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San Antonio — When you get down to it, this whole Roy Williams saga is about how you view a coach.
Some people see a coach as a leader of men (or women), a father figure, an icon in the community. Williams likes this view. It is how he views his old North Carolina boss and mentor, Dean Smith, a man he still reverentially refers to simply as "Coach."
The other way to view a coach is just as an employee. To this way of thinking, coaches are no different from psychology professors or media-relations people or vice presidents for academic affairs. They do a job, and hopefully do it well. But they represent the school only because they are paid to do so.
Saturday night, Williams led his alma mater, North Carolina, against the team he used to coach, Kansas. It is still weird to hear him call "Kansas" the opponent.
But that's how it is this week. Roy Williams is opposing Kansas.
And that's just as well, because Kansas has opposed Roy Williams for five years, ever since he left for Chapel Hill.
Why won't they forgive him? Political analogies are dangerous, but I'm going to make one anyway.
Suppose there was a highly successful political family whose name was, I don't know, the Hintons. And suppose that a lot of people hated the Hintons - thought they were underhanded, played dirty pool, etc. And the Hintons' fans just dismissed those complaints.
Then imagine that some of the Hinton lovers started pulling for another candidate. Let's call this candidate "O'Lama." And suppose - hypothetically, of course - that O'Lama was running for president against a Hinton, and the Hintons were using the same brass-knuckle tactics they always used during a campaign, and all of a sudden the O'Lama people snapped and said, "HEY! THOSE PEOPLE WERE RIGHT ABOUT YOU ALL ALONG!"
That is how Kansas fans felt five years ago, when Roy Williams left for North Carolina. For years, other fans called him a phony, rolled their eyes at all his dadgums and gosh darns, and shook their head when he cried after an NCAA Tournament loss and talked about his players like they were on a mission to end poverty or something. Kansas fans defended Roy.
He was theirs, he was human, and he won. A lot.
Then Roy left. And Kansas fans looked at each other incredulously. What happened to being the Dean Smith of Lawrence? What happened to Roy's love of his Kansas players? Didn't he turn down North Carolina once because he couldn't leave his Jayhawks? Those people were right about him all along.
This is what separates Roy Williams from other coaches who left their programs: He made people believe in him. And as a fan, when you fall for a coach like that - only to wake up one day and decide you were wrong about him all along - well, that's tough to get over.
Oklahoma State is supposedly ready to throw a monster contract at Oklahoma State alum Bill Self, the current Kansas coach. It's hard to see Self taking the job - if you coach college basketball, you don't leave Kansas for Oklahoma State. But even if he does, the outrage in Lawrence will be minor compared to when Roy Williams left. Sure, Self has coached some very successful teams. But he is just an employee.