By R.L. Bynum
If not for the pandemic or his only career first-round NCAA tournament loss, would Roy Williams still be Carolina’s head men’s basketball coach?
The retired Hall of Fame coach talked about this during an interview with Jones Angell and Adam Lucas on UNC Athletics’ “Carolina Insider” podcast released Tuesday.
“There’s no question, deep down inside, I really never wanted to retire,” Williams said on the podcast. “I wanted to win a championship and croak the next day and let that be it. People keep asking me why you did that and everything, and it’s exactly what I said: that I just didn’t feel like I was the right man for the job. Because I didn’t think I was doing as good a job as I’ve done in the past and I’ve had a hard time getting past that.”
Without COVID-19, would he still be talking about his retirement life on a podcast?
“Yeah, there’s a great chance that we would not be,” Williams said. “Because it was such an unusual year. Last year, I just felt like I couldn’t get them to buy-in. I wasn’t with my team in any way, shape or form like I had always been in the past.”
His players didn’t have regular summer school in 2020, there were no pickup games with the pros coming back and playing in front of kids in camp. Then, there were virtual classes. He understood the disruptions but didn’t like them.
“My comfort zone with my team was not like it had been in the past because I wasn’t with them as much,” Williams said. “Perhaps if it had been a normal year, I would have been able to get over that hump of the Clemson and Duke games by getting closer to the guys and getting them to buy in more.”
Williams has always said he remembers more from the losses than the victories.
He didn’t get his team to foul while protecting a late 3-point lead against Clemson on Jan. 11, 2020. The Tigers forced overtime with a 3-pointer and won 79–76 in Chapel Hill. Then, nearly a month later, he got his team to foul in a similar situation against Duke but the Blue Devils still managed to win 96–96 in overtime.
Those two losses ate at him. As did the season-ending 85–62 loss to Wisconsin, which turned out to be his final game.
“I’ve never had that feeling of helplessness, and it just made me feel like I hadn’t done a very good job,” Williams said. “If you take away the COVID and you take away the Wisconsin game, I really do believe I’d still be sitting here. But I just felt like, ‘did I coach this team at all?’ Did I accomplish anything at all?
“I feel like that I’ve been OK for the university,” he said. “But I just felt like I was worthless at that time. The second half of the season last year is where it started more than anything. … After that Wisconsin game, the very first week after the season was over with, that’s when it hit really hard.”
Williams dispelled the notion that the active transfer portal nudged him into retirement. He said that it has zero impact on his decision.
“But I knew that the game was changing so much that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it as much,” Williams said. “When I really enjoyed coaching was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. Then I did at the end. But I’m big on commitment. I’m big on toughness and making a commitment, sticking with it and surviving and advancing and getting better and those kinds of things. And the transfer portal hurts that.”
He said the reality of no longer coaching hit him when he attended a UNC women’s soccer game and watched one of the basketball team’s practices.
You can listen to the entire interview, which touches on many other topics, on the podcast here, starting at 23 minutes, 20 seconds.