I'll say the same thing every coach in America says – how happy I am to be at practice, but I can probably say it with more conviction than anybody else because I'm tired of all the other junk I've been doing. Now I get to be a coach and that's where I have my most fun anyway, so I'm anxious to get started on Saturday and looking forward to it. Think about a coaching change, very few people go to a job where they spend as long a time as I have before you start coaching. I came here the week after the Final Four and waited until now and that's a long time to be at a place without coaching.
What does it feel like to sit here as the coach of North Carolina?
I hadn't thought of it, to be honest. My high school coach said ‘I just don't know if you're happy?' I said, ‘Geez, I'm too busy to be happy.' I hadn't thought about that specific part of it – I think it'll hit me a bit more on Saturday afternoon or tomorrow. I think Saturday afternoon when I walk onto the court it'll hit me a little bit at that time. I was fortunate that I was in the [Smith Center] for the first game that was played there and had some great moments as Coach's assistant. Walking out there will be a thrill for me, but I don't think I ever spend too much time worrying about those sort of things. I'm more worried about getting our guys to understand what I want them to learn out there.
You have your first thought of the day …?
It's always the same for the 26 years -- it's amazing how much can be accomplished and no one cares who gets the credit. So that one's easy. That's the best question I've had today. It's really more than because of the eight years I was on the JV team it was my first thought and I think it was Coach Smith's first thought every year, too.
What's going to happen tomorrow night [at Late Night with Roy]?
I have no idea. And I purposely do that because then that way I don't have to say I approved any of it. I just don't tell ‘Don't tell me.' I've always looked at it as a celebration for the opening of the basketball season and I want the kids to be seen in a different light. We tried some weird things at Kansas, kids had fun. People see them not being very graceful and not being very athletic, not being very good at some things. So I think that gives fans a different look and the players enjoy acting a fool. I like that part of it.
At Kansas it was something that set the stage for how we wanted the fans to be involved. That is one of the things I want to do here. I want the fans to be more involved than they've ever been. At Lawrence, if I yelled something at a referee, there was a 73-year-old lady that sat a few rows behind me that yelled the same things I did. I don't want it to just be the students. I want the people who walk into the Smith Center – if they're the CEO of a corporation, I want them to take their CEO hat off and enjoy themselves. I don't expect them to come in there and think they've got to be entertained. I want them to be part of the evening. I think that's something I've always felt Late Night sets the tone … that we're going to have a lot of fun.
A preseason magazine has UNC ranked in the Top 10. Is that realistic?
It's strange to me. I don't know if that's realistic or not because I really haven't, until Saturday, watched a single game tape from last year because I wanted everyone to start with a clean slate. I didn't want everybody to say ‘Well, so-and-so was a bad guy' or a great defender, or bad attitude, or great leader – good qualities or bad. I wanted to be able to form my own opinions. So I'm really looking forward to Saturday so I can form my own expectations. One magazine called and asked me and I told them that the strangest thing to me is we've lost 36 games the last two years and nobody on the team has been to an NCAA Tournament game. We only added one freshman – and it's no cut against Reyshawn, but he was second team all-state. And the fans have got to understand, too, that Roy ain't that good. That's the bad part about it. They think some miracles are going to happen. I've said it before – 36 losses were not Matt Doherty's, it was the North Carolina team. And if we win 36 this year it's not going to be Roy Williams, it's going to be the North Carolina team. It is surprising to be picked that highly.
On Kansas' loss last season to North Carolina-
Yeah, but it's a season, not a weekend. At one point North Carolina was 5-0 and we were 3-3. But I had a heck of a lot better memories at the end of the year. Because it's a marathon. It just depends on how you play on one specific night. Saturday night in New Orleans we were the best team in the country. We played Marquette and we were sensational. But we had to play again on Monday night. We play one hole, I've got a great chance to beat Tiger Woods. We play more than one I don't have a very good chance.
How it's changed for me is we don't have very many of them. I've been fortunate the last couple of years – Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Wayne Simien. Those are three first round draft choices and all three guys were on the same team. Sean has proven that he can play at this level and be successful. The other big guys haven't proven that, so it's a big challenge for us to coach those guys. I do think that it is much better to have a big guy that's really good as supposed to a little guy that's really good, but both of them need to be good.
For me, the game has changed a little bit because everybody that's not 7-3 thinks they need to be a small forward. If they're 7-1, they still think they need to be a small forward. So I think you need to attack that attitude and then the other thing – and I don't think it's a negative – is that the kids want to be coached to be a complete player. Kids don't want to run down onto the block and never move off. That's something that's very comfortable for me to coach and that's something I've always tried to do. But there's not many top notch big guys in the college game – most go pro early or go straight to the pros. But you still have guys with size and you've got to coach what you have.
Nick Collison was 6-8, Drew Gooden was 6-8 and they were both [lottery picks]. But a guy who plays inside for us is not going to go to the low post and never move. Even if a guy comes in with those expectations it's not a problem because that's the way I want to play anyway.
What have you learned thus far about your players?
Not as much as I would like. It's not dodging the question – I've just been gone. July is a recruiting period. August I was with the Olympic team for 26 straight days. September is the recruiting period and I do all the in-home visits. So, I don't know them nearly as much as I would have liked, and yet I've always thought that was one of the negatives of the Early Signing Period and early recruiting. Because you talk to somebody into coming to your school and then they get to school and you say ‘I'll see you in six weeks.' A head coach is gone quite a bit in the fall when the kids first get there. I've been around them some, got a great staff and believe in what they tell me as to how they went through the conditioning period. I've been very pleased about that. I'm anxious to get out on the court and see what else.
On North Carolina's rivalries in the ACC-
It's the rivalries that I grew up with. It took me one game to figure out that Kansas-Missouri is pretty important, but I already know about North Carolina-Duke and North Carolina-N.C. State and North Carolina-Wake Forest. I was fortunate to coach in a great conference with great coaches and I'm doing that again. But it's a fact that I've been around in this area a long time. Guys I went to school with went to NC State and my father-in-law went to NC State. So the rivalries are here. They had three daughters and all three went to North Carolina, so I just told them the second generation got a lot smarter. This is a great area. To have the kind of rivalries we have … North Carolina-Duke, if you go back, that's been one of the best college basketball games with the most interest of any games in the country over time. I think a couple years back they had a voting in the NABC and it was voted the best rivalry in college basketball.
On coaching a new group of players-
I was very lucky, because in my first year at Kansas I brought nothing. They didn't quite know what my JV record was, and sometimes it wasn't that good. Those kids from day one trusted me and gave me a chance. And sometimes I sit back and wonder why they did. So it worked. This year's group I would asked them to do that, but they know we've been pretty successful at Kansas. It's not going to be my first practice or my first game. They've given me a chance already out of the respect they appear to have. I also think I don't get caught up in that sort of thing. It's not an ego thing – it's just do the job and get better. If I need to scream at you to do it, that's fine, and if I need to pat you on the back to do it, that's fine. But I don't go back to the house at night and say ‘Boy, I did a great job today getting that kid to bust his tail.' Because I think it's just something that's going to happen.
One thing you need to understand here is that I'm really hungry. But human nature, I can't be as hungry as those kids are. No one on our squad has ever played in the freakin' NCAA Tournament. I've got to think that they're going to do anything I ask of them to do to see if it's going to work. If it doesn't work they may have some questions, but I don't have any hesitancy at all in saying … Jerry Green once said, ‘It's amazing you've got guys that play so hard they'll pull the daggum nails out of the floor.' And that's what I want these guys to do. I want these guys to pull the daggum nails out of the floor if that's what we ask them to do.
Will you bring Sean May along slowly to make sure his foot is okay?
I want to depend a great deal on Marc [Davis], our trainer and the medical staff. I tell you what, the conditioning test we had last night was pretty difficult and he handled it very well. With these types of injuries I think you always have to be aware, but I also think Raymond's quad, I got to be a little aware of that. I don't want guys to think they can get out of practice all the time. It really ticks me off if I walk out there and see guys sitting on the sidelines. We took a lot of pride over 15 years that our guys practiced every day. Nick Collison, Ryan Robertson are two that come to mind that never missed a practice or a game in four years. I'm going to try and instill that kind of pride in our kids here, but again you've got to be aware of certain things and confident in the medical staff and training staff to give you good advice.
Is starting the guys with a clean slate enough to heal the wounds coming into this season?
Every returning player – I brought them in a couple of times – but one time I said ‘What do you think went wrong.' And that's the one question I asked. I felt like it might be good to let them have an opportunity to say something. And that's the only question I asked and got a wide variety of answers. But I haven't done anything else about it other than that. I've challenged them. If you want to be really good, you have to prepare to be really good and so our conditioning has been really difficult. Our practices are going to be really difficult. But if you want something really easy, and just let me roll the ball out and play a little bit, then you need to go somewhere else because that's not the way I coach.
I'm not bright enough to figure out short cuts. The only thing I can figure out is that it's easier to win the harder you work, so we're going to really, really work and we're not going to waste any time thinking about what went on in the past. Now, I'm human and if I think they're not listening to me, I'm going to say ‘Hey, I didn't lose 36 games the last two years so you've got to listen a bit.' That's human nature, but I'm going to try my darndest not to do that and if I go through the season without doing that I'm going to be very pleased with myself. But my guess is I won't make it through.
How has your coaching changed from when you left UNC for Kansas?
First year at Kansas, almost every out-of-bounds play is what I ran here. Offense, defense, everything. But with each of those 15 years that you get removed from the daily practice schedule, you try things yourself, so each year we changed a little bit. What it looked like 15 years later was not what it looked like at the start. And that's the way it'll be right now with one exception and that's that the foundation will be the same. We're going to try to play very unselfishly. We're going to try to play extremely hard. We're going to try to play with our brains. And where did I get those? I stole that from a guy whose office is right down the hall here. I think that's the foundation of North Carolina basketball. It's what I hoped I established was the foundation of Kansas basketball. I've said many times that if I'm fortunate enough to make it to that coaches' graveyard, I hope they put on that tombstone – ‘His kids played unbelievably hard and were unbelievably unselfish.' And then I think the other thing to add to that is just be intelligent out there. The foundation is still exactly the same. We don't run the same plays that we did – we do a couple of them, though.