Being an alumnus of the University of Kansas, I was quite annoyed and puzzled when Roy Williams decided to depart KU for North Carolina a few years ago.
I was annoyed because he had developed a perennial top 10 basketball program with the Jayhawks and they were always in contention for the national championship each year.
That being said, I was equally as puzzled by his departure for the aforementioned reason that I was annoyed. The fact the he felt compelled to disavow his legacy in college basketball was at the very least perplexing.
As a comparison, it is understandable why someone with the unknown stature of Bob Stoops would accept a job at Oklahoma. Since it was his first head coaching job, he didn’t have the pressure of living up to the legacy of Bud Wilkinson or Barry Switzer. If he failed, then he would have been fired and forgotten. As it stands, he has built an impressive resume’ for the future if he chooses to move on.
However, it has always puzzled me as to why a successful coach such as Roy Williams would leave a school where he is beloved and revered as an icon in order to go to another school to compete with an iconic ghost.
Had Roy Williams remained at Kansas for the next 10-20 years, his name would have been forever synonymous with Kansas basketball as Boeheim is to Syracuse or Krzyzewski is to Duke. However, as it stands, regardless of how many titles he wins at North Carolina, he will forever be known as just another coach that lived in the shadow of Dean Smith.
What is so perplexing is that so many successful coaches that fit the "Roy Williams profile" have not figured out that they are stifling their potential legacies by chasing iconic ghosts.
The list of successful coaches that have traded their potential legacies to chase a ghost is long.
For instance, Billy Gillespie could have written his ticket at Texas A&M. He turned a mediocre basketball team in to a very good team and his legacy was about to be cemented at Texas A&M; until he left for Kentucky. Now, he is at the cusp of being fired at Kentucky because of their poor record during his short tenure.
The irony is that he would have never measured up to the lofty expectations that have been set by the ghost of Adolph Rupp.
Furthermore, any successful coach that takes the reins at UCLA will never live up to the ghost of John Wooden; regardless of how many championships are won by that coach.
This leads me to Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had it all! He was beloved in West Virginia because he was a native son, played for the Mountaineers, and revamped West Virginia in to a perennial powerhouse on the college football landscape. He sparked a new influx of quality recruits at West Virginia and the football program was perceived to be a bonafide contender attracting high school blue chip prospects.
It appeared that they would contend for the Big East title every year and that a BCS Bowl berth was all but assured from year to year.
Rodriguez was one step below “Bear Bryant” status at the university when he decided to take the money and bolt for Michigan. In a split decision, he pulled a “Roy Williams” and shunned his legacy at West Virginia to chase an iconic ghost at Michigan.
The reality is that he will never satisfy the ghost of Bo Schembechler at Michigan. The fans would never allow it to happen; just as they would not allow it to happen at Alabama as it pertains to Bear Bryant!
Sadly, Rich Rodriguez is stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” His welcome is almost worn out at Michigan and he would never be able to return to West Virginia where his star would have surely become a supernova.
When will successful coaches at major universities finally understand that a legacy is hard to obtain?
If you have reached iconic status at a prestigious university, then don’t throw it away by chasing an iconic ghost at another university.
The thing that you must understand about an iconic ghost is that the ghost is always greater than the person actually was during their coaching stint. Therefore, you will never surpass the status of the ghost because the fans would never allow it to happen.
That being said, if a coach is currently successful and approaching iconic status at his current stint, then he should remain where he currently coaches and let someone chase “his” ghost in the future. After all, the fans will love him forever and they will never let another coach surpass his iconic status.
Sadly, it is too late for Rich Rodriguez to learn this lesson. What was a shining star at West Virginia will soon become fading star and distant memory to us all.