|Where other coaches are afraid, Williams sees opportunity and reason for road games against small teams. (US Presswire)|
I'll be blunt and upfront. In the past, I've thought Roy Williams to be a little bit of a phony. His dang-nabbut sensibilities come from a place I think is earnest, but I also think he plays up that angle for the press sometimes. It's OK. He's not a bad guy. I just think Roy Williams tries to show the kind of Roy Williams he thinks everyone expects him to be in his 60s.
That said, I've got a lot of respect for Ol' Roy as a basketball coach (though I'd like to know more about this. A lot more.). Because few coaches at big-time schools are willing to go out and play teams on the road as frequently as he does with the Tar Heels. We got the latest example of that Tuesday, when UAB announced it entered into a three-year series with UNC. It begins next season, and sandwiched between two Tar Heel host games, the Blazers will get the honor of bringing in North Carolina to Bartow Arena during the 2013-14 season.
The reason for this: Jerod Haase, the new UAB coach who was with UNC before taking over the mid-major Alabama program in the spring. More than that, he was by Williams' side for 13 years before getting his chance at a head job. The UAB staff has UNC ties everywhere, down to grad assistant Bobby Frasor, who played for UNC from 2005-09. Scheduling former assistants is a method some coaches prefer, some don't. Glad to see Williams does. This is good for the game. Big schools taking chances on the road? Someone tell Calipari it won't affect his health.
Williams is basically doing Haase a favor. A big one. Getting UNC into your arena is a massive money draw. Locally, it means big dividends for an athletic department.
"Coach Williams proves to me once again that he is the most loyal guy in the world and someone who truly cares about his former players and coaches," Haase said in a statement. "For him to do this for me and the UAB program certainly speaks volumes about the type of person he is."
The reality is, outside of a few lessons learned for young players, UNC gains almost nothing by playing inferior programs on the road year after year. Yet, Williams does it. He goes out of his way to do this. Look around and you'll see just how rarely most other big, national programs play tiny schools in opposing gyms. Usually because the win doesn't help a team's computer numbers, while a loss could be damaging to seeding down the road. I don't fault coaches who balk at this, but the ones who take on the challenge and really help out a small-time school? Big-time praise over here.
Check the evidence. UNC's played more than 20 non-con regular-season road games out of conference since Williams became coach in the spring of 2003. Some of those games are against big schools, so I've eliminated those from the list, instead showing you every program played on the road that's undoubtedly a level or four below UNC's caliber. The reasons for these games range from the irrational (at Santa Clara? Wow.) to the emotional (the Evansville game happened because Tyler Zeller grew up not too far from the school; it was a homecoming game, of sorts).
2003: at Cleveland State (though this may have been a holdover from the Matt Doherty era)
2004: at Santa Clara (a loss)
2005: at USC (a loss)
2006: at Saint Louis
2007: at Davidson, at Penn, at Rutgers
2008: at UC Santa Barbara, at Nevada
2010: at College of Charleston (a loss), at Evansville
2011: at UNC Asheville, at UNLV (a loss)
The losses are what's impressive. Taking a lump or two causes most coaches to get scared in a hurry. For example, Duke hasn't played a patsy in a true road game since Clinton was president. Yet UNC keeps coming back, and hasn't been hurt a bit. Two national titles under Williams, still the same prestige, if not better, and elite recruiting classes every year.
I wish there were more coaches who had the stones to schedule like Williams has. Instead, TV incentives and conference-vs.-conference series need to be conjured in order to get true road games assembled in November and December. Williams, UNC, I salute you.