(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
A college education was handed to Roy Williams ’72. Just not the one he wanted. A full scholarship in engineering at Georgia Tech is quite an honor, and it certainly solved the difficult problem of paying for college in the Williams household.
But Buddy Baldwin’s pull on Roy was stronger, and he followed in the footsteps of his high school coach and mentor who had graduated from Chapel Hill in 1963. At Carolina, Roy would have to be resourceful. And that he was.
Consider that today, still in his prime and already one of the legends of college basketball coaching, for which he is amply compensated, he will tell you this: “If Chancellor Thorp calls and wants an autographed basketball, Chancellor Thorp is going to pay $175 for it.”
Not payable, of course, to Roy Williams. But that is the going rate for a program Roy started with autographed basketballs that has contributed more than $500,000 to local charities. An accounting of the accomplishments on the court that made those autographs so valuable would take up more time than we have here. And Roy’s good works away from the court probably would, too.
Throughout his career, Roy has focused not on the ends, but the means that he believes inevitably take you to those happy ends. He’s summed that up in a succinct phrase: Hard work.
While working his way through Carolina for an undergraduate degree in education and a masters in teaching, he refereed intramural sports, one of several jobs he held when he wasn’t playing freshman ball and later studying Dean Smith’s methods from the Carmichael grandstand. He didn’t take out student loans because he didn’t want to owe anyone money.
Come to think of it, he probably could have used the Carolina Covenant back in those days. The Covenant enables students from low-income families to graduate debt-free through work-study and places them in a supportive academic community. When the Covenant started its fund raising drive, Roy and his wife, Wanda ’72, became honorary chairs, and in the first three years the program developed on a solid footing with $10 million in gifts. The Williams family — including daughter Kimberly ’02 and son Scott ’99 — has contributed more than $250,000 personally.
Roy has championed the raising of more than $1 million for cancer research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He directed that half of the proceeds of this year’s 100th anniversary alumni game go to the cancer center and half to UNC Children’s Hospital.
As Coach Dean Smith told him, “North Carolina basketball is the front porch of the University, but it’s not all of the University nor is it the most important part.”
Life is not as hard now as it was when, as a young assistant coach, he sold calendars and delivered game films to the media to supplement a modest income. He was making a down payment on a dream that Buddy Baldwin inspired in him. Lost in an avalanche of accomplishments, it sometimes seems, are the vital learning years Roy spent at Coach Smith’s side, and when it was time for him to cut loose from the apprenticeship he went straight to the helm of one of the country’s premier programs.
He would be admired in two places as much more than a coach. As his freshman teammate Bill Chamberlain ’72 reminds us, “He is insistent upon class performance, being a good person off the court, being a part of the community, and taking part in all kinds of service projects.”
At Kansas his teams won 418 games and missed only one NCAA tournament in 15 seasons and were ranked in the post-season top 10 in the major polls 10 of those years.
Already his Tar Heels have won 196 games. Roy brought Carolina three consecutive 30-win seasons. He’s responsible for 55 NCAA tournament wins, third-best all-time. He has coached four national players of the year. He has the highest winning percentage among active coaches.
He has won national coach of the year awards in seven seasons and is a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame. Twice in his seven years as head coach, Carolina has celebrated national championships.
He knew that his divided passion between Kansas and UNC would rub some Tar Heels the wrong way, and he knew that some would not understand how he could continue to wear his Jayhawk loyalty on his sleeve after he came home. But that was, like hard work, who Roy Williams is.
“My love for this University grew every day that I was here as a student,” he says. “My love for this University grew every day I was here as an assistant coach. My feelings get stronger every year the more that I’m a part of it.” Few who loved this place have meant so much to their fellow alumni.
Said the “Voice of the Tar Heels,” Woody Durham ’63, “It’s amazing the passion the man has for everything he does. I get passionate talking about him because he has meant so much to this place, not only as a basketball coach, but he’s meant so much to this place for who he is.”
In this 100th year of basketball at Carolina, Roy faced perplexing questions. The growing pains of a young team gave him unfamiliar challenges. As we look ahead, we say, simply, woe to our opponents. Don’t ever underestimate a man who knows not the limits of hard work.