Posted: 11:23 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013
By Brian Barbour
Over the past couple of years CBS Sports basketball writer Gary Parrish and his co-horts released a series of pieces based on anonymous surveys they did of college basketball coaches. In those informal polls Roy Williams was called overrated by his peers and didn't even register as one of the best recruiters in the game. Parrish, having digested these results, has taken up the mantle of defending Roy Williams calling him "underappreciated."
So, to summarize, Williams is supposedly overrated despite 25 years of consistent winning, seven Final Fours and two national championships. And Williams supposedly isn't worthy of being mentioned among the sport's elite recruiters even though he's forever secured top prospects and is still doing it today, proof being the Class of 2014.
That's wild to me -- even though I think I understand the logic.
The logic, essentially, is that Williams has spent 25 years coaching only at Kansas and North Carolina, and that any competent coach could recruit well and win big at Kansas or North Carolina. On some level, I agree. There are inherent advantages to working at both of those programs. Nobody denies that. But to completely dismiss or discount Williams' role in his success at KU and UNC still seems unfair because even a man with a great job still has to, you know, do the job.
You still have to recruit.
You still have to take the recruits and win.
And considering there are countless examples of recruiting slipping at historically strong programs -- at Kentucky under Billy Gillispie, at Indiana under Mike Davis, at Texas right now, just to name a few, -- and countless examples of coaches taking great recruits and grossly underachieving with them, isn't it only fair that Williams gets some credit for consistently signing great recruits and consistently winning with them?
He's never had a losing season as a head coach. He's made the NCAA tournament in 23 of the 24 years his teams have been eligible for it. He's never been fired or even been on the so-called hot seat, which is almost impossible to avoid when coaching at elite programs with passionate fan bases for long periods of time.
Nobody has ever thought about firing Ol' Roy.
How many veteran college coaches can you say that about?
Tom Izzo? Rick Pitino? Bill Self? Jim Boeheim? Mike Krzyzewski?
I know there are others worth listing.
But the list is short.
And Roy Williams is most certainly on that list.
So why can't he get a little more respect than he gets?
Maybe I am reaching here but it seems to be a fairly easy conclusion to draw that Williams' peers might not like him. The "Roy is a UNC(and was at Kansas) how hard can it be to recruit and win" logic is not applied to Bill Self or John Calipari. Self, in particular, fits perfectly into this logic since he is at Kansas and essentially doing what Williams did when he was there except he won a title. So Self can be wildly successful at Kansas and he is a great recruiter and not overrated. Roy Williams does it at Kansas and North Carolina over 24 years but recruiting is easy for him and he's not as good as people think. That doesn't mesh when you view it objectively which means there must be some personal/emotional component involved.
Then again, Roy Williams' peers aren't the only ones whose opinion of him is probably less that it should be based on the available information. There are portions of the Tar Heel fan base who are perfectly willing to take the same line of thinking expressed in these surveys. That is why I almost spit out my Diet Mt. Dew when I read the line.
"Nobody has ever thought about firing Ol' Roy."
Plenty of UNC fans have thought that, expressed it on message boards and to me on Twitter(earning them a swift block.) Before P.J. Hairston moved into the starting lineup last season and the Heels struggled in certain games there was all sorts of ridiculously asinine talk about how Roy Williams should retire. Names like Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart were thrown out there. Heck, there was a suggestion from this guy that Williams retire and UNC hire John Calipari. It is easy to call these people "crazy" or a "minority voice" in the fan base that happens to have a bigger microphone through social media. However, it is clear Roy Williams is not held in as high regard by the Tar Heel fan base in general as maybe he would at another school. The very large and long shadow of Dean Smith is part of that and Williams would be the first to say he will never be the coach Dean Smith was.
Even if that wasn't the case, Tar Heel fans find it far too easy to criticize Williams or question how he coaches the team. During his two NCAA title seasons in Chapel Hill there have been complaints regarding certain players starting or how the team played defense, etc, etc, etc. These fans buy wholeheartedly into the "Roy is an average game coach" mantra and refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt for the occasional stumbles which are bound to occur. There is a prolific lack of trust that Williams knows what he is doing and an assertion the fans know better despite working with far less actual knowledge of the team.
The incredible success UNC has experienced under Williams, especially from 2005-2009 and 2011-12, means very little to the fan base when a season doesn't quite live up to expectations. Some of this is rooted in fan nature and in Chapel Hill, the level of expectation is always sky high. Failure to live up to those expectations makes people crazier than an ant on a hot plate. Add to that some recent missteps in Williams' perceived arena of mastery, recruiting, people were jumping off logical bridges left and right. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly UNC fans lose sight of the bigger picture and treat Williams not like a man who has two NCAA titles but someone barely hanging onto his job. Among active Hall of Fame coaches, it seems as though Williams gets it far worse from his own fans than anyone else out there.
The point is, Parrish is absolutely correct. Roy Williams is underappreciated for a variety of reasons. This extends to his peers and at times to the media. It is also prevalent among Tar Heel fans who, after reading the Parrish piece, should remove the plank from their own eye before worrying about anyone else.