After 33 seasons as a head coach in men’s college basketball, Roy Williams is hanging up his whistle and calling it quits. The head coach at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill announced his retirement Thursday morning.
The 2007 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee led the UNC Tar Heels to three national championships, winning titles in 2005, 2009 and 2017. Williams also guided UNC to two other Final Fours, nine ACC regular season titles and three ACC tournament championships.
“It’s been a thrill. It’s been unbelievable. I’ve loved it,” Williams said at a press conference at the Smith Center on Thursday. “No one has ever enjoyed coaching like I have. … I no longer feel that I am the right man for the job.
“I never had any day where I didn’t give my absolute best. Not one single day. I cared deeply for my school. I cared deeply for every player. I’m really proud of what we accomplished.”
Williams, 70, is a native of Marion, N.C., and a 1972 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate. He leaves his post on the Tar Heels’ bench as one of the most accomplished college basketball coaches of all time.
Across his coaching career – which also included 15 seasons at the University of Kansas – he won 903 games. He hit that mark faster than any coach in men’s college basketball history and he is the only coach to win at least 400 games at two schools. Among Division I men’s head coaches, he is third all-time in total victories, trailing only Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
“Roy’s fingerprints will forever be on the sport of college basketball, and specifically, the Atlantic Coast Conference,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement. “We wish him, (his wife) Wanda and his entire family all the best as he begins this next chapter of an amazing life.”
Williams coached 52 players who would go on to play in the NBA, 32 of which were first-round picks. Williams also coached 17 first-team All-Americans.
“I’m sad that he’s leaving because he has meant so much to basketball,” Tar Heel basketball legend Michael Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. “(Williams) and my father formed an unbelievable bond that meant so much to me.”
Before he became the head coach at Kansas, Williams was an assistant at UNC under Dean Smith for 10 seasons. And before that, he was the head coach at Owen High School in Black Mountain. In all, he’s been coaching young men in the game of basketball for 48 years.
“I could never come close to matching what Coach Smith did, but every day I tried to make him proud,” Williams said.
He took the reins of the Jayhawks in 1988 and led Kansas to four Final Fours and four conference tournament championships across 15 seasons.
Williams was finally lured back to UNC in 2003, six seasons after Smith ― his mentor ― retired. Under Williams’ watch, UNC had a 444-57 record at home, an 88.6 winning percentage. His last game in the Dean Smith Center was an 18-point win over rival Duke. In the the span of his 18 seasons at UNC, the Tar Heels were the only men’s team to win three national championships. Williams had just one losing season in his tenure at North Carolina, a 14-19 record in the 2019-20 season. In his 33 years as a head coach, he only missed the NCAA tournament two other times: his first season at Kansas and in 2010, a run to the NIT final with UNC.
In his final game leading the Tar Heels, UNC lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament last month. It was Williams’ only loss in the opening round and his 30th overall appearance in the tourney. Williams was 45-13 all-time in the NCAA tournament with the Tar Heels.
“The last two years have been really hard,” Williams said.
Through it all, Williams always had the respect of his peers.
“He has been a fantastic ambassador for our great sport,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said in a statement. “The landscape of college basketball has changed tremendously but the Carolina tradition because of Roy Williams is as strong as it has ever been. He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the title.”
Williams said he doesn’t know what the future holds, whether he’ll be involved in basketball in any form going forward, but he knows that he won’t coach again.
“I’d love to be an ambassador for the game and an ambassador for coaches,” Williams said. “Because coaches are my heroes.”