Roy Williams was spinning threads in the North Carolina men’s basketball locker room before practice in late October 2019, and I was in my last minutes with him before I had to leave. So I dismissed the successor’s question: Does the coach who comes after you have to come from Carolina’s family tree?
“I wish it was a Carolina boy,” Williams told me. “I don’t know if I have anything to say about it. But I want it to be someone with the same beliefs as what North Carolina has always stood for. Whoever it is, I’d like you to continue with that part. “
That will be the setting for one of the most fascinating coaching quests in a long time. With Williams announcing his retirement Thursday at the age of 70, after winning three national championships and having brilliant success in continuing the legacy of his mentor, Dean Smith, North Carolina keeps him in the family. one more time?
If so, the list of possible replacements is short. If they broaden the search, it becomes really interesting for athletic director Bubba Cunningham. (Cunningham has been in the bubble of the NCAA men’s tournament in Indianapolis as part of the men’s basketball committee.) This is the Cadillac job of the Cadillac jobs.
For years, I’ve had an ongoing conversation with an industry expert about what the job landscape is like, and the discussion always starts with the same premise as his: if North Carolina opens, it’s the leading domino regardless of what happens elsewhere. . So let’s take a look at a two-tier list of Roy Williams successors.
FORDE: Roy Williams is much more than just a basketball coach
The first level, keeping it in the family:
Hubert Davis, current UNC assistant coach. Davis is the most connected of all, as he played with Smith and worked with Williams. This is the only college basketball program you have ever known. Davis has been on the Tar Heels bench for nine seasons, having migrated there from an analyst job at ESPN, and before that, he has played 12 years in the NBA. If the current trend of hiring a student with some NBA cachet is appealing to Cunningham and the rest of the UNC leadership, Davis is a compelling choice. It also stands to reason that Williams advocates a diversity hiring as his replacement.
Steve Robinson, current UNC assistant coach. He is Williams’ longest-serving assistant, having been by his side since their inception at Chapel Hill in 2003. Prior to that, Robinson worked with Williams at Kansas twice, from 1988 to 1995 and again during the 2002-03 season before move to Carolina. Between those stints, Robinson was Florida State’s head coach, and it didn’t go well. He had a winning record in his first season and a losing record in each of the next four, leading to his termination in 2002. For that reason, promoting him up the ladder to replace Williams would seem like a tough sell. But he has been an integral part of the program’s success as a member of three national championship teams, and he would also fulfill the diversity component.
Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro head coach. Miller played in North Carolina as a shooting guard from 2004 to 2007, when the Heels won their first national title with Williams. He got the job in Greensboro in 2011 at the tender age of 28, and has turned the program into a mid-power powerhouse. The school stuck with him for five losing seasons to begin his tenure, and the payoff has been five straight 20-win, two-seat NCAA seasons. His record in the last five seasons: 125–42. He has resisted pursuing other jobs as his star has risen, fueling some speculation that he had his eye on succeeding Williams. The downside would be to carry his success from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference, although Miller certainly knows the Carolina program from the inside out.
A possible second level, if Carolina expands her pool of candidates:
Jay Wright, Villanova. He gave Williams one of the most painful losses of his career at the 2016 NCAA championship, but he’s obviously very capable of winning at the highest level in North Carolina or anywhere. Wright is in a perfect situation just like in Villanova, so it would be a surprise if he were uprooted for another college job. But after 20 seasons on ‘Nova and at 59 years old, do you feel like trying something new that doesn’t involve moving to the NBA?
Mark Few, Gonzaga. Similar to Wright, although it is probably less likely to come off what it has built. Few are those who live in the Pacific Northwest and adore the lifestyle there, and it has everything in place to win forever at Gonzaga. It’s hard to see that happen, but he’s close to Williams (who Few lost the 2017 championship game to) and if you ever want to taste life as a top dog rather than a perpetual loser, this is the chance.
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls. For the past several years, speculation has been that this is the only job that could bring Donovan back to the college game. But the timing is bad, with Donovan barely a year into his tenure with the Bulls, and he’s not a job seeker type. Also, there was an old recruiting friction with Williams dating back to Donovan’s early days in Florida. It may already be water under the bridge, but maybe not.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics. Put Stevens in the same category as Donovan. But it seems even less likely that he wants to go back to college, and the Hoosier State native already rejected Indiana’s proposals in March. A long shot, but it’s worth the phone call.
Scott Drew, Baylor. He’s 50–6 in the past two seasons and is still on the roster for the 2021 national championship at a school that historically doesn’t have to win a national championship. Drew had more natural ties to Indiana than to this job, but this is a better job. If you want to train in a basketball school rather than in the heart of soccer country, this would be the opportunity. Drew infuriated some of his training colleagues early in his career on the recruiting route, to the point where it could be hard to sell in a place like Carolina.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas. He has been a college head coach for six years and produced six 20-win seasons. He led Nevada to the Sweet 16 in 2018 and Arkansas to the Elite Eight in March. His style of play is entertaining and he has apparently mastered the much-needed modern art of combining transfers into one show. He’s quickly become loved in Arkansas, but that’s good work, and Carolina is great work.
Rick Barnes, Tennessee. Originally from Hickory, North Carolina, you’d have to think this would be the ideal job for singing Barnes swans. He has won more than 700 college games and revived Texas and Tennessee. But at 66 years old and with an undisputed NCAA tournament record, he would be swimming upstream to get this one.
Chris Holtmann, State of Ohio. He has had eight straight 20-win seasons at three venues, Gardner-Webb (at Boiling Springs, North Carolina), Butler and Ohio State. At 49 he is established, but he still has a long career ahead of him. The fading at the end of the season of his most recent Buckeyes team leaves a mark, most notably losing as the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament to No. 15 Oral Roberts.
Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago. Moser has led an intermediate program to the Final Four and Sweet 16 in the last three NCAA tournaments, and his team’s beating of No. 1 seed Illinois in this year’s round of 32 is one of the most impressive victories of the season. the season. Moser is a skilled team builder and culture creator, but his roots are from the Midwest and his style of play is practically the antithesis of Williams’ style. This would be a step into the unknown for both parties.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.