Carolina’s win over Arkansas last March was not only the 750th win in Roy Williams’ collegiate head coaching career, it also was his 65th victory in NCAA Tournament play, tying him with fellow Tar Heel Hall of Famer Dean Smith for the second-most all-time.
The 2015-16 season is Williams’ 13th as Carolina’s head coach and 28th as a college head coach. Williams is a member of the Naismith Basketball, College Basketball and North Carolina Sports Halls of Fame, leading Carolina to national championships in 2005 and 2009, three Final Fours, six Elite Eights, five NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds in 11 appearances, seven Associated Press Top 10 final rankings, six ACC regular-season titles, two ACC Tournament crowns and five 30-win seasons. NBA teams have selected 15 of his UNC players in the first-round of the NBA Draft.
Two of his most-decorated recent players – 2012 ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and senior guard Marcus Paige – have combined to win the Skip Prosser Award as the ACC’s Top Scholar-Athlete in three of the last five seasons. Williams is the only NCAA coach to have two different players (Zeller and Kansas’s Jacque Vaughn) earn Academic All-America of the Year honors.
ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and Fox Sports named Williams the Coach of the Decade for 2000-09 after he led Kansas and Carolina to 33 NCAA Tournament wins, eight more than any other coach.
The Asheville, N.C., native and 1972 UNC graduate has compiled a 27-year record as a college head coach of 750-202. He is 15th all-time in wins. Last season, he passed four members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame – Ray Meyer, Jerry Tarkanian, John Chaney and Phog Allen – in wins.
Williams has a career winning percentage of .788. Only one other coach in history – Adolph Rupp – has won 700 games with a higher winning percentage. Williams has the highest active winning percentage among current coaches with 20 years or more of experience, is second among all Division I active coaches and sixth-best in history.
No other coach has won at least 700 games at a higher rate per season than Williams. His teams at North Carolina and Kansas have produced 27.8 victories per season, more than two wins per year better than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who has averaged 25.5 wins.
Williams is one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Tournament history – only six schools have more “March Madness” wins than Williams. His teams are 65-23 in 25 appearances. He is tied for the second-most wins (65), is third in games (88) in history behind only Krzyzewski and Smith and has the fifth-highest winning percentage (.739) among coaches with at least 30 games. His teams have reached the Sweet 16 in 16 seasons, the Elite Eight 11 times and the Final Four on seven occasions, which is tied for fourth all-time behind only John Wooden, Smith and Krzyzewski.
His teams made 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1990 to 2009, the second-longest streak in NCAA history behind Smith’s 23, and Williams is the only coach to win an NCAA Tournament game in 20 consecutive seasons.
He has won at least one game in all 25 NCAA Tournaments in which his teams have played, a mark of success and consistency that no other coach has approached. Rupp is second with wins in his first 13 NCAA appearances; Bob Knight is third with nine.
Williams is one of four coaches (with Frank McGuire, Larry Brown and Rick Pitino) to lead two schools to the national championship game.
Carolina is 31-9 in the NCAA Tournament under Williams, a winning percentage of .775 that is the best in ACC history. He has led Kansas and UNC to 10 No. 1 seeds (five at each school), the second-most in NCAA history.
Williams is 332-101 (.767) in 12 seasons at Carolina, making him the second-winningest coach in school history. He is also second in Kansas history with 418 wins, placing him in the top two in victories at schools that are ranked second (KU) and third (UNC) all-time in wins in college basketball history.
The Tar Heels are 141-57 in ACC regular-season play under Williams, giving him the fourth-best percentage (.712) in ACC history behind Duke’s Vic Bubas, Smith and Krzyzewski. His teams improve as the year goes on, as evidenced by the fact that Carolina is 74-25 in the second half of ACC play (.747) under Williams.
Williams has a 64-35 record in ACC road games, a winning percentage of .646 that is the second-best in ACC history. The Tar Heels have posted winning ACC records on the road in nine of his 12 seasons, including 8-0 in 2007-08, 7-1 in 2005-06 and 2011-12, 6-2 in three seasons and 6-3 in 2014-15.
His teams have defeated the number one-ranked team in the Associated Press poll seven times. Only one other coach in history (Gary Williams) has knocked off the No. 1 team in the AP poll seven times.
In 2014, he reached 300 wins at UNC in his 396th game, surpassing Smith’s previous ACC record for reaching that mark in fewer games (Smith did it in 406) than any coach in the history of the historic conference. He won his 700th game in 2013, reaching the 700-mark mark in fewer games than all but two coaches (Rupp and Tarkanian) in NCAA history.
“What makes Coach Williams one of the great coaches isn’t just his extraordinary record, but his dedication to his players,” President Barack Obama said when the Tar Heels visited the White House after winning the 2009 championship. “He’s just as serious about making these guys into men and into leaders as he is into making them champions.”
At Carolina, Williams has coached two National Players of the Year (Sean May in 2005, Tyler Hansbrough in 2008), three Bob Cousy Award winners as the best point guard in the country (Raymond Felton in 2005, Ty Lawson in 2009, Kendall Marshall in 2012), three ACC Players of the Year (Hansbrough in 2008, Lawson in 2009, Tyler Zeller in 2012), two ACC Athletes of the Year (May in 2005, Hansbrough in 2008), four ACC Rookies of the Year (Marvin Williams in 2005, Hansbrough in 2006, Brandan Wright in 2007, Harrison Barnes in 2011), two Final Four MOPs (May in 2005, Wayne Ellington in 2009) and 19 NBA Draft picks.
Hansbrough became the most decorated player in Carolina Basketball history and set the all-time ACC scoring mark with 2,872 points. He became the first player in ACC history to earn first-team All-America and first-team All-ACC honors in each of his four seasons. He also became Carolina’s all-time leading rebounder, set the NCAA record for free throws made, won an NCAA title and National Player of the Year honors and earned his degree. On March 8, 2009, Senior Day at Carolina, an emotional Hansbrough thanked Williams for living up to a promise Williams made during his recruitment that the coach would always be honest with him.
“He always tells you the straight-up truth about what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear,” says Hansbrough. “That helped me not only as a player but also as a person.”
Danny Green started at shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs when they won the 2014 NBA championship, joining Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and James Worthy as players who won NCAA titles at UNC and NBA rings. Green says the winning cultures of the Tar Heels and the Spurs are similar.
“It starts with the coaches – Coach Williams and Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich) are very professional in the way they carry themselves,” said Green, who averaged 13.1 points for the 2009 national championship team and played in more wins (123) than any Tar Heel in history. “They recruit not just great players, but great people. They want people who have the mentality of wanting to win and compete and not just be about the individual. Coach Williams gets kids who will buy into the message of winning, being a team and doing things the right way without worrying about individual accolades.
“Coach Williams does a great job of getting everyone on the same page and molding them a certain way and doing things the right way,” adds Green, who hit an NBA Finals record 27 three-pointers in 2013. “I learned that at Carolina. It’s easy for me to adjust to the Spurs organization, because I was doing those same things here.”
The Tar Heels have set new standards for exemplary point guard play under Williams, who has coached a number of the top floor leaders in ACC history, three of whom have won the Cousy Award (no other school has more than one Cousy Award recipient).
Felton led the Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA title; Lawson won a national championship in 2009 and set the ACC single-season record for highest assist-error ratio; and Marshall led UNC to back-to-back regular-season league titles, set ACC records for most assists, highest assist average and most double-figure assist games in a season and posted the highest career assist-error ratio in ACC history.
“Coach Williams helped me learn the game from every aspect,” says Felton, who is an 11-year NBA veteran. “He taught me not to worry about scoring, to play better defense, to play together as a team, just lead my team. He taught me how to make everybody on the court better, and get mine in between all of that.”
“The success of the Carolina point guard comes from the fact that he understands how to play with people and still be an individual,” says Turner basketball analyst Kenny Smith, himself a former UNC point guard and two-time NBA champion. “You learn when to take shots and when to find people. You look at score, time and tempo of the game. Creating a pace your team can be part of and succeed in is the most valuable thing a point guard can bring to the game, and that’s what point guards learn at Carolina. They learn to control the pace so they can be valuable to their team.”
Senior point guard Marcus Paige has earned All-ACC honors twice and was a second-team All-America as a sophomore. He is a pre-season All-America in 2016 and is just nine three-point field goals away from becoming UNC’s career leader.
“I owe a lot—a lot—to Coach Williams,” Paige said after he scored 35 points in a win at NC State in 2014. “When everyone was doubting me, no one had more confidence in me than him. He stuck with me through everything and has always instilled confidence in me, and that’s why I play confidently on the court. When I was struggling, I would go in and talk to him a lot. He told me other guys have struggled. He told me Ty (Lawson) struggled, and Kendall struggled, and that there was no one he wanted running his team other than me. And that’s what helped me get through it.”
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Marshall, whose 351 assists in 2012 were the fourth-highest single-season figure in NCAA history. “He runs a pro system and he does a great job of getting the most out of his players within a team concept.”
His Hall of Fame ledger also includes:
• combined record: 1025-263 in 37 seasons as a collegiate head coach and assistant coach
• 30-win seasons: 10, the second-most in history
• consecutive years with 30 wins: three from 2007-09, a Carolina first
• 25-win seasons: 20
• 20-win seasons: 25, the third-most in NCAA history
• national coach of the year: seven times (1990, 1991, 1992, 1997, 2005, 2006, 2009)
• conference coach of the year: nine times (1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011)
• ACC regular-season titles: six in 12 seasons, tied for the third most in ACC history (Smith won 17 in 36 years, Krzyzewski 12 in 36 and McGuire six in 24)
• Big 8/12 and ACC regular-season championships: 15 combined titles and 19 times finishing either first or second in the conference standings
• Milestone wins: reached 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 wins in fewer seasons than any coach in history
• Number One rankings: 11 seasons ranked No. 1 and 16 seasons ranked No. 1 or No. 2
• Associated Press rankings: Tar Heels have been ranked in the Top 25 in 187 of 231 polls, including 113 Top 10 rankings, 85 times in the Top 5 and 27 weeks as the No. 1 team in the country
In 27 seasons, Williams has coached four National Players of the Year, 15 first-team All-Americas, nine conference player or athletes of the year, three Bob Cousy Award winners, 29 first-team all-conference players, 39 academic all-conference selections, two Academic All-Americas of the Year and 26 NBA first-round draft picks.
A recipient of the John Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in 2003, Williams wants his teams to run the floor, take care of and share the basketball, get high percentage, open shots, hold teams under 40 percent shooting from the floor and control the backboards.
His UNC teams have averaged 82 points with the Tar Heels reaching 100 or more points 49 times. His teams have averaged at least 80 points 19 times. Carolina has ranked in the top four nationally in scoring six times and either first or second in the ACC in points per game in all but three seasons.
Overall his teams have finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring 11 times, in scoring margin 16 times, in field goal percentage 12 times, in win-loss percentage 11 times and in field goal defense four times. Also, his squads have finished in the top seven nationally in assists per game in 10 of the last 14 years and in the top 10 nationally in rebounding margin in 12 of the last 19 years.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote after Carolina beat Michigan State for the 2009 NCAA title: “There isn’t a more perfect union in college basketball than Roy and Carolina; the ideal combination of style and substance, recruiting might and coaching acumen, of championships won and won and, most certainly, won again.”
Forbes named Williams the best basketball coach in the country, choosing him by analyzing win-loss percentages, NCAA Tournament appearances, Final Fours, national championships and recruiting, stating: “A top-notch recruiter and motivator, Williams coaches with an unflappable cool, a trait reflected in his players’ calm on the court.”
Williams is one of nine Tar Heels enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, joining a group that includes Smith, Jordan, Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, Worthy and Bob McAdoo. Twenty-three of his former players from Carolina and Kansas attended the induction ceremony in Springfield, Mass., in 2007.
“What Coach Smith began with the Carolina family, Coach Williams continues to grow,” says Worthy. “The family, camaraderie and success are just the same as when I played here. The whole family is a fraternity, and it continues to grow.”
Last season, Carolina won 26 games, including a 71-67 upset over top-seed Virginia in the ACC Tournament as the Tar Heels reached the ACC championship game for the sixth time in Williams’s 12 seasons. UNC beat Harvard and Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament before narrowly losing to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.
The 2014 Tar Heels overcame the loss of one of their top scorers for the entire season, yet still won 24 games, including an unprecedented sweep of the top four teams in the preseason AP poll. The 2012 Tar Heels were poised for another trip to the Final Four until record-setting point guard Kendall Marshall was injured in the third round and was unable to play in the regional finals.
He won ACC Coach of the Year honors in 2011 after a 14-2 league mark, a record the Tar Heels would duplicate in 2012 when Tyler Zeller was the ACC Player of the Year and UNC placed four players among the top six vote getters for All-ACC honors.
The 2009 Tar Heels put on a stunning display en route to winning the national championship, winning six NCAA Tournament games by an average of 20.2 points, the highest margin in 13 years. UNC became the first national champion to win all six games by a dozen or more points. Carolina trailed in the second half just once in those six contests and led Michigan State, 51-30, at halftime in the national championship game.
In 2008, Williams led the Tar Heels to a school-record 36 wins, ACC regular-season and Tournament titles and a berth in the Final Four with a win over Louisville in the regional final. Hansbrough won every major National Player of the Year award. He became the fourth to play for Williams – along with Jayhawks Drew Gooden and Nick Collison and UNC’s Sean May – to win National Player of the Year honors since 2002.
In 2006, Carolina faced the loss of its top seven scorers, which was unprecedented in ACC history. Sports Illustrated predicted Carolina would miss the NCAA Tournament and the Tar Heels were picked by the media to finish sixth in the ACC. However, Williams earned National and ACC Coach of the Year honors by leading the youngest team in Carolina history to a second-place ACC finish, a win at top-ranked Duke and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The 2005 national championship capped a season in which the Tar Heels went 33-4, including a 14-2 mark in the ACC. May scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the title game, a month after grabbing 24 rebounds in a heart-stopping win over Duke and following his East Regional MVP performance.
“Coach Williams allowed me to be successful,” says May. “He put me in positions to be successful. He pulled out my strengths and hid my weaknesses. And Coach taught me how to run the floor. I never wanted to know until I came here, but now I love it.”
Williams became the UNC head coach on April 14, 2003, 10 days after leading Kansas to the NCAA championship game against Syracuse.
Williams was an assistant coach at Carolina from 1978-88. Working for Dean Smith, he helped coach such standouts as Mike O’Koren, Al Wood, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Michael Jordan, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith, Joe Wolf, Steve Hale, Jeff Lebo, J.R. Reid and Scott Williams.
Carolina won the NCAA title in 1982, finished second in 1981 and won or shared six ACC regular-season titles and three ACC Tournament championships.
Kansas hired Williams on July 8, 1988, replacing another UNC Hall of Famer, Larry Brown. Williams coached a number of the finest Kansas players in history, including Mark Randall, Adonis Jordan, Rex Walters, Greg Ostertag, Scot Pollard, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.
The Jayhawks averaged 27.9 wins per season with a high of 35 in 1997-98. He also won 30 in 1989-90, 34 in 1996-97, 33 in 2001-02 and 30 in 2002-03. The Jayhawks reached the Sweet 16 nine times and the Final Eight on five occasions.
In seven years of Big 12 Conference play, his teams went 94-18, capturing the regular-season title in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003 and the postseason tournament crown in 1997, 1998 and 1999. In 2001-02, KU became the first Big 12 team to go 16-0 in league play. From 1995-98, Kansas was a combined 123-17 – an average of 30.8 wins per season.
His teams have dominated at home, posting a record of 370-43 (.896). He led the Jayhawks to a 201-17 record (92.2) in Allen Fieldhouse, at one point winning 62 consecutive games. The Tar Heels are 166-26 at the Smith Center and 1-0 at Carmichael Arena under Williams and set the school record for consecutive home wins with 31.
Williams has coached players to 29 first-team all-conference honors, including 12 UNC selections. The 2012 season marked only second time in ACC history that three players (Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes) made the first team. Eight players – five Jayhawks, plus Hansbrough, Lawson and Zeller – have won conference player of the year honors.
Zeller and Marshall each earned first-team All-America honors in 2012, the 14th and 15th first-team All-America seasons by Williams’ players.
Gooden (2002), Collison (2003), May (2005) and Hansbrough (2008) won National Player of the Year honors and LaFrentz (1997 and 1998), Pierce (1998), Gooden (2002), Collison (2003) and Hansbrough (2007, 2008 and 2009) have earned consensus first-team All-America honors.
NBA teams have selected 26 of his players in the first round. In 2005 and 2012, four Tar Heels were chosen in the first round.
Williams emphasizes academic and personal development. May, the 2005 Final Four MVP, entered the NBA Draft after his junior year but later earned his degree. Marvin Williams, who went to the NBA in 2005 after just one season, returned to Chapel Hill for classes in seven subsequent summers, and earned his degree in 2014.
“I think about what Coach Williams means to me a lot and I hope he’s proud of me,” says Williams. “I can’t really put into words what he means to me. He came to Bremerton (Wash.) and he gave a kid a chance to be something. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s meant to my family.
“I could never pay Coach Williams back for what he’s done for me, and I mean that genuinely. He told my mother if I worked hard, I could get a degree from this university. When I called my mom to tell her (I was graduating), she instantly started crying. I hope I made my parents and my coach proud.”
Four of his players have earned first-team Academic All-America honors – the Jayhawks’ Vaughn (twice), Jerod Haase and Ryan Robertson and Carolina’s Zeller (twice). Thirty-nine have earned academic all-conference honors, including Zeller, a four-time recipient, and Paige, a three-time Academic All-ACC honoree and second-team Academic All-America in 2014 and 2015.
“I respect and admire Coach Williams—as a champion for the students we serve through the Carolina Covenant; as a leader and teacher of young men; as a person of great integrity,” says Stephen M. Farmer, UNC Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions. “I also respect and admire his love for this great university and his deep appreciation of the difference it makes in North Carolina and far beyond.”
Zeller majored in business administration and became the first Tar Heel to be named the National Academic All-America of the Year, and was UNC’s first two-time, first-team Academic All-America.
“Coach Williams always emphasizes that we have to go to class and get an education, because that’s why we are here,” Zeller said during his senior year. “There might be times we wish we didn’t have to do it. But down the road, we’ll appreciate it. He lets us know that if we take it seriously we will have a career outside of basketball.”
Williams grew up in the Biltmore neighborhood of south Asheville. He attended Roberson High, where he played for Coach Buddy Baldwin. He played on Carolina’s freshman team in 1968-69 and earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1972 and a master’s degree in teaching in 1973.
He began his coaching career in 1973 at Owen High School in Swannanoa, N.C., and was inducted into Owen’s Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached for USA Basketball teams in the 1991 World University Games, the 1992 U.S. Olympic Development Team, a U-22 tournament in Argentina in 1993 and the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
Several of his staff and players have gone on to head coaching positions, including Matt Doherty, Neil Dougherty, Jerry Green, Steve Robinson, Kevin Stallings, Mark Turgeon, Rex Walters, Wes Miller and Haase.
Williams was born on August 1, 1950. He and his wife, Wanda, a 1972 Carolina graduate, have a son, Scott, and a daughter, Kimberly. Scott earned a business degree from UNC and played point guard for the Tar Heels in 1997-98 and 1998-99. Scott and his wife, Katie (Wolford), live in Charlotte, with their sons, Aiden and Court. Katie is a 2001 Carolina graduate and former cheerleader. She earned a doctorate in physical therapy from Boston University. Kimberly is a 2002 Carolina graduate with a degree in English and was a member of the UNC dance team in 2000 and 2001. She owns The Dance Spot in Huntersville.
The Williams family has contributed more than $300,000 to the Carolina Covenant, an initiative at UNC that allows low-income students to attend the University debt free. Roy and Wanda serve as honorary chairs of a multi-million dollar campaign to endow the program. He hosts the annual Fast Break vs. Cancer breakfast that should top the $2 million mark in donations this year and directs the autographed basketball program that has contributed more than $1.2 million to local charities.
The American Cancer Society honored him in 2012 for his efforts in the fight against cancer. In 2013, Williams spoke to the United States Congress to advocate for cancer research funding and President Obama invited Williams to participate in a public service initiative to encourage young men to sign up for health care.