I wasn’t sure I would ever see Roy Williams in Allen Fieldhouse again. After he left KU to return to North Carolina just after KU lost in the national championship game to Syracuse, feelings were bruised. Many Jayhawks fans were angry with Williams and I wrote a harsh column, which you can read at the end of this blog.
But Williams, it was announced Tuesday, is returning to Allen Fieldhouse, where he coached for 15 years. One minute, he was the most popular coach in KU history. The next, he was an outcast.
Williams is coming back to KU along with fellow former coaches Ted Owens and Larry Brown to join current coach and Williams’ replacement, Bill Self, to celebrate the 60th season of KU basketball at Allen Fieldhouse. The festivities will take place on Monday, Oct. 27.
Are Kansas fans ready to embrace Williams? I think so. I think time - plus a couple of Kansas wins over North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament and the fact that Self has been a godsend - have eased the acrimony.
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Williams handled his exit poorly, as I wrote about after his departure in 2003. Here’s that column:
Kansas basketball players should not waste one second feeling sorry for themselves about Roy Williams' departure for North Carolina.
He dissed them by leaving in the manner in which he did. He talked non-stop about loyalty for 15 years, then left Lawrence with his tail between his legs to catch a plane to Chapel Hill.
Williams' last act at Kansas, which was to bolt without an explanation to the fans who made his life in Lawrence heavenly, will make people question his sincerity. But it couldn't be better for the team.
KU's players have a cause to rally around. They have extra motivation for next season and seasons to come.
They should want to show Coach Roy that he made the biggest mistake of his life by choosing his roots over his branches.
It would be wrong for any of the Jayhawks' players, even with all of the uncertainty that faces them, to pick up and leave KU the way their coach did. That's the cowardly way out.
Kansas' players should be hopping mad, and it sounds as if at least some of them are.
Wayne Simien, who missed most of his sophomore season with a lingering shoulder injury, indicated his anger by saying he gave his right arm for Williams - literally, since he played less than half of KU's games with a shoulder injury.
Point guard Aaron Miles told a Kansas City radio station that he is more determined than ever to win a national championship.
Simien, Miles and Keith Langford, who will be the leaders of KU's 2003-04 squad as juniors, should get on the phone as soon as possible and tell Williams' four recruits for next season, two of whom are McDonald's All-Americans, to honor their commitments.
They shouldn't plead. They shouldn't beg. They should tell, then threaten to kick the behinds of those who waver.
The next coach, whomever it might be, shouldn't have to spend one minute motivating his team next season. Motivation should be a built-in luxury.
It's probably too late, but Kansas should invite Williams to bring his North Carolina team to Lawrence for a game next season. Or volunteer to go to Carolina and play the Tar Heels. In the season opener. On national television. With Dean Smith sitting next to Williams on the Carolina bench.
The going is tough right now at KU, where amateurish athletic director Al Bohl was fired last week by an in-over-his-head chancellor, Robert Hemenway, who mistakenly hired Bohl two years ago.
But it's like they say, when the going gets tough. . . .
If Kansas is smart, it will send Hemenway to a fictitious chemistry symposium in Walla Walla while those in charge search for an athletic director and a basketball coach.
But who, exactly, will be in charge of these searches?
Will it be, heaven forbid, Hemenway? Time after time, he has shown that he has no feel for what should be going on inside an athletic department.
Will it be interim athletic director Drue Jennings? He's a former CEO of Kansas City Power and Light and a KU grad, but he has never hired an athletic director or a basketball coach.
Difficult times, indeed.
But KU's players need not worry about all of that. They should trust that someone will calm the storm and that order will soon be restored.
The players should focus on how many times Williams talked about his loyalty and admiration for departed seniors Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison but didn't mention them.
By the time practice rolls around in October, the Jayhawks should have chips on their shoulders the size of cedar chests.
Kansas lost a great basketball coach Monday. Williams teaches the transition game and defense as well as any coach ever has. He went from one great place to another, and he'll have Carolina back into the Final Four soon, perhaps even next year.
It's crazy to think his departure to Chapel Hill is not a setback for Kansas.
However, it's only a setback, it's not a ruination. If the players stay, and if they band together with a common goal, the Jayhawks will have more good days.
Williams is gone. Kansas basketball doesn't need to be.
That was a tough column. I read it now and wince. But it’s an accurate portrayal of what Kansas basketball fans were feeling at the time. They were hoppin’ mad at Roy, to use a phrase Williams would use.
But more than 11 years have passed. Kansas basketball has never been in a better place. Self is the man now and the Jayhawks wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Williams left and Kansas basketball got better. But his 15 seasons, which included four Final Fours, should be honored. So should the man and the coach.
Williams is returning to Lawrence and it feels right.