17 years ago today, Bill Self was introduced as the next Kansas basketball coach

photo by: AP Photo

Kansas University interim athletic director Drue Jennings, left, looks on as KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, second from right, greets Illinois basketball coach Bill Self, center, who arrived with his family, including daughter Lauren, right, at Lawrence Municipal Airport. Though Hemenway and Jennings declined comment on the matter Sunday when Self arrived, a news conference has been scheduled for Monday, April 21, 2003 to introduce Self as the next Kansas men's basketball coach.

When Kansas basketball coach Bill Self was formally introduced as the eighth head coach in program history 17 years ago Tuesday, then-KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway called it “a day to make dreams come true.”

No one could have known then that Self would go on to exceed the highly successful stretch of winning that Roy Williams accomplished before Self was hired, or that Self one day would eclipse 700 career victories — 500 of them at Kansas — and enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Those dreams and many more have come true for Self, who enters his 18th season at Kansas with an .821 winning percentage at KU (501-109), an overall winning percentage of .768 (708-214) and a reputation as one of the best coaches in the game of basketball.

Looking back on that introductory press conference from 17 years ago, it was clear that Hemenway and company believed that Self was up for the challenge of following Williams, who left for North Carolina after back-to-back trips to the Final Four and 418 wins over 15 seasons.

“When the coaching position became open, I said that we’d talk to the best coaches in the country and we’d act decisively,” Hemenway said before introducing Self. “We accomplished both of those goals. We spoke to some outstanding coaches, but we focused on one man — Bill Self. We knew his record, we knew his reputation for integrity and we knew of his strong respect for KU and all that it stands for.”

Interim athletic director Drue Jennings, who played a big role in the hire said toward the end of the introductory news conference that KU did conduct other interviews but that “Bill Self has been our No. 1 priority all the way along.”

While introducing him, Hemenway handed Self a blue folding chair that read, “Kansas Basketball Head Coach Bill Self” on the back of it and, in doing so, ushered in one of the most successful stretches in the rich history of the blue blood basketball program.

“We’d be pretty glad if you’d just keep it for the next 25 years or so,” Hemenway famously remarked before turning the microphone over to Self.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to take advantage of a light-hearted moment, Self responded with, “I just touched that and it already feels very hot.”

That was not the last joke Self made during his 32-minute introductory news conference, which featured a 16-minute speech and roughly 16 minutes of questions from the media.

“I know it’s a big event with as many media members that are here today,” he deadpanned. “Obviously they thought there was a free meal that went along with the press conference.”

Later, after some kind words about the program and Williams, Self got into his own career. He talked about how he told his new team the night before that he was a heady player who took charges and did the little things to help the team win and he asked them, ‘What does that really mean?’

“And I think it was (Keith) Langford who said, ‘Can’t play,'” Self shared. “Which is basically true.”

Fresh off of a successful 3-year stint at Illinois, Self talked a lot about the Illini program and about Williams during his first news conference in Lawrence.

And while the sentiments he had for both came across as genuine, the one thing that came through even more clearly was his admiration for Kansas.

“When you’re at Oral Roberts and you lose 18 in a row your first year, you don’t speak publicly about I’m going to coach at Kansas someday,” he joked of that initial rough stretch in his head coaching career. “But deep in my heart, once you’ve been here, you know what it’s like.”

Self went on to call the position he had just accepted, “the most prestigious chair in all of college basketball.”

“Nobody picks the timing,” he said. “And certainly I didn’t pick this. It was a difficult decision to leave (Illinois). … This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Self said then that Kansas fans had been “spoiled” by the job Williams did while also adding that he was excited to try to live up to that standard.

“You’ve had a coach here the last 15 years that’s done a remarkably great job,” he said. “He’s done it the right way. He’s done it with class, with dignity and the performance on the court certainly equalled the performance off the court.”

“It’s a tough act to follow. But you know something: Larry Brown was a tough act to follow. Ted Owens went to two Final Fours and was a tough act to follow. And Phog Allen was a very tough act to follow. And the guy who started it all was the toughest of all acts to follow in Dr. Naismith.”

“I’ve always thought how cool would it be to office on Naismith Drive,” Self said that day. “And now it actually gets to happen.”


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