Tommy: Finally Getting It Right

Tommy: Finally Getting It Right

Three long years is what it took. Turmoil, strife, whatever you want to call it --- things have been ugly. All that is over now. Finally, Roy Williams has come back to Chapel Hill.

Three years ago, I wrote in this spot how Coach Dean Smith taught Roy Williams too well. Smith instilled the sense of loyalty in everyone that came through his Carolina program and with Williams, the teachings hit home the hardest. Williams couldn't leave Kansas in 2000 and he cited that loyalty to his players as the overriding factor. Who could blame him? Many did of course, but when Coach Smith, the one man hurt the most, understood, so did most of us.

That loyalty came into play a few days after "I'm staying" and it came in the form of Matt Doherty agreeing to come home only if his trusted Notre Dame assistant coaches could follow him to the Hill. We all hurt for those "Carolina guys" not retained --- Dave Hanners, Pat Sullivan and Phil Ford --- but for me, I understood. I didn't agree with the move because Ford is Carolina and to see him away from the bench was unthinkable then and now. But bringing his own staff was a move Doherty had to make, especially given the personality gap between former coach Bill Guthridge and himself. Unfortunately for Doherty, removing Hanners, Sullivan and especially Ford was the beginning of the end for the young coach --- doomed from the outset some would say --- the ultimate damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Coach Doherty certainly did not help his cause for nearly two and a half of his three-year stint at UNC as the mood in and around the program was poisonous. Credit Phil Ford and his loyalty to Carolina even after being fired, for holding things together as long as he could. Coach Doherty certainly owes Ford a lot of credit for that as does he owe the University for taking the high road to the current state when there were plenty of muddy pothole filled avenues available.

But as last week's rains washed away the unsightly pollen that engulfs North Carolina this time of year, so did Monday night's press conference in Chapel Hill wash away the past three years of turmoil. Many lessons can be learned from the past three years and it certainly appears the Athletic Director Dick Baddour learned the most valuable lesson from the mess he helped create. Coach Williams commented on how well Baddour handled the negotiations and how he would have remained in Kansas had Baddour pushed for an answer right away. Granted, Baddour has taken more heat than any over the past three years and much of that criticism has been fair. But he also deserves a lion's share of credit for finally landing the man everyone wanted all along. (Of course with Dean Smith dishing out the assists, it's easy to score.)

The "opinion" of Coach Williams by the Kansas faithful shifted from public deification to scorn in a matter of hours and while that alone does not surprise me, the level of venom spewed by more than a few self-labeled Jayhawk faithful is amazing. Roy Williams owes a lot to the University of Kansas for the opportunity he was given back in 1988 a fact not lost on the 52 year old, especially not in Monday night's press conference…

The people there took a great chance on me 15 years ago, a no-name second assistant who was not a very popular choice. They trusted me though, they believed in me, they gave me guidance and an honest chance to run a program at a great place. I was stunned because Coach Smith and Coach Harp had told me so much about Kansas, but it was so much better than the beautiful picture they painted. The people there showed me another great place with people who have the same pride and love for their school, just like the Tar Heels do. They always made me feel like I was just not adopted, I was one of theirs.

Middle America or Kansas doesn't get the respect around the country that it should. But let me tell you, Kansas and Lawrence and the people there made Roy Williams be successful because of their love, their guidance and their pride in a great University.

I was a Tar Heel born, when I die I'll be a Tar Heel dead. But in the middle, I am a Tar Heel and Jayhawk bred and I am so, so happy and proud of that.

The people of Kansas owe a lot back to Williams and I hope that the outspoken criticizers that have come to light in the last couple days are merely a reflection of the saying "Just because you say it the loudest doesn't mean what you say is the ‘rightest.'" 15 years, 80 percent winning percentage, nine conference championships, four Final Fours and countless great memories. The man gave Kansas his all. Those that fail to believe so totally missed out on what makes Roy Williams the man he is today.

When Matt Doherty resigned, I'll admit my choice to replace him would have been Larry Brown. Having Brown on the sidelines at Carolina would have been a sight to behold. The best basketball program in the world with the best coach in the world. As it was for 36 years, so it was to be again.

But as I watched the Final Four and observed Coach Williams deal with the nagging questions about Carolina with nothing but dignity for his Kansas team, my opinion changed. That swing to Williams became complete when a downtrodden Williams told CBS' Bonnie Bernstein that he didn't give a "blankety-blank" about North Carolina right then. He was on the money then and to be honest, I was surprised that's all he said. But I knew one thing, when the time came, Roy Williams would do the right thing. And, in the end, he did. And in the process, the University of North Carolina basketball program landed not only a great coach, but also a great man.


Have a comment? Drop Tommy a note at carolina93@nc.rr.com.

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