Williams turns down UNC to remain coach at Kansas


While he still spoke with the twang of his native North Carolina, Roy Williams did his best imitation of Bobby Cremins last night.

In a stunning decision that will have repercussions from Chapel Hill, N.C., to Lawrence, Kan., Williams announced he will remain at Kansas rather than return to North Carolina to succeed recently retired basketball coach Bill Guthridge.

Williams, 49, decided to stay with the Jayhawks after weighing his options during a family vacation last week in South Carolina. The vacation included playing golf with North Carolina officials. Williams returned to Kansas on Wednesday and made his announcement after meeting with athletic director Bob Frederick yesterday.

"I'm staying, if that's OK, why don't we just end this press conference right now?" Williams said during a hastily called news conference in the school's football locker room, which was shown on a big screen in the adjoining football stadium to the cheers of Jayhawks fans.

Added Williams, "I guess I could have just called from the beach, and said I'm staying, but that didn't seem the right way to do it. The decision here I've made came after the toughest seven days of my life."

The announcement by Williams was reminiscent to former Georgia Tech coach Cremins turning down his alma mater, South Carolina, a few years ago and staying at the school he had built into a national power. The only difference - aside from Cremins' New York accent - was that Williams never said he was going.

But all indications were that he would, given the fact that legendary coach Dean Smith had given North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour his blessing to hire his former assistant.

Even the timing of Guthridge's decision to retire - a little more than a week before the start of summer recruiting - led most to believe it was a fait accompli. There were even reports before Guthridge announced his decision that Williams was offered - and had taken - the job.

"This is the best place there is to play college basketball," said Williams. "I made the best decision for me. As long as I do what's right for my players, that's all that matters. My mentors taught me that loyalty is most important. I couldn't leave my players. I couldn't trade my players. That became more important to me than my dream of being at North Carolina."

Williams will return for his 13th season at Kansas, where he will try to build on an already impressive 329-82 record that is the best for a Division I coach with at least five seasons on his resume. Williams has coached the Jayhawks to seven conference titles and two Final Fours.

Williams, a native of Spruce Pine, N.C., came to Kansas after spending 10 years as an assistant under Smith at North Carolina, where he also played on the junior varsity team before graduating in 1972. He found a team on NCAA probation after its 1988 NCAA championship under another ex-Tar Heel, Larry Brown.

"I could have stayed at North Carolina for another 20 years and been perfectly happy," Williams said at the time of his hiring. "I always wanted to find out if I would be a good head coach."

Williams turned out to be among the best head coaches in the country. He brought the Jayhawks back to the NCAA tournament in his second year, and to the Final Four in his third, losing to Duke in the championship game. Kansas also made the Final Four in 1993, losing to North Carolina in the semifinals.

Despite some grumblings nationally after Kansas made successive second-round exits from the tournament the past three years, the support Williams received in Lawrence was unwavering. The outpouring of those emotions, including stacks of letters to the basketball office and 2000 e-mails, and signs pleading for Williams to stay, played in his decision last night.

"I sincerely apologize to him," Williams said of Baddour. "Just those words aren't enough. Coach Guthridge was another hard call. He and Coach Smith are the reason's I'm here today. And I can't help but think that in some way I've let him down."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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