under the late Dean Smith, won 903 games over his 33 years as a head coach for the Tar Heels and the Kansas Jayhawks. Under Williams, UNC won national titles in 2005, 2009, and 2017.
His 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.’
The University of North Carolina has announced the retirement on en’s basketball coach Roy Williams, who steps down at 70 after guiding the program to three of its six NCAA titles
Roy Williams (center) pictured between former Tar Heels stars Sam Perkins (left) and Michael Jordan (right), whom he coached as a UNC assistant under school legend Dean Smith
The North Carolina native has coached many NBA superstars both as an assistant and a head coach. While working under Smith in Chapel Hill, Williams worked with future NBA stars such asJordan, James Worthy, and Sam Perkins.
Later, with Kansas, Williams coached other future pros such as Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard, Greg Ostertag, Rex Walters, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Jacque Vaughn.
Williams was hired to replace the struggling Matt Doherty at UNC in 2003, winning his first ever NCAA title in just his second season on a team featuring Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants.
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 Governor Roy Cooper posted on Twitter. ‘We hate to see you go but Godspeed Coach.’
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported that Williams’s decision is not unexpected, and may be connected to broad changes within college basketball.
Namely, Goodman said, Williams is concerned with new transfer rules, which allow players to bolt one school for another without being forced to sit out a year, as they once had. The elimination of the regulations has led to players transferring more frequently.
Williams is also reportedly concerned with players being given the right to sell rights to their name, image, and likeness for profit – an increasingly likely possibility currently being debated everywhere from the NCAA to the United States Supreme Court.
‘There has been speculation that Roy Williams was going to retire in the last couple weeks,’ Goodman tweeted. ‘He’s 70 years old, and has been frustrated with the direction that college basketball is headed, per sources. One of those areas was the rash of transfers of late, also concerned about NIL.’
Williams took over at Kansas after Larry Brown bolted for the NBA in 1988. Under Williams, the Jayhawks did not win a national title, but remained one of the top NCAA teams in the country
Even Duke, UNC’s bitter rival, paid tribute to Williams after Thursday’s announcement
Former Duke center and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called Williams ‘one of the truly greatest coaches of all-time, in any sport.’
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported that Williams’s decision is not unexpected, and may be connected to broad changes within college 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.
He 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.
Along the way, 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.
Michael Jordan talks with University of North Carolina coaches Roy Williams, center, and Dean Smith after being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, Friday, September 11, 2009