Athletics

225 years of Tar Heels: Roy Williams

Many people concentrate on Roy Williams’ countless accomplishments, but it’s his focus on hard work and determination from his time as a Carolina student that has made them possible.

Roy Williams cut the new after the basketball tema's sixth NCAA Tournament championship.
UNC wins of their sixth NCAA tournament championship with a 71-65 win over Gonzaga. April 3, 2017. (Brandon Bieltz/UNC-Chapel Hill)

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

Throughout his career, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams has not focused on the ends. Instead, he’s focused on the means that lead to those triumphant ends. The Naismith Hall of Fame coach has celebrated many victories, including national championship wins in 2005, 2009 and 2017.

He sums up the means required to celebrate those accomplishments succinctly as “hard work.” That phrase served as the title of his 2009 book with Tim Crothers.

And Williams, a 1972 graduate and GAA Distinguished Service Medal recipient, knows a thing or two about hard work.

When he was a Carolina student, he held several jobs, like an intramural referee, to help pay for his degrees — an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s in teaching. He played on the freshman basketball team, and while he was a sophomore, he asked Dean Smith if he could attend practices. Williams would sit in the stands and take notes. He also volunteered to take stats at home games and worked in Smith’s summer camps.

Williams coached high school basketball and golf in Black Mountain, North Carolina, for four years before he returned to Chapel Hill in 1978 to serve as Smith’s assistant for 10 years.

In 1988, Williams took the head coaching role at the University of Kansas, where he coached for 15 seasons before coming back to Carolina in 2003 to be the head coach of the Tar Heels.

Williams — a nine-time National Coach of the Year — is the only coach to win 400 games at two schools.

While a student, Williams didn’t take out student loans because he didn’t want to owe any money. Years later, in 2004, Williams used his voice to support the launch of the Carolina Covenant program, which helps eligible low-income students graduate from Carolina debt-free.

When the Covenant started its fundraising drive, Williams served as the honorary chair with his wife, Wanda, also a member of Carolina’s Class of 1972. In the first three years, the program generated $10 million in gifts. The Williams family — including children Kimberly and Scott — contributed more than $250,000 to the program in the early years of its development.

In August 2018 to recognize his many accomplishments, the University named the playing floor at the Dean E. Smith Center in honor of Williams.

“He would be proud of what we’ve done on the court, but Coach (Smith) was always able to do so much more for the players off the court,” Williams said at the induction ceremony. “I’ve tried to do things that he would have approved of.”