Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Tar Heels Tarnished, Part Duex

I'm disappointed Roy Williams took the North Carolina job. As I explained in an earlier post, the conduct of the University of North Carolina—a government-funded institution—was disgraceful from the very beginning. Williams should have resisted UNC's pleas and stayed at Kansas, where he built his own program into a perennial championship contender. Kansas was Roy Williams' program, and he could be proud of the fact. Now, at North Carolina, he'll be viewed largely as the anointed heir of Dean Smith, who managed to help run his last two successors out of town. Forgive my bluntness, but Williams decision here was an act of emotional cowardice. Williams put the interests and values of Smith and the UNC powers ahead of his own self-interest.

This is not to say every coach who leaves one program for another is a coward or an intellectual traitor. Far from it. The point is, Williams had a better situation at Kansas then he's walking into at UNC, and he knew that. He chose to disregard this fact because of his emotionaol fealty to Dean Smith. In essence, Smith and UNC bullied Williams into taking the job now after Williams had rebuffed them three years ago. According to numerous reports, Smith and UNC basically played the guilt card on Williams, arguing that his decision three years ago forced the Tar Heels to hire an inferior coach—the unjustly fired Matt Doherty—thus setting the program back. Of course, none of this was Williams fault. He should feel no guilt for staying with the Kansas program he built. Yet Smith and UNC played Williams' emotions for all it was worth.

Consider the decision by UNC to fire Doherty the week of the Final Four, where Kansas was a participant. Rationally, UNC could have waited until after the Final Four was over. Instead, they chose to immediately put public pressure on Williams to consider the UNC job, at the same time he was leading his Kansas team into a national championship game. This was blatant manipulation, and Williams in fact recognized it as such. He admitted this, albeit implicitly, in his now-famous postgame interview with CBS' Bonnie Bernstein. When asked, in the immediate aftermath of losing the championship to Syracuse, if he would take the UNC job, Williams twice noted that the people asking those questions "weren't being very sensitive." Superficially, it sounded like he was criticizing the media for asking the question. But, I believe it was a criticism of UNC for firing Doherty when they did. Still, this makes Williams' conduct all the more cowardly: he knew he was being manipulated and he allowed it to succeed.

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