On Roy's 70th Birthday, His 5 Best Coaching Jobs At UNC
As Roy WIlliams turns 70, THI honors the Hall of Fame coach by taking a look at the five best coaching jobs he's turned in since taking over North Carolina's basketball program in 2003.
Please keep in mind, we aren’t ranking his five best teams, we’re noting his five best coaching jobs. There is a difference.
Here is our list:
5- 2009 (34-4 overall, 13-3 ACC, National Champions)
One could argue this team was somewhat on auto pilot, but while the Tar Heels could run themselves to a degree, it would be unfair to Williams’ tremendous performance that season.
Talent and experience alone don’t win national championships, teams need direction, a vibe, pushing, reworking, molding and focus. And the legendary coach provided every bit of that to his club. Williams masterfully knew when to lay off and apply his foot to the pedal.
This was the best team in the nation by far from day one and it was fueled by how the 2008 season ended and that 40-12 score firmly etched in UNC fans' memories, which was the margin Kansas led in the first half of the national semifinals.
That team was on a mission and Williams did an outstanding job keeping their focus on the mission. He didn’t have Marcus Ginyard, kept everyone happy as Ty Lawson passed Tyler Hansbrough in the second half of the season becoming the team’s best player and ACC Player of the Year, and the Heels got better defensively when it mattered. A lot better.
So when the NCAA Tournament arrived, the Tar Heels were ready to go. They rolled to the national title, blowing out Michigan State in the finals in Detroit. It capped Hansbrough’s amazing career and gave Williams his second title. One can also make a good case that was the last great college basketball team.
4- 2017 (33-7, 14-4, National Champions)
Similar to the 2009 Heels, the ’17 club got its charge from how the previous season ended. Villanova beat Carolina on a shot at the buzzer in the 2016 national title game, so the 2017 Redemption Tour was underway not long after the ’16 title game concluded. And it paid off.
Part of Williams’ greatness is knowing when to let his players do their thing and when to reign them in. Using that word again, but he masterfully did that four years ago and it was an integral part of the Tar Heels eventually winning the national championship.
Like all of his teams, that club got better defensively as the season went on, and its defense, rebounding and grit won it a title, making it the most blue collar UNC national championship squad ever, edging the 1993 Tar Heels. This also may be many Carolina fans' favorite title team because of the grit this club displayed, led by Joel Berry's most talked about ankle in ACC history.
And who directs and guides that toughness? It starts with the head coach.
3- 2019 (29-7, 16-2, NCAA Sweet 16)
The Tar Heels’ “Why Not” stated mission of winning another national championship in 2019 appeared a bit foolish for the first couple of months of the season. Yet, Williams knew his team had enough within them to make a push, and he kept massaging them until things started clicking in January. And by mid-March, the Tar Heels were rolling.
Carolina somehow finished 16-2 in the ACC, tying eventual national champion Virginia for the regular season title, and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament despite having the roster composition more pedestrian than most UNC teams over the prior 50 years.
The Heels were one of the coach's fastest teams as he blended veterans with freshmen to make it work. He worked freshman Coby White into the role of running a team with seasoned vets around him and it worked, though it took some time. Roy understood the team’s temperament and used that knowledge to his advantage.
Carolina lost in the Sweet 16, but that doesn’t take away what an incredible coaching job Williams did.
2- 2006 (23-8, 12-4, NCAA 2nd Round)
There was plenty of internal debate about making this club No. 1 on the list because Williams had to essentially replace all of the production from the national title team the year before. It helped that David Noel erupted in his senior season and Tyler Hansbrough was the best freshman in Carolina history. It also helped that Williams turned in one of the greatest coaching jobs ever in the ACC that winter.
How on earth that club won as much as it did before being upset by George Mason (during its Cinderella run) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament might still be a mystery to some, especially given how young and inexperienced that team was and that it had Wes Miller starting, Bobby Frasor at the point, Danny Green off the bench before he developed into the Danny Green people have seen in the NBA, and so on.
The Heels were gritty, called a lot of set plays, married themselves to whatever their coach demanded, and they found ways to win and compete. They even spoiled Senior Day at Duke in the final home game for J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams, both of whom had their jerseys retired.
It was one of those Roy-sure-can-coach seasons at a time he inexplicably still wasn’t getting his due.
1- 2005 (33-4, 14-2, National Champions)
Championships matter, right? That’s what puts this season over the top. That and the degree of difficulty Williams faced when he took over the program after Matt Doherty was fired two years before the Heels cut down the nets in St. Louis.
Few people truly understand the hand Williams was dealt. He had to build his players’ trust in him and get them to operate on an entirely different level in literally every facet. And among his greatest challenges was getting Rashad McCants to simply buy in and go for a title without being a distraction, and it worked.
Some observers that know a thing or two about the situation at the time have said getting McCants on the same page with the rest of the team over the final two months of that season was the single greatest accomplishment of Williams’ career. That might be, and one thing is for certain: The Heels had talent in Sean May, Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, McCants and Jawad Williams, but if Ol’ Roy didn’t get McCants to buy in that team never would have won the title.
So, to do that and take Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott and Jackie Manuel from the worst season in Carolina history when they were freshmen to winning the national championship is the kind of thing usually reserved for Tinseltown, but it really happened and Roy Williams was the architect.