Give Roy Williams the Credit He Deserves: UNC Coach Is Best of This Generation

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterApril 2, 2017

UNC coach Roy Williams has his Tar Heels back in the title game.
UNC coach Roy Williams has his Tar Heels back in the title game.Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Roy Williams is in the Hall of Fame. He will play in the national championship game for the sixth time in his career Monday night and try for his third national title.

So what I'm about to write might seem ridiculous, but it needs to be written.

Roy Williams is underrated.

Roy Williams is the best coach of the new millennium

Now before you bombard my Twitter mentions, please study this chart:

Most NCAA tournament wins since 2000
NCAA tournament wins
1. Roy Williams, Kansas/UNC55
2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke44
3. Tom Izzo, Michigan State43
4. Bill Self, Tulsa/Illinois/KU42
5. John Calipari, Memphis/UK40
Bleacher Report

And before you mention Mike Krzyzewski has five rings—and three since 2000—check this out.

North Carolina ACC regular-season titles since Williams took over in 2003-04: eight.

Duke ACC regular-season titles since then: three.

Even if Williams loses on Monday night after reaching the title game for the second time in two years, it does not change that he's done the current era of college hoops better than anyone else.

Yet when the "best coaches in college basketball" conversation happens, he rarely gets mentioned. And, obviously, he doesn't make the list of greatest coaches of all time.

His hero and mentor, Dean Smith, is on that list, and so are John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Phog Allen, Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Rick Pitino.

Williams is making a case for himself as the best coach of this generation over ACC rival Mike Krzyzewski.
Williams is making a case for himself as the best coach of this generation over ACC rival Mike Krzyzewski.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

But Williams could pass Smith and Pitino in NCAA titles on Monday, tie Knight and move within one title of Rupp.

Williams is not in the conversation due to a list of reasons that are about as dumb as judging a coach through a popularity contest.

Williams has won a higher percentage of his games (.791) than all but one active coach: Gonzaga's Mark Few (.818). Few is an excellent coach himself, and trying to discredit his team's legitimacy because he coaches in the West Coast Conference is silly. But it has inflated his winning percentage.

However you slice it, Williams wins and wins and wins, and he's done so in the best conferences and on the biggest stage.

But, for whatever reason, he does not win the popularity contest.

My good friends over at CBS Sports annually do a Candid Coaches series where they ask Division I coaches for their vote on different poll questions.

Who is college basketball's best recruiter? Williams did not receive a single vote.

But Williams has navigated the one-and-done era as well as any coach in college basketball without nabbing those top talents.

Unlike John Calipari, considered the best recruiter in the game, Williams has mostly targeted the 4-star and 5-star recruits who need time to develop, and that's allowed him to enter March with NBA-caliber players with actual college experience, such as current stars Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II.

North Carolina has not had a one-and-done player in 10 years.

Jackson was considered a possible candidate and is the only player who was ranked in the top 15 of his class by who is still in college.

Justin Jackson has developed into a star while playing under Williams for three seasons.
Justin Jackson has developed into a star while playing under Williams for three seasons.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

"I never had my mind set on going one-and-done," Jackson told Bleacher Report last week. "There are a lot of players who [think like that], but then they go in a different direction.

"People just fall in love with Carolina. Everyone falls in love with the program. It's a family, and sometimes it's hard to leave a family."

"It's just something about the brotherhood here," current freshman and 5-star recruit Tony Bradley said, admitting he will have a decision to make after this season—though it would be difficult to leave his school.

Williams cannot boast that his players are having more success in the NBA than any other program, but back-to-back national-title appearances say he's doing just fine in recruiting.

As an offensive coach, Williams is not considered a great X's and O's tactician. When his peers were polled on who is the best offensive coach in college hoops, Williams did not receive a single vote.

That's probably because he relies on the Carolina secondary break and isn't innovating new offensive sets or systems.

"If we don’t score in our secondary break, we go into motion, and motion is the hardest thing to coach because people don’t know what you’re going to do," said C.B. McGrath, who played for Williams at Kansas and has been on his coaching staff for 18 seasons. "You’ve got to spend a lot of time teaching motion for players to understand what they’re supposed to do.

"It’s harder to defend because we don’t have any calls for the most part. That helps with our offense because people aren't going to know is Justin getting the shot this time? Are we going inside to Kennedy [Meeks]? You sort of don’t know."

No matter how the sausage is made, we should judge on results. And the fairest judge in basketball is efficiency.

Since Ken Pomeroy began keeping track of such numbers in 2002, Williams-coached teams have been in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency 12 times and ranked first three times. Only Krzyzewski can top that. 

"It's the attention to detail, and the fact that he doesn't let guys get away," former Tar Heel player and current staffer Sean May said. "He doesn't let guys think they're bigger than the program, and it has a way of humbling you. He always says the thing he is at his core is a teacher. His job is to get five guys to do something collectively that's bigger than anyone individually.

"He sticks to his guns and sticks to his principles, and I think that's what allows him to be great."

Sean May (right) has seen Williams' greatness up close as a player and staffer.
Sean May (right) has seen Williams' greatness up close as a player and staffer.MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/Associated Press/Associated Press

Who is the best defensive coach in college basketball? Again, no votes. But the numbers are kind to Williams on that end as well. He's finished in the top 20 in adjusted efficiency nine times in the last 16 years.

Williams' critics have two cards that they typically play.

First, they will point out in-game adjustments, and the fact that Williams doesn't take many timeouts when his team is the victim of a run.

But you do not win as often as Williams has won without the ability to make adjustments, and Williams is one of the best ever at schooling his team so it does not need to adjust.

"He adjusts things along in the game, but it might be when that timeout comes," McGrath said. "He always wants to have timeouts at the end of games.

"It’s hard to criticize and prove a point. Well, maybe it would have worked out. Well yeah, but maybe it wouldn’t have. What’s worked out for him is winning, and that’s what you’re trying to do."

Williams always puts one of the most talented (and usually experienced) rosters in the country on the floor, and then he thrives with a simple analytical formula: get as many possessions as possible.

The Heels do this by pushing the pace and crashing the offensive glass—they rank first in that category this season—and more often than not, the better team wins high-possession games.

"I've always felt that rebounding, if I, Roy Williams, could only pick one thing, I would always pick rebounding as the most significant factor in determining who wins the game," Williams said. "Because I think the game's pretty simple. You get it. I get it. You get it. I get it. The only way for me to get more opportunities is to get more offensive rebounds to get another shot and to make sure that you don't get more offensive rebounds."

It's fitting that on Saturday night the Tar Heels sealed the win over Oregon with two offensive rebounds in the closing seconds.

The louder critics will point to the academic scandal that has been a black eye to the university.

Athletes took what were essentially fake classes, and that's a bad look for the school and athletic programs.

But I believe Williams when he has said he did not know about what was going on.

Roy Williams is as pure a coach in this industry that you will find. Consider me naive if you'd like, but I think Williams wants to win clean.

"Obviously it’s bothered him because integrity has been the thing he’s valued the most in his whole career," McGrath said. "And he’s never tried to do anything purposely wrong. He’s never tried to break a rule. We follow the rules like you can’t believe. It’s a joke." 

Behind all the folksiness and dadgums is a sincerity. That is just ol' Roy. He might be cheesy. But there's nothing fake about him. It is not an act.

"He doesn’t say what he says in the press conference and then come in here and F-bomb everybody and say ‘I’m the reason we’re so successful,’" McGrath said. "Whatever you see out there is exactly what you see if it’s just me and him."

Whether you like him or not, all that should matter is the results.

And the results say no coach has been better in the modern era. The results say he's one of the all-time greats.

Popularity contests be damned, dadgummit.

Ol' Roy is a legend.


C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @CJMooreBR. Advanced stats provided by unless otherwise noted. Recruit info provided by


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