CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – What a year it has been for Roy Williams.
On Tuesday, former UNC head coach and longtime assistant Bill Guthridge died of heart failure stemming from amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when abnormal proteins build up on organs. Guthridge was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago, according to a family friend.
Guthridge, who coached Williams’s freshman team in 1968-69, died some three months after UNC coaching legend Dean Smith passed away on Feb. 7. Guthridge and Smith, along with former high school coach Buddy Baldwin, formed the fatherly trinity that served as Williams’s foundation.
“My mother was my angel, but those three guys were the ones that directed me, guided me, counseled me more than anybody,” Williams said on Wednesday. “It hasn’t been the most pleasant time.”
The passing of Guthridge and Smith officially hands the reins of the Carolina basketball family down to Williams. The Smith coaching tree, while still alive, is aging. Williams is the lone member of UNC’s 1982 coaching staff (pictured below) still in the game. Eddie Fogler retired from coaching in 2001.
“I’m in the seat that Coach Smith made very important for people to feel like it was one family,” Williams said. “And I take that responsibility very seriously. It’s a seat that takes a lot because you want to reach out to everybody and you can’t.”
There was also heartache for Williams beyond his coaching connections. On Dec. 2, Ted Seagroves, who Williams described as “the best friend I had in Chapel Hill,” succumbed to a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Smith died at 83. Guthridge died at 77. Seagroves died at 68.
Williams is currently 64 and has been tasked with enduring the toughest stretch of his coaching career without the support beams those men represented for so long in his life.
Last June, former Tar Heel Rashad McCants told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he took bogus AFAM classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible and insisted that Williams knew about the classes.
McCants’s claims were debunked when the Wainstein Report was released in October, although the media blitz emanating from McCants’s accusations thickened the NCAA cloud on UNC’s recruiting efforts. Williams has repeatedly voiced his frustrations about the weight of the NCAA uncertainty, telling reporters in March that it felt as though his staff was recruiting with their hands tied behind their back.
UNC missed on the first 12 prospects on which it extended scholarship offers in the high school class of 2015 before landing four-star guard Kenny Williams earlier this month.
On the court, UNC is in the midst of its longest Final Four dry spell in 25 years (1983-90).
“There’s been a lot of stuff going on,” Williams said. “It’s been the most difficult time of my life, but a lot of people have got worse problems. Coach Guthridge kept saying, ‘It’s going to get better, it’s going to get better.’
“I’m waiting. I want it to get there.”
Roy Williams Endures
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