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Archive for Sunday, July 9, 2000

Staying power: Coach’s week in review

July 9, 2000

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In the end, it was all about nothing.

Roy Williams was KU's men's basketball coach last week and he's KU's men's basketball coach this week, and next week and he will be for years to come.

But for seven excruciating, agonizing and occasionally exhilarating days, Williams captivated the college basketball world.

Here's a look back at the week that was:

Wednesday

For most of the college basketball world, the Roy Williams saga didn't start until Thursday, but two events transpired a day earlier that proved significant by the time the drama played itself out.

The first domino fell Wednesday. Though it wasn't leaked until Thursday and announced until Friday, Guthridge decided to retire sometime Wednesday. Only a select few were let in on the decision.

Also Wednesday, a large group of former Jayhawks met for a scrimmage at Allen Fieldhouse on the penultimate day of Williams' summer basketball camp.

At some point during the reunion, Williams told former Jayhawk Greg Gurley that Williams wanted grandchildren some day. Gurley pointed to his 10-week-old daughter and the children of former Jayhawks Rex Walters and Scot Pollard and told Williams he already had grandchildren.

"His heart sank when he heard that," Williams' son, Scott, said. "The former players he has they mean so much to him."

Thursday

Word of Guthridge's retirement got out Thursday, and speculation began that UNC would make a run at Williams.

The same Associated Press reporter who "broke" a bigger story a day later quoted a source saying Guthridge decided he didn't have the energy to coach another year. The decision came at a bad time just more than a week before the start of the crucial summer recruiting period.

Williams didn't return phone calls from media, but he was immediately considered the front-runner for the UNC opening.

"KU feels very privileged to have the best basketball coach in America," said Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "Our hope and fervent desire is that the best basketball coach in America will continue to practice his craft at KU."

Thursday evening, Williams called a staff meeting where he told his assistants about to leave town for vacation before the start of the summer recruiting period that his name surely would surface in connection with the Carolina opening. He cautioned them not to believe any reports that didn't come directly from him.

"He knew all the coaches were leaving," said Kansas administrative assistant and former Jayhawk C.B. McGrath. "He didn't want them on the road hearing who-knows-what was going to happen."

Later, Williams said of Thursday night, "If someone had put a gun to my head, I would have said it was probably North Carolina."

Friday

The tobacco really hit the fan.

Early Friday, The Associated Press reported that Williams accepted the North Carolina job. Citing sources at Carolina, AP said the deal was done, and the report was quickly picked up by ESPN and countless Internet sites.

Many players were on their way home for holiday vacation or a break in summer school, but at least one player, Drew Gooden, heard in class that Williams was history.

"A professor told Drew I was leaving," Williams said. "He ran down to the basketball office to find out what was going on."

Williams continued to duck the media, but he told two assistant coaches McGrath and Ben Miller, the only two in town to get word to the players that the reports were unfounded, and Williams promised to tell the players of his final decision first.

On Friday evening, after a quick round of golf with a group that included KU football coach Terry Allen, Williams called a press conference to beg for patience as he wrestled with what obviously would become a gut-wrenching decision.

Nearly 100 fans camped outside the Wagnon Student Athlete Center where Williams was meeting with the media. The supporters huddled around a radio to listen to the press conference live. They cheered, waved signs and gave Williams two roses as he left.

On Friday night, Williams went on a walking tour of campus.

"Again, I'm as corny as they come," Williams said. "Wanda and I went downtown. They were having a fiesta at St. John's School, and we walked downtown. We came up to campus and walked around the campus, and I took my shoes off and put my feet in the Chi-O fountain. I did that to see what my feelings were about this place."

Saturday

Williams got in a quick round of golf Saturday morning with his usual group that includes Allen, Kansas associate AD Richard Konzem, Alvamar golf pro Randy Towner and Scot Buxton, a close friend of Williams'.

The golfers joked good-naturedly about Williams' decision, but it wasn't discussed in-depth.

That evening, Williams, his wife, Wanda, and daughter, Kimberly, jumped on a jet for Charleston, S.C., where they own a vacation home.

The Carolina media were still convinced Williams was coming to UNC, but the headline in the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun read, "Williams cools Heels on UNC post."

Frederick stayed close by a phone that didn't ring.

Sunday

In his Sunday column, Journal-World Sports Editor Chuck Woodling encouraged fans to let Williams know how they felt about him, and Woodling encouraged them to send e-mails to the KU basketball office and plaster Allen Fieldhouse with notes and letters.

The Phog Allen statue outside the fieldhouse sported a T-shirt that read, "ROY PLEASE STAY."

The fieldhouse joke held that tears were spotted streaking Phogger's face.

Frederick visited briefly with Williams on the telephone.

"I asked him if I needed to recruit him again," said Frederick, who from the start decided to give Williams as much time and space as he needed to make his decision, "and he said no."

All was quiet on the North Carolina front, but not for long.

Monday

Williams went to Chapel Hill on Monday for dinner with North Carolina AD Dick Baddour at an Italian restaurant. The two reportedly chatted about old times. Baddour's wife, Lynda, taught both of Williams' children in kindergarten in Chapel Hill.

Meanwhile in Lawrence, the e-mail and fieldhouse sign campaign took off. By Monday evening, Kansas had received more than 1,250 e-mails, and nearly every entrance to Allen Fieldhouse had some signage. In addition to cards and letters were posters and even a stuffed animal or two.

Carolina's response: Someone hung a sign on the Dean Dome that read, "Roy please come home."

Tuesday

The Carolina wooing began in earnest Tuesday, when Williams and his wife woke up early for a 7 a.m. walk around the Carolina campus.

Williams also met with his son on the Chapel Hill campus. Scott Williams made the two-hour drive from his Charlotte, N.C., home for the meeting.

"He feels every 30 minutes he could have a different opinion," Scott Williams said later. "The hard part for him is he so despises the feeling he's letting people down. It's tearing him apart."

Later, Williams went golfing with UNC coaching legend Dean Smith and former PGA Tour pro John Inman. Williams and Baddour met again before the two drove to the airport for Williams' return flight to the South Carolina vacation home.

"Everything was positive, but Roy is a positive guy," Baddour said. "I'm sure I said something like, 'Let's be looking for a house next time you come.

"I felt very good when Roy left campus. I felt like my meeting with Roy and his visit went extremely well. I told my wife after he left that we've done everything we can do. Now, it is out of our hands. Coach Smith felt the same way."

Wednesday

Hump day was an emotional roller coaster for Williams.

Wednesday morning's Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun reported that Williams had verbally accepted a seven-year deal to coach the Tar Heels. The paper attributed the information to a source; another source refused to confirm.

A few hours to the south, Williams mulled his decision in South Carolina, then in the early evening boarded a commercial flight for Kansas City.

"On the way to the airport, I told Wanda I should probably go to North Carolina," Williams recalled. "We got to the airport and she told me I should probably stay (at KU). I got on the plane and I agreed with her. We hit a bump and I thought differently. We hit another bump and I thought differently again."

Clearly, the decision was far from made. Word got out broadcast by a KC-area radio station about Williams' arrival in Kansas City, and Williams was greeted by a few dozen fans and a handful of media representatives.

He looked haggard, the decision clearly weighing heavily on him.

"The last seven days have been the most difficult of my life," he said. "I have people at both places I care a great deal about. I wish I could coach both places."

Upon his return to Lawrence, Williams dropped by the fieldhouse and appeared emotional when he saw the cards, letters and mementos that adorned the entrances.

"It was really nice (Wednesday) night," Williams said. "I was probably more confused (Wednesday) than I'd been."

Thursday

Decision day dawned with nary an inkling of Williams' leaning if you discount the headline splashed across the top of the Herald-Sun that read, "Williams says 'Yes' to Heels."

Back in Lawrence, regional media arrived at Allen Fieldhouse early to stake out Frederick and Williams.

The two met for about 30 minutes in Frederick's office starting at 9:30 a.m., and they joined Hemenway in Hemenway's office for a nearly two-hour meeting that ended just after noon.

By then, the decision was just about cemented, and Frederick was encouraged when Williams asked, if he decided to stay, if the university could send its jet to Charleston to pick up Wanda and Kimberly to be on hand for the announcement.

Still, Williams hadn't yet told his bosses of his plans.

Frederick drove back to the fieldhouse, while Williams made another walking tour of the campus. Hemenway helped him sneak out the back door at Strong Hall.

Williams took Hemenway up on the suggestion to walk through the Campanile because of its graduation-day significance.

Back at the fieldhouse, Frederick drew a throng of media types by design.

"He was my diversion guy," said Williams, who tried to sneak unobserved into the fieldhouse's northeast doors.

He couldn't, and was immediately surrounded, about 12:30, by a pack of out-of-breath journalists. Williams pushed the way to the basketball locker room door, paused outside to say, "It can't go on like this, I have to make a decision," and went inside.

As TV cameras circled the door and radio reporters gave live reports that Williams was meeting inside with his staff and former players, Williams slipped out the back door and sneaked unseen into his office.

About 1 p.m., Williams informed his staff of his decision to stay, and about 1:30 he called Frederick and told him it was time to let Hemenway in on the decision.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Williams fought his way through a pack of TV cameras and got in his car, saying he was heading home to think.

Then he hit the links. Tailed to his house by a few media types primarily from North Carolina Williams hit a few golf balls at Alvamar before disappearing again.

Just after 5 p.m., the KU sports information office announced a 9 p.m. press conference at the football locker room at Memorial Stadium. It said Williams and/or Frederick would attend, and fans were encouraged to watch the proceedings on the MegaVision video board.

Speculation ran wild.

Williams wouldn't invite fans to a goodbye speech, would he? What did it mean that Williams and/or Frederick would attend? GoHeels.com, a fan-run Tar Heels Internet site that had been "reporting" that Williams-to-Carolina was a done deal daily, reported that Williams was such a "class guy" that he did, in fact, want to say goodbye to KU.

Between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., Williams and his assistants tried to contact Jayhawk players who were spread out across the country. In some cases, they weren't unsuccessful.

"I don't know how many of the current players I talked to," Williams said. "We split 'em up. Each assistant called some. I called a couple. I asked if they were pleased I was coming back. Of course, they want to continue playing for me. That was probably dumb. I don't know what I would have done if they had said no."

Fans started trickling into Memorial Stadium early. By 8 p.m., there were more than 5,000 KU supporters milling around, drinking free sodas donated by the university's corporate soda sponsor. One fan held aloft a bright orange sign proclaiming the event "Stay Night with Roy Williams."

By 8:30 p.m., crowd estimates approached five figures.

Just after 9 p.m., Frederick and Williams took their seats before a huge media throng sweating in the bowels of Memorial Stadium.

Frederick put on a poker face to prolong the suspense. He thanked Williams for 12 years of service and turned things over to Williams to "talk about the future."

Williams, on the verge of tears, paused.

The crowd, symbolically and not egregiously inaccurately estimated at 16,300, the capacity of Allen Fieldhouse, leaned forward.

Wanda and Kimberly, in one corner of the locker room, tried to keep out of the spotlight, while close to a dozen former players from Kevin Pritchard to Jacque Vaughn beamed.

"I'm staying," Williams said, and Memorial Stadium shook with thunderous applause.

Back in Chapel Hill, the local television station that aired the press conference live abruptly returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

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