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Saturday, December 28, 1991

Fagan

Williams might remain when Tar Heels beckon

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What surprised me most about the recent ESPN telecast of the Kansas-Depaul basketball game was how many people regard as gospel the ravings of TV throats like Dick Vitale in frenzied efforts to avoid down-time on the microphone.

Some of these guys can do more with a rumor than witch-hunter Joe McCarthy. Too mnay of us still haven't learned to sort the wheat from the chaff. You'd think we'd be a little better at that in Kansas than in most places.

Vitale, who periodically espouses a Roy-is-history theory, mentioned that when Dean Smith retires as North Carolina coach, Kansas' Roy Williams is a certainty to replace him. A lot of people who want to keep Roy here began to sweat and sputter, as if Vitale had some divine widsom and had just delivered the death warrant for Williams' KU tenure.

Same as some others who took for granted that Glen Mason was gonna bolt from Kansas for the Minnesota football job, even though he'd face another massive rebuilding job in a questionable money situation in arctic conditions -- when he has a good squad returning for 1991.

Anything like that's possible, almost daily. But let's not keep selling ourselves so short, even if some video varmint hustling to meet a deadline or hike a rating makes it sound like a death-and-taxes certainty.

Sure Roy's going to get an offer from Carolina when Smith steps out, three, four years down the road. Chances are it'll be a nifty package. Williams has North Carolina bloodlines and it's got to be flattering that the alma mater will give a one-time walk-on from a modest playing background a shot at the head job.

But Roy's in the midst of setting up an imposing dynasty of his own here, in less than four years. If the Big Cigars in the Jayhawk Room are smart, they're setting up things so money, benefits and a retirement package pose no major hurdle, and that the door is always open for annual KU challenges for a national championship.

All this can be done, within the rules. Roy's proving you can bring into the program kids who belong on the campus rather than coming here as trade school apprentices hoping for an NBA miracle.

Would you want to be the guy who succeeded Bear Bryant at Alabama, Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, Red Auerbach with the Boston Celtics, Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma or John Wooden at UCLA? You win, you're supposed to. You have a losing streak of more than one game and you're a mistake. It's only now that Jim Harrick is anything near comfortable about retracing steps by the incomparable Wooden in Westwood. Yet Harrick's still gotta win 10 NCAA titles to prove he's as good as, let along better than, Wooden.

Roy Williams has never been one to shrink from a challenge. Any walk-on who ever dreamed he could do what Roy has can't be called a shrinking violet. But following Dean Smith at Chapel Hill? Maybe after a couple other guys have paved the way, but immediately?

Meanwhile, consider that Smith had a number of opportunities to come back to Kansas and chose to stay where he had built his own castle. Dick Harp and Ted Owens tired to pick up where Phog Allen left off, and that lends credence to The Rule of Two (after a legend). Larry Brown captured a national title, Roy (and Harp) got to within one game of it; now Williams has Kansas basketball fever at an all-time high, and has the ability to keep it there -- by not only coaching and recruiting well, but doing it with kids who truly can be called student-athletes.

If you don't think "student" means anything in this fabric, talk to Sean Tunstall about what's expected, no, demanded.

Vitale and his ilk can ran all they want about Roy's future, but that still doesn't make it so, even though Dick works hard, is knowledgeable, has countless contacts and can provide terrific analyses and insights.

Roy Williams will decide what's gonna happen, when, and nobody else. Carolina hucksters can beckon; Kansas folks have the chance to show him he'll be just as well off here, maybe better. This isn't exactly the Kirghese steppes, remember.

And Glen Mason is a heckuva lot better off staying here than he'd be trying to plow the frozen tundras of Minnesota. The 1991 Kansas football team was just a wing and a prayer shy of an 8-3 or 9-2 season. Many of the key men from that crew will come back, knowing a lot better in '92 how to win than they did in '91. Add four or five "skill" players to the roster, and Glen and Co. have themselves a 7-4 or 8-3 club next fall.

I'm hoping Mason's 1992 spring practice follows on the heels of another NCAA Final Four showing by the basketeers, and that the gridiron Jayhawks are prepping for a big season capped by a major bowl game next winter. Could happen.

So let's can this losing-the-coach pumpkin for now.

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