Saturday, July 1, 2000

Saturday Column


Will he or won't he? That's the big question today in Kansas, as well as in North Carolina.

Will Roy Williams leave Kansas University after 12 years of heading the Jayhawk basketball program to accept the offer to become the coach at the University of North Carolina, his alma mater?

Twenty-four hours ago, it was thought Williams had made the decision to move to North Carolina. The Associated Press was reporting he had accepted the job following the resignation of UNC Coach Bill Guthridge. Today, the question still is unanswered.

According to those close to the situation, Williams is struggling with his decision. He has built a highly successful program at KU, and yet, there is the tug of going back to his home state and university to take the reins of the UNC program.

This question of where to coach, which job to accept, could not have come at a worse time, both for KU and UNC. July 8 is the date the NCAA first allows coaches to observe and rate high school basketball players and to decide which of them they intend to recruit.

Likewise, players take note of which coaches are in the stands, showing an interest in them and perhaps deciding which schools and basketball programs they would like to consider for their college years. This is a terribly important period, and either KU or North Carolina will be far better off a few days from now depending on whether Williams stays at KU or leaves for North Carolina. The losing basketball program will be at a serious disadvantage by not having a head coach in place at the beginning of this important recruiting period.

Regardless of what happens in the next few days, the fact is Roy Williams has been good for KU and KU has been good for Williams. It has been a good, happy, mutually rewarding 12 years for all parties. Naturally, KU fans hope Williams will remain in Kansas and will be keeping their fingers crossed the next day or two while Williams and his family are vacationing at their beach home in South Carolina.

KU Athletics Director Bob Frederick is in a tough position. UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour called Thursday to tell Frederick he wanted to visit with Williams about the UNC position. This came as a bombshell to Frederick. In 1988, he faced the task of replacing KU Coach Larry Brown after five years and an NCAA championship. On the advice of Dean Smith and others, he offered the job to Williams who then was an assistant coach at UNC. It was a gamble, but Frederick hit the jackpot.

Now, Smith is involved in trying to get Williams back to North Carolina.

It's an interesting situation in that here at KU, Williams is "king of the hill." He, legendary Coach Phog Allen and James Naismith are the three names that immediately come to mind when talking about KU basketball. Even Brown and his NCAA title doesn't often break into the elite threesome of Naismith, Allen and Williams. In North Carolina, Williams would remain in the shadow of Smith, who, in North Carolina, is "Mr. Basketball," "king of the hill."

Money is not an issue in the Williams decision. Although his university salary is among the lowest in the Big 12 Conference, his added earnings place him at the top, or near the top, of all collegiate basketball coaches. He is disappointed, frustrated or angry, however, that his assistant coaches are paid much less than assistant coaches at other Big 12 schools. For example, it is reported the "third" assistant at Kansas State makes $50,000 more than his counterpart on Williams' staff. He doesn't like the idea of some at KU perhaps taking the basketball coaches staff for granted.

Added to an already generous compensation package, another plan has been in the works that would provide Williams an additional $2.5 million, after taxes, if he were to remain at KU until April 2008.

There obviously are many factors to cause Williams to look favorably on the UNC offer. It's his home state and his home school. His wife, Wanda, has family in North Carolina. Their son, Scott, is a graduate of UNC and working at a Charlotte bank; their daughter, Kimberly, is a student at North Carolina.

As already noted, Frederick hit the jackpot when he hired the untested Williams. Now, if Williams decides to move to Chapel Hill, Frederick will face a terrifically difficult task. KU has a proud basketball history, one of the best in the country. The KU job is considered a plum, but at this late date, when coaches are about to begin the recruiting process and when several top coaches who might have been possibilities for the KU job have recently signed with other schools, Frederick would have a major challenge.

No individual is indispensable, and if Williams should take the North Carolina job, his KU friends will wish him well but work as hard as they can to keep the program on the same successful track with every intent of improving on Williams' record.

Again, the question of the day, or for the next few days, is: "Will he or won't he?" The fact that Williams' vacation with his family is taking him to South Carolina, so close to North Carolina, makes many Kansans nervous. It was a planned vacation, however, not a trip set up at the last minute in response to the UNC offer.

Right now, the "Williams game" is a sudden death playoff, with fans so hopeful KU will score the winning point.

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