Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim couldn’t seem more different on most days. Both reflect their environments: one is a cranky New Yorker; the other sounds every bit like he grew up in Swannanoa, North Carolina (a town of fewer than 5,000 people in the eastern North Carolina mountains). But the two have fascinating reputations to unpack.
Williams was a longtime assistant for Dean Smith, and he rarely lets an opportunity get by without letting you know about it. Everything from his disinterest in calling timeouts to stop opponent runs to his frequent first half subbing harken back to his assistant coaching tenure under Smith. After a decade on the Tar Heels’ bench, Williams left in 1988 to take over a Kansas program in disarray as a result of Larry Brown. Hardly a rebuilding job, though, Williams made the NCAA Tournament in every year he was in Lawrence except his first (the Jayhawks were still on probation). He wound up taking Kansas to the Final Four a total of four times, including the 2002-03 season, right before he left for Chapel Hill. At the time, Williams famously said, “I could give a sh– about North Carolina,” immediately following his championship game loss to (ironically) Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.
Back at his alma mater starting in 2003, Williams took over a floundering program that had lost 36 games in its previous two seasons (it would take Williams six years to log 36 losses). Matt Doherty bequeathed him a young team with many of the players Williams would ride to his first national championship — Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May and Jackie Manuel. But Williams’ Tar Heels bore no resemblance to the ones coached by Doherty. They ran like the wind and turned the undersized May into an unstoppable juggernaut. It’s impossible to consider now, but North Carolina was arguably one more bad hire away from long-term irrelevance (with Coach K just down the road having just won his third championship in 2001).