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Sunday, November 9, 2003

Williams still not thrilled about move

Coach felt 'dirty' the day he told Jayhawks he was departing for Chapel Hill, N.C.

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— He was giving a big speech that day, so he wore a Carolina Blue necktie, and yes, the color really did look good on Roy Williams.

The fairy tale version of the story is that Williams was destined to be here -- dressed in Carolina Blue, heading to a luncheon, getting ready to chat with folks about the Tar Heels team he cheered for, then worked for, and now leads.

But while Williams is happy to be back, the 53-year-old coach concedes the return to his alma mater after 15 years at Kansas University has been short of a fairy tale.

"Some people misinterpret this, but they can handle it any way they want," Williams said, his Southern drawl belying the much more intense man behind it. "But had I known what I was going to feel like telling my players I was leaving, there's no way I could have done it. It's the first time in my life I've ever felt dirty."

The coach says leaving Kansas was not easy. And he insists that rebuilding North Carolina won't be, either, although many of the faithful don't want to believe it.

Williams takes over a team that lost 36 games in the last two seasons, missed the NCAA Tournament both years and fell to the middle of the pack in the ACC.

Since Dean Smith retired in 1997, the Tar Heels have shown what can happen to a team when coaches turn over too quickly, boosters get impatient and players rebel.

By many accounts, Williams' predecessor, Matt Doherty, essentially got run out of town by unhappy players who threatened to leave. Williams' return stabilized the situation. And just a few months removed from the turmoil, many Tar Heels talk as if it's guaranteed that Carolina Blue will dominate again soon with the new coach in charge.

"He's going to get the guys playing together and playing hard every night and playing unselfishly, and good things will happen if you play that way," former UNC guard Walter Davis said.

Despite the optimism, Williams realized when he arrived how much had changed at the school he always adored.

"I had some North Carolina people criticize my actions at the press conference because I wasn't standing on the table doing cartwheels," Williams said. "But I told them it was because, six hours before, I'd just had the most difficult meeting of my life."

That was the meeting where he said goodbye to KU three years after deciding to stay at KU and not replace Bill Guthridge, Smith's successor.

The one thing Williams regrets is what he told Kansas fans when he announced he was staying.

"I told them if I ever had another press conference like this, it'd be because I was either retiring or dying," Williams said.

Instead, three years later, he had one to announce that, yes, this time, he really was leaving.

"There was the feeling that I'd been very unhappy off the court the last year and a half," said Williams, who did not like KU athletic director Al Bohl, who actually was fired before Williams left for North Carolina.

Another reason it was different this time was Smith. "He said, 'We need you more this time,"' Williams said.

He went, but it wasn't easy hearing the reaction from his Kansas players.

"I gave my right arm to that man," Kansas sophomore Wayne Simien said after Williams left, recalling season-ending shoulder surgery.

Williams has apologized to Simien and the others he left behind, and he still regrets hurting them.

But he has moved on, and now, he's back at his old stomping grounds, where he played freshman ball, then worked as an assistant.

"I was a Tar Heel born. When I die, I'll be a Tar Heel dead. But in between I was Jayhawk bred."

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