It was UNC spokesperson Steve Kirschner, not Roy Williams, that shared the news with the media on Thursday that Hairston, along with senior guard Leslie McDonald, would sit out Friday’s opener due to an ongoing compliance issue with the University and NCAA.
Williams, who has been fiery at times in previous discussions on the topic with the media, was more subdued in his brief responses on Thursday.
“It is frustrating, but it’s also a long process,” Williams said. “We’re trying to do what we can do. The NCAA is trying to do what they can do, but it’s what it is. I’m sure they would – ‘they’ meaning the NCAA – would like to settle all of their cases in five minutes, too.”
On Sept. 26, Williams spoke with certainty and conviction about his perceived role in the process.
“I can’t speak for what the NCAA is doing or not doing,” Williams said then, “but I know that Roy Williams has a tremendous voice in what else is going to be done.”
Approximately three weeks later at the ACC’s Operation Basketball media event in Charlotte, Williams appeared to back off his strong stance as he talked about UNC going through the process to determine Hairston’s status. When pressed on the closing window of time ahead of the opener, however, the 11th-year UNC head coach was adamant on a deadline.
“I said it will be announced before the season starts,” Williams said, “and it will.”
And at Late Night with Roy on Oct. 25, Williams offered this response when asked about making a decision on Hairston: "Yeah, I'm closer, but I'm not ready to make it. We've just got to see how some things play out and he's got to do some more things.”
Following Thursday’s announcement, however, a reporter mentioned that he had gotten the impression that the decision was to be made by Williams, not the NCAA.
“I’ve never felt that,” Williams replied. “I can’t control how people interpret what I say, but I’ve always thought it was a joint thing.”
Williams later acknowledged that his role in the process now is “waiting for somebody to tell me what’s going on.”
Thus is the severity of a situation in which the NCAA is the ultimate judge and executioner. UNC has been in this situation before – just three years ago when the NCAA investigated its football program – but the basketball program has stayed clear of any high-profile cases over the years.
Williams’s job contains a certain element of father figure status, on which, as he explained last month in Charlotte, he places the utmost priority.
“I’m the only guy that goes in the home and says ‘I’m going to try to treat your son like I’d want you to treat mine,’” Williams said. “I’m going to be in his corner. I’m going to try to protect him. I’m going to try to take him from a kid to a young man. The other people that aren’t in that room, they don’t feel that same responsibility. Right or wrong.”
This protective role, according to multiple sources, has put him at odds with the UNC administration during the process with Hairston.
Williams acknowledged in a July 15 statement - his first comments regarding the situation after the junior wing's arrest on June 5 - that a suspension had been discussed, while hinting that such a disciplinary measure was unnecessary until the process was complete.
Williams ultimately suspended Hairston indefinitely on July 28 following a traffic citation for reckless driving, although he later termed the suspension as "silly" at the media event in Charlotte.
The other aspect involved, according to sources close to the situation, is that Hairston’s situation has deteriorated in recent weeks as it nears its conclusion. While a five-game suspension may have been a good guess early on in the process, the severity of the ordeal has increased to more severe ramifications for Hairston.