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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Fans say farewell to Williams at airport

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Late Monday afternoon, Roy Williams drove onto the tarmac at Lawrence Municipal Airport, where a Cessna Citation 550 jet was waiting to take him, his wife, Wanda, and assistant coaches Joe Holladay and Steve Robinson to Chapel Hill, N.C.

After the group unloaded a collection of luggage, Williams realized he hadn't made arrangements for someone else to move his car to the airport parking lot.

He got back in his car and headed for the parking lot, which meant driving past a collection of about 30 well-wishers, photographers and TV crews.

Moments later, Williams stopped in front of the group, got out, paused for a second and, speaking across the hood of his car in a voice few could hear, asked for understanding.

"This is one of the toughest days I've ever had, believe me," he said on the edge of tears.

A moment passed. He said, "I want you all to know this place will never be far from my heart."

As if on cue, the well-wishers responded with yells of "We love you, Roy!" and "Good luck, coach!"

With that, Williams parked the car, waved to the crowd a couple of times and was gone.

Ryan Crowder, a 21-year-old KU student from Overland Park, was one of six members of the Lamba Chi Alpha fraternity there to support Williams.

"We came here to thank him for all he's done for us," Crowder said.

"You can't really blame him," said Derek Bailey, a 19-year-old freshman from Lawrence and Lamba Chi Alpha. "Who doesn't want to live their dream?"

Bob Oyler wasn't showing love.

"Dean Smith's lapdog -- that's what he is," Oyler said, matter-of-factly. "I thought all along he'd go. Dean calls, Roy goes."

So why was Oyler at the airport?

"I came to see the end of an era," he said.

Kevin Augustus, a sales representative for Victory Sportswear, the Lawrence company that last week came out with the T-shirt that read "I don't give a sh*t about North Carolina, either" was there, too.

He was passing out the latest edition of the T-shirt, one that now reads, "I guess Roy really does give a sh*t about North Carolina."

"I made sure he got one," Augustus said.

An hour earlier, the jet's pilot, Billy Puryear, defended the coach's decision.

"I hope Kansas fans realize this is a no-win situation for Roy," said Puryear, who lives and flies out of Fayetteville, N.C.

"(Williams) loves the people here and he loves Kansas, but he loves North Carolina, too, and North Carolina loves him. This is a family thing. He's from there, his family's from there, his wife's family's from there.

"I know for a fact that three years ago, he was really torn up -- torn up, big time. I'm glad I'm not in his predicament."

Puryear, 52, is a full-time pilot for a pair of former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill trustees, Paul Lawing and Dr. William Jordan.

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