Tuesday, July 7, 1998

A Decade of Roy

Ten years ago, he was a virtual unknown outside the fraternity of college basketball coaches. Today, no coach has ever won 282 games so quickly.


Today, Roy Williams is one of the most recognizable names in college basketball.

Ten years ago Wednesday, the day he was introduced as Larry Brown's successor as men's head basketball coach at Kansas, Williams was a 37-year-old North Carolina assistant known only to the most ardent of ACC hoop junkies.

"The only people who supported Roy for the job were Roy's wife, his mother, Dick Harp, Dean Smith and Bob," Margey Frederick, the wife of KU athletics director Bob Frederick recalls.

"I remember sitting there at 2 a.m. one morning and I said to Bob, 'Are you going to hire that assistant from North Carolina?' He said yes. I told Bob not to hire him. I said, 'Save yourself.' We just won the national championship and Bob hires a part-time assistant. Fortunately, for the University of Kansas, Bob never listens to me.

"I have eaten those words a thousand times. How can you not laugh about it now? Wanda (Williams) and I went on to be best friends and our sons are roommates in college. And Roy is the best coach there is," she added.

Williams, in fact, is the winningest coach of all-time through 10 years of a career. His win percentage is tops of all active coaches, save for Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State.

He's been wildly successful, compiling 282 wins and 62 losses with two Final Four berths.

Yet a decade ago, he was an unknown introduced as the leader of one of the country's top basketball programs.

Ten years is a long time, but "I remember almost all of it," Bob Frederick said of the days leading up to Williams' hiring.

Former Kansas coach Harp was the first person to sing the praises of Williams to Frederick.

"I was familiar with his name," Frederick said of Williams, "but it didn't really mean anything to me. Two weeks after we won the national championship, in late April (1988), I went to the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The inductees that year were Clyde Lovellette and Ralph Miller.

"I went to the dinner and sat next to Dick. He talked all night about Roy Williams. He just wore me out. I was respectful in listening, but I didn't think we'd be hiring a coach. We just went through the Larry and UCLA deal and I thought Larry would be with us one more year."

Brown declined an offer from UCLA in the spring of '88.

"Then when Larry started messing with San Antonio, I started thinking about that conversation," Frederick said.

Brown took the job with the NBA Spurs on June 13, 1988. Immediately, Frederick phoned Carolina coach and KU grad Dean Smith.

Smith spoke highly of UNC assistant Williams and Frederick met KU's future coach in Atlanta, Ga., for an airport interview.

"The things that stood out about him were he was extremely well organized, that he worked very hard, that he was a good recruiter," Frederick said. "But when we brought him out to interview, that was the selling point."

Assistant athletics directors Doug Vance and Richard Konzem picked up Williams at KCI and drove him to Lawrence for the early summer interview.

"(Williams) was sick," Vance said. "We stopped at Hardee's on the Interstate. He ate one fourth or one half of it (meal) and excused himself. Despite how he was feeling, he still came across as one, impressive person."

Williams wowed the search committee despite battling the flu bug.

"After the interview, I asked the committee if they were comfortable with me hiring Roy. Everybody was. Then I offered him the job in my office. He said yes and I'll never forget he never even asked me the salary.

"We talked a while. He called (future assistant) Jerry Green and then went back to the hotel. I got him the next morning. He was really sick. I took him to the doctor before the press conference."

At the July 8 press session, Williams won over KU fans in attendance by promising to stick around a while. His predecessor, Brown, had flirted with various other jobs during his five years at KU. Not everybody was convinced.

"There was a lot of criticism afterward. There were some people really upset about it," Frederick said about the hiring.

Suffice it to say, those same people are not upset today. In fact, they are the same people worried Williams will leave the next time the North Carolina job opens. Frederick says he's been amazed at Williams' performance here.

"There are a lot of things you can't glean from an interview," Frederick said. "One thing I didn't realize was how intensely driven he is to be successful and how competitive he is.

"We hired him July 8. The recruiting period started a couple days before. We got a late start. We didn't have anything going. He got commitments from Adonis (Jordan), Harold Miner and Thomas Hill. I said to myself, 'This guy can really recruit.'"

Hill and Miner reneged when KU was handed a stiff probation a week before the signing period -- on Halloween, 1988. Only Jordan honored his commitment.

"What was amazing to me is the next year in recruiting he worked even harder. And again the next year," Frederick said. "I thought at some point he'd let up a little bit with his own personal involvement and turn it over to the assistants.

"The more players we got the more motivated he was about getting more. He never seemed to let up. He still hasn't."

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