No wonder Roy Williams sounds more forlorn than Dr. Laura's next caller. No wonder he looks like some bully just swiped his lunch money.
This is Williams' 32nd season coaching college basketball, and never has he endured so many defeats in so little time. Never has he lost by such startling margins.
Tonight, North Carolina renews the game's pre-eminent rivalry when it hosts eighth-ranked Duke before a national-television audience. The defending national champion Tar Heels are accustomed to center stage, but not for this reason.
They enter tonight's contest at 13-10 overall, 2-6 in the ACC. They've lost six of their last seven and sit 10th in the conference standings, a half-game ahead of last-place Miami and North Carolina State.
Yes, North Carolina lost its four top players from last season, including point guard Ty Lawson, the ACC Player of the Year, and forward Tyler Hansbrough, the conference's career scoring leader.
And sure, injuries this season have limited guards Larry Drew II and Marcus Ginyard, as well as forward Tyler Zeller.
But come on. We're talking about North Carolina, where the roster teems with high school All-Americans and where the coach has two national championships, seven Final Fours, one Hall of Fame bust and zero losing seasons on his résumé.
It's just a matter of time, right, before the Tar Heels snap out of it. Just a matter of time before Ed Davis and Deon Thompson dominate the interior, Ginyard regains his defensive form, and freshman Dexter Strickland emerges as the next Lawson.
Well, maybe not.
On Super Bowl Sunday, North Carolina was worse than Indianapolis' pass defense, losing 92-71 at Maryland, the Tar Heels' most lopsided defeat in Williams' seven years as head coach, their sixth by 13 or more points this season.
North Carolina appears confused on offense and incapable on defense. The Tar Heels are last among ACC teams in scoring defense, and their 46.9-percent shooting would rank as the program's fourth-lowest in the last 40 years.
Williams said he can't eat or sleep and is filled with self-doubt, afflictions most coaches know all too well. Not Roy.
In his 10 seasons as an assistant to Dean Smith, North Carolina never finished worse than 21-8 or 9-5 in the ACC.
The lowest of Williams' 15 seasons as Kansas' head coach was the first, 1988-89, when the Jayhawks went 19-12, 6-8 in the Big Eight. A year later, they were 30-5.
The worst of his first six seasons back at North Carolina was the first, 2003-04, when the Tar Heels went 19-11, 8-8 in the ACC. A year later, they were national champions.
"The joys you have aren't nearly as high as the lows," Williams said.
And this season has not been devoid of joys. North Carolina defeated Ohio State, before Buckeyes star Evan Turner injured his back, and Michigan State in a reunion of last year's NCAA title game.
But an overtime loss at the College of Charleston that many of us dismissed as a charming fluke portended the future. The Tar Heels are falling to all types, and the margins are decisive — North Carolina has trailed by at least 19 points in five of its six conference defeats, including all three at home.
The Tar Heels were similarly overmatched in 2001-02 and 2002-03, when they suffered consecutive losing ACC records for the first time. But that decline was due, in large measure, to Matt Doherty's inept and inexperienced coaching.
North Carolina fired Doherty after the 2003 season and brought Williams home from Kansas, and no one believes that ol' Roy has suddenly lost his touch. In fact, with a recruiting class that includes the nation's No. 1 prospect, forward Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa, Williams and the Tar Heels figure to rebound with a vengeance next season.
The issue is this season. Can North Carolina reverse course? Can the Tar Heels salvage an NCAA tournament bid, and might that effort commence tonight with an upset of Duke?
Or is Williams, whose career winning percentage of .8039 ranks third all-time behind Clair Bee and Adolph Rupp, doomed for his first losing season?
Don't look to Williams for answers. All he has is advice.
"If you don't enjoy the good times," he said, "the bad times can just kill you."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Tough times for Roy Williams at North Carolina
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