Williams turns down UNC to remain coach at Kansas

While he still spoke with the twang of his North Carolina roots, 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 in the school's football locker room during a hastily called news conference, which was shown on a big screen in the adjoining football stadium to the cheers of Jayhawks fans.


Added Williams, who has been at Kansas for 12 years, "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."

Williams turning down the job leaves North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour with a sense of urgency. With summer recruiting starting tomorrow, the Tar Heels will have to act quickly to find another candidate suitable for the team's fans.

Among those mentioned prominently are South Carolina's Eddie Fogler, Notre Dame's Matt Doherty and Tulsa's Buzz Peterson. All are former North Carolina players, and both Doherty and Peterson - Michael Jordan's college roommate - played on the 1982 national championship team.

The decision by Williams was reminiscent to Cremins turning down his alma mater, South Carolina, a few years ago and staying at Georgia Tech after he had built the program there 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. The timing of Guthridge's unexpected retirement, coming a little more than a week before the key recruiting period, led many to believe it was a faitM-5 accompliM-5. There were at least two news reports saying that Williams accepted the job.

In truth, he nearly did. Even Williams admitted last night that he came close to taking the job last week.

"Last Thursday, if someone would have held a gun to my head, it would have been North Carolina," he said.

In the end, it came down to something he learned from the legendary Dean Smith during the 10 years he worked at North Carolina as an assistant.


"As long as I do what's right for my players, that's all that matters," Williams said. "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 now 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 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, including a pair of Final Four appearances in 1991 and '93.

Williams, a native of Spruce Pine, N.C., played on the junior varsity team at North Carolina before graduating in 1972. His wife and son are also graduates, and his daughter is currently enrolled in Chapel Hill.

He hoped it wouldn't hurt his relationships with Smith and the rest of his friends in North Carolina.

"I can't help but feel that some part of me let them down," said Williams. "The love I have for the UNC basketball family will never die. They will get a better basketball coach than I am. I hope this is not a divorce."

Williams said that Baddour "recruited me harder than I've ever been recruited."


The Associated Press contributed to this article.