Williams returns to The Family

CHAPEL HILL – With Dean Smith sitting nearby and Chancellor James Moeser and Athletics Director Dick Baddour assembled at the podium, Roy Williams announced he was returning home.

Williams, who left his assistant's post at UNC 15 years ago to become the head coach at Kansas, simply couldn't turn down Smith and his alma mater this time, like he did three years ago after accepting and then declining an offer to run the famous program.

"Today has been extremely hard, as the last four days have been," Williams said on Monday night at UNC's practice facility. "To make this decision – two great places where I wanted to coach, and coach both, but you can't.

"Last time I decided to stay because it was the right thing. This time I decided to leave because it was the right thing."

Williams' return could mark a dramatic change in fortune for the UNC program, which has struggled since Williams said "no" the first time, winning just one NCAA tournament game in the last three years and experiencing its two losingest seasons ever in the last two seasons. Three years ago Smith referred to the scene with Doherty not retaining the assistant coaches under his predecessor Bill Guthridge as a "funeral." On Monday night it was more like a celebration.

"I'm excited, and I know he must be," Smith said. "We thought it was going to be three years ago and it didn't work out."

While Doherty's tenure was manifested by relationship problems with players and athletic department personnel, the Carolina "Family" began to crumble during his tenure. Fewer and fewer former players were coming around, and many simply weren't in the divisive coach's corner.

However, with Williams, who still refers to Smith as "Coach Smith" and whose affection for the school is obvious, the mending process will begin immediately. And likely won't take much work.

"(To) get those guys sitting over there to be with me on same page, that's the first thing," Williams said referring to the players when asked what he would do to make Carolina the entire family what it once was. "At Kansas, I had a reunion every five years, we'll do things like that.

"Again, Mitch Kupchak, I was with him yesterday morning," Williams continued. "James Worthy I was with on Saturday. There's a guy named Jordan I've got a pretty good relationship with. I think all the former players I ever see they have a good feeling because they know I care about them.

"I haven't been here in 15 years, and there's not a Carolina player in that 15 years I wouldn't yell at and run across the street and make sure I hugged. I don't think we'll have a problem with that."

With Williams' hire, Smith feels things are getting back on track.

"It's started back," Smith said. "Bill Guthridge left a real good team for Matt his first year and Matt left some good players this time. I don't think that entered into Roy's decision. I think a lot of credit goes to Bill and Matt there. The program was an aberration a year ago. If May doesn't get hurt this year I know we'd be better."

And, by being more Carolina-like means winning as the program did for four decades prior to the 2001-02 season. And considering the coach UNC has hired, who many observers believe is the second best in the nation, it shouldn't take long.

"We have the entire package in my opinion," the legendary Smith said with an obvious glow in his eyes. "He's proven he's an outstanding coach. I think he might be the winningest active coach in America today. They do play hard and do play together, and they execute and play smart."

Williams' success wasn't lost on his new players, many of whom watched the Jayhawks in the Final Four last weekend thinking they were watching their new coach.

"Yes I did," said forward David Noel, a sophomore next year, when asked if he received a confident vibe from Williams as he addressed the media, and that the Carolina tide was changing. "I love that he is a man of respect, and that when he came in and met with us (before the meeting) that he told us we looked great. I am looking forward to playing for him."

Melvin Scott, a junior guard next year, said he could feel Williams' confidence, too.

"I was just staring at him, and the things he said just made me smile," Scott said with a big grin on his face. "He gave me confidence already, and we're not even on the basketball floor yet. So I know what he's going to do on the floor, he's going to lift my game, everyone's game, and lift our spirits."

And no doubt Williams will quickly lift the spirits of the program and extended family that is Carolina basketball.

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