- I was relieved that the Jayhawks were getting back to the Final Four after a four-season absence.
- I was relieved that Bill Self was no longer the best coach in the country without a Final Four on his resume.
- I was relieved that the Roy-Kansas-North Carolina love triangle was finally going to be over. Seriously.
Once it sank in that a highly-anticipated Jayhawk-Tarheel matchup was going to happen this coming Saturday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, I hoped it would be an opportunity to put all this vitriol for Roy Williams behind us.
I grew as tired of Williams’ Mayberry act as anyone. His Southified sense of power and how to wield it along with his self-righteous indignation toward anyone who didn’t support him 100 percent all the time rubbed me the wrong way like 50-grit industrial sandpaper.
That said, Williams did a dadgum good job in his 15 years at Kansas, leading the Jayhawks to four Final Fours. He won 81.5 percent of his games. All told, he won more games – 418 – than any KU coach who doesn’t have a field house named after him. Granted, he didn’t get the big ring, but even the most dedicated hater can’t even think of discounting the fact that Roy Williams took the program that Larry Brown had gotten off life support and did an amazing job.
Williams was replaced on April 21, 2003, by Bill Self, a guy who proudly announced when he was hired that having an office in Allen Field House on Naismith Drive was a dream come true. Self knew KU Basketball, having played at Oklahoma State and spending a year as a graduate assistant under Larry Brown.
After leaving KU, Self had gone on to do terrific work at three head coaching stops, including leaving the Illinois cupboard packed with national championship-caliber talent when he accepted the Kansas job. Too bad he couldn’t have recruited a coach for the Illini, too.
Win or lose, though, I hoped this Saturday would be the end of all the angst. KU wins, and Jayhawk fans could say, “Told ya so! You can have Roy; we love Bill!” Lose and KU fans could finally cut the cord. Disown Roy from the KU family once and for all. Having beaten Kansas, he’s officially a Tarheel for life. Roy, ya dead to me!
Early returns indicate that it’s not going to work that way.
The front page of Phog.net is stuffed with Roy threads. Shut down the computer and virtually every media outlet in the Midwest is jumping on the Kansas-Roy angle with both feet.
All the hard feelings among Kansas fans are based on speculation, active imaginations and what their bricklayers tell them. The truth about how, when and why North Carolina and Roy Williams renewed their courtship in 2003 and all of the “whys” behind the perceived jilting of Kansas will never be known unless Williams gets a couple too many Coca Colas in him and the sugar buzz renders him incapable of shutting up. I don’t see that happening.
In the meantime, all Self has done is win 81.4 percent of his games (140-32), win four Big 12 regular season titles, three conference tournament titles and, last week, coach KU to a four-game win streak at the NCAA tournament Midwest regional to make his first Final Four trip as a head coach.
I was hoping that regardless of what happens this weekend, it might be a chance for everyone – me, included – to remember the great work Roy Williams did as coach at Kansas Basketball for 15 years. It’s just as fair to remember what Kansas Basketball did for Roy Williams, too. Without KU, Roy might still be delivering calendars to Hickory, NC.
I was also hoping, though, that it would be a chance for Jayhawks everywhere to realize what Bill Self is doing for Kansas Basketball and has been doing for nearly five seasons now. Win or lose on Saturday, Bill Self is making his own formidable mark on a celebrated college basketball program.
After all, Self replaced a Hall of Famer in Williams and seems to be not only filling Roy’s sizeable shoes but may be on the verge of outgrowing them.
Most crucial to keep in mind, however, is that no one buys a ticket to see Bill Self coach. Or Roy Williams. Or John Calipari or Ben Howland or Bob Knight. Well, maybe Knight. You never know when the next bad call will move him to beat an old man at the scorer’s table senseless with a telephone.
The guy who sits in the big chair in Allen Field House on any given day and in any given season or era is simply a caretaker. They are a steward of a long and proud history that did quite well before they came along and, frankly, seems to do just fine when they move on. Thankfully for us fans, most KU administrators – both athletic and academic – and supporters care about Kansas Basketball as much as we do.
What it all comes down to is, for 15 years, Roy Williams was a good steward of this 800-pound gorilla of a college basketball program. He’s moved to another coaching position and is doing the same there. He’s not coming back.
Meanwhile, stuck out there in Allen Field House, Kansas Basketball thrives with a new keeper of the KU gorilla. Bill Self is doing an amazing job.
It’s my hope that by Saturday, we can all be talking about the Lawson-Collins matchup and who’s going to defend Hansbrough and be done with yelling about who broke up with who five years ago.