Williams Decides To Stay at Kansas

Friday, July 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — ``I'm staying.''

Those two words from Roy Williams will become part of the lore of one of the nation's historic college basketball programs.

Williams was saying no to North Carolina and yes to Kansas.

Listening to Williams announce Thursday night that he had rejected an offer to return to his beloved Tar Heels and replace Bill Guthridge as coach, Kansas fans must have felt vindicated. They have finally avenged that triple-overtime loss to North Carolina in the 1957 NCAA title game, the game that broke Wilt Chamberlain's heart.

``The decision here I've made came after the toughest seven days of my life,'' Williams said as he and athletic director Bob Frederick sat in a jam-packed, steamy little room beneath the Kansas football stadium.

More than 16,000 fans sat outside in the stadium seats, watching the news conference on a giant video board and cheering every word.

Since announcing last Friday that he was torn between staying at Kansas or moving to North Carolina, Williams received almost 2,000 e-mails urging him to stay. He walked the campus by himself Thursday, reading hundreds of signs and banners proclaiming love for the coach who has won more games the past 12 years than anybody else in Division I.

``I couldn't trade my players. That became more important than my dream of being at North Carolina,'' said Williams, who has a talented sophomore class of Nick Collison, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich.

After seven agonizing days, the North Carolina native and former assistant to Dean Smith summoned the courage to say no to Smith.

Calling Smith and telling him he was staying at Kansas was ``as painful an experience I could have,'' Williams said.

``I apologized to him, and just those words weren't enough. Coach Guthridge was another hard call. He and coach Smith are the reasons I'm here today. I can't help but a part of me feeling I've let them down.''

Smith recommended Williams to Frederick after Larry Brown quit following Kansas' 1988 championship. Frederick weathered heat from alumni for hiring a little-known assistant instead of a big-name coach.

But the ability of Williams not only to coach in game situations, but to recruit and establish rapport with his players quickly became evident. Williams also said he has been proud to emphasize academics.

He mentioned Jacque Vaughn, his best point guard, who excelled in school and who wept along with Williams when what was probably Williams' finest team lost to eventual national champion Arizona in the finals of the Southeast Regional in 1997.

Williams admitted he changed his mind several times and cried often while trying to decide if he would replace Guthridge as Tar Heels coach.

``Last Thursday, if somebody had held a gun to my head, I'd have probably said it would be North Carolina,'' he said. ``But as we went along, I started thinking about the great young men I've been able to coach, and I would have felt if I left them that I wouldn't have been truthful to them when I recruited them, that I would have been disloyal to them,'' he said. ``I couldn't handle that.

``I did what coach Smith taught me to do. I made the decision based on the most important thing, my players. I could not leave them.''

Wearing shoes with no socks, Williams became misty-eyed and hoarse several times, often pointing out his wife and daughter standing in the back of the crowded room.

After the news conference, he walked outside to speak to the happy, festive crowd. As he emerged, one woman yelled, ``If you think those kids played hard for you before, Roy, just wait 'til you see how hard they play for you now.''

North Carolina has been without a coach since Guthridge unexpectedly retired last Friday.

``We in the Carolina family are tremendously disappointed,'' North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said in Chapel Hill. ``We are the University of North Carolina and we will move forward. I know our fans are disappointed.''

Baddour said Guthridge would act as interim coach of the Tar Heels and that there was no timetable for hiring his replacement.

Earlier Thursday, as he walked the campus, Williams wore the haggard look of a man who'd just lost his job, not a man struggling to pick between two great ones.

``My decision, as I said, is the most difficult time period I've ever had,'' Williams said.

Williams has a 329-82 record in 12 seasons at Kansas, the winningest record for a coach in that many seasons. He has taken the Jayhawks to two Final Fours and won seven conference championships.