Evaluating Roy Williams' future at North Carolina and the top 5 candidates to one day replace him in Chapel Hill
Who's Next: Will UNC stay 'in the family' again when it eventually has to replace Williams?
Nobody likes to "keep it in the family" quite like North Carolina -- evidence being that the school hasn't had a head men's basketball coach who wasn't previously a UNC player or assistant since Frank McGuire left in 1961. Every coach since, starting with Dean Smith, has had ties to the program. The current coach, Roy Williams, is a North Carolina graduate and former Tar Heels assistant. So this pattern spans 50-plus years.
Will it continue with UNC's next hire?
It's impossible to know for sure. But it's something that must be considered when speculating on who might someday replace Williams -- the Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer who is one of only six men's basketball coaches in history to win at least three national championships. He's won all three in the past 14 seasons. That's one more, in that timespan, than Mike Krzyzewski, Billy Donovan and Jay Wright have won, and at least two more than everybody else. Simply put, Williams has had a remarkable career -- first at Kansas, then at his alma mater. But no career lasts forever. And when Williams ultimately retires, the UNC job -- just like every job featured in CBS Sports' six-part series looking at what's next at the six programs currently guided by Hall of Fame coaches -- will be highly sought after and have no shortage of high-profile candidates anxious to follow a legend.
CBS Sports is running a six-part series on the half-dozen men's college basketball teams that have active Hall of Fame coaches leading their respective programs. We're examining each coach and school's situation, how and when they might leave their posts, and reasonable candidates who could succeed them. This is more than a guessing game on who's next; the series is taking a big-picture look at the unique challenge facing each of the six schools. Next up is an exploration of what awaits at North Carolina.
Timeline for Roy Williams leaving UNC
Sometimes, as coaches get older, their programs slip and their retirement is expedited. But that's clearly not the case with Williams. Yes, he's 68 years old. But he's averaged 30.7 wins the past three seasons, won a national championship, played for another and secured two ACC regular-season titles. His Tar Heels are currently freshman class featuring two five-star prospects (Nassir Little, Coby White). And another five-star prospect in the Class of 2019 (Armando Bacot) has already said he'll enroll at North Carolina next year. In other words, things are great -- and that's why I doubt Williams has plans to retire in a year or two or even three. Obviously, health concerns, and he's had some before, can alter any person's plans. But absence of that, it's reasonable to assume Williams can and will coach well into his 70s just like fellow Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim -- especially now that the NCAA cloud that hovered above UNC's program for so long has been removed. For what it's worth, and the end seemed near. But when I was around him this summer, out in Las Vegas, he looked and sounded healthy and rejuvenated. And that's a good sign for North Carolina fans who enjoy having a proven and consistent winner on the sideline each winter.thanks to a
Entering 16th season at UNC, 31st overall
424-126 at UNC, 842-227 overall
Hall of Fame induction
Top candidates to replace Roy Williams
The oldest man to ever coach Division I basketball is Temple's John Chaney. He was 74 when he retired. And though Jim Boeheim, who turns 74 in November, is likely to break that record soon, the point remains the same, and the point is this: There seems to be a big difference between coaching at 70 and coaching at 75. Lots of men have hit the first number but literally nobody has hit the second -- which is why discussing possible candidates to succeed Roy Williams at North Carolina is easier than discussing possible candidates to succeed, say, John Calipari at Kentucky. Calipari is likely to coach another decade; Williams almost certainly won't.
When he steps away, here are some coaches who might make sense:
1. Jerry Stackhouse
Currently: Assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies
Résumé: Stackhouse, 43, was raised in North Carolina before starring for the Tar Heels. The high-scoring wing was the Sports Illustrated Player of the Year in 1995, then the third pick of the 1995 NBA Draft. He played 18 seasons in the NBA and was an All-Star twice. After retiring in 2013, Stackhouse got into coaching. He spent one season on the Raptors bench before taking over their G-League franchise -- where he was named the G-League Coach of the Year in 2017. He joined J.B. Bickerstaff's staff in Memphis this year and is widely viewed as a future NBA head coach.
Why it could be him: It doesn't get much more "keeping it in the family" than hiring a homegrown product who played for Dean Smith. And I actually love the idea of Stackhouse as an option because you don't win G-League Coach of the Year without knowing how to coach -- and because there should be no concerns about whether he'd be able to recruit, even though he's never done it, because, I think, basically anybody could recruit well to North Carolina. Plus, he's been around the grassroots scene via Stackhouse Elite. So he's familiar with that world even if he's never recruited in that world.
Why it wouldn't be him: Stackhouse might well be established as a successful NBA head coach by the time Williams retires. If he is, would he give that life up to coach his alma mater?
2. Billy Donovan
Currently: Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Résumé: Donovan, 53, is a sure-bet future Hall of Famer thanks to a remarkable career featuring back-to-back national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2007. In 18 seasons, he guided the Gators to four Final Fours and won SEC Coach of the Year honors three different times. He's now about to start his fourth season with the Thunder. He's made the NBA Playoffs each of the past three seasons.
Why it could be him: If North Carolina decides to consider somebody with zero ties to the school -- and, honestly, it should, if only because it's nonsensical to ever limit a candidate pool for any job -- Donovan would be an obvious target because it would allow UNC to replace a proven commodity with a proven commodity. Needless to say, the timing would have to be right. But the North Carolina job is the type of job almost anybody would have to at least consider. And if Donovan's NBA career has stalled or slipped by the time Williams retires, yes, I believe he would at least consider it. And if he were unemployed, for whatever reason, when Williams retires, yes, I believe he would actually take it.
Why it wouldn't be him:, the truth about being an NBA coach is that, if you're in a good situation, it's much easier than being a college coach. There's no recruiting, no taking calls from grassroots coaches, no worrying about academics, no catering to boosters. An NBA coach can disappear for weeks at a time in the off-season; a college coach can't. So if Donovan continues to win enough to remain in the NBA, it's possible he might just prefer the quality of life professional basketball provides.
3. Wes Miller
Currently: Coach at UNC Greensboro
Résumé: Miller, 35, was a member of North Carolina's 2005 national championship team. He's been the head coach at UNC Greensboro since 2011. In the past two seasons, he's won back-to-back Southern Conference regular-season titles, averaged 26.0 wins and made the NCAA Tournament.
Why it could be him: Miller's Spartans are the favorites to win a third consecutive Southern Conference regular-season title this season, according to Athlon. If that happens, he's likely to find himself on the short list for bigger jobs that open. Assuming his career is still flourishing when Williams retires, he'll probably someday find himself on UNC's short list too.
Why it wouldn't be him: The flip side of a flourishing career is one that tails off. And there's just no way to be certain where Miller's will go from here. Top-shelf programs don't tend to hire coaches who aren't doing well when it's time to make the hire. So if Miller's career takes a rough turn, either at UNC Greensboro or somewhere else, that could prevent him from being a serious candidate at his alma mater.
4. Jerod Haase
Currently: Coach at Stanford
Résumé: Haase, 44, spent nine years on Williams' staff at North Carolina before becoming UAB's coach in 2012. After going 28-8 in Conference USA in what amounted to his final two seasons in Birmingham, Haase accepted the Stanford job in 2016 and is about to start his third season with the Cardinal.
Why it could be him: Haase was on Williams' staff when the Tar Heels won the 2005 and 2009 national titles, so he's been a part of the program when it's operating at the highest level of the sport. He knows what it looks like. So if UNC wants to replace Williams with somebody who has real ties to the program, and who has won as a head coach, and who has high-major experience, Haase checks all of those boxes.
Why it wouldn't be him: Haase is 33-33 in two years at Stanford -- and his team is projected by most to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-12 this season and thus miss the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. Will he have Stanford in a good-enough place to get consideration when UNC is looking for its next coach? That's a reasonable question to ask. Only time will tell.
5. Kenny Smith
Currently: Analyst for TNT
Résumé: Smith, 53, played at North Carolina from 1983 to 1987, was a consensus First Team All-American as a senior and then the sixth pick of the 1987 NBA Draft. He played 10 seasons in the NBA and won two NBA Championships with the Rockets before transitioning into a role as one of the highest-profile basketball analysts on television.
Why it could be him: Smith interviewed for the Knicks job this past offseason and has acknowledged an interest in coaching. Like Stackhouse, he's part of the UNC family. Like Stackhouse, he has a grassroots background. And, like Stackhouse, he'd have no issues recruiting to North Carolina, even though he's never done it, because basically anybody can recruit to North Carolina -- and because prospects have literally grown up watching him on television.
Why it wouldn't be him: It's possible North Carolina officials could just decide handing over a blue-blood program to someone with zero coaching experience is too risky with more proven candidates available. I'm not sure I would agree with that assessment as it relates to Smith. But it's not a ridiculous opinion to possess.
In addition to the names listed above, some other coaches various sources mentioned as possible North Carolina candidates someday are Monmouth coach King Rice, UNC assistant Hubert Davis, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Texas coach Shaka Smart and, if nothing more comes of the ongoing FBI investigation, Arizona coach Sean Miller. And, before you ask, no, I did not consider Celtics coach Brad Stevens because, , I do not believe he'll ever coach college basketball again.
Without knowing exactly when the UNC job will open, it's difficult to know exactly where UNC might turn when it's time to hire Williams' replacement. Where will Wes Miller's career be then? Where will Jerod Haase's career be then? Will Billy Donovan still be in the NBA? If so, would UNC be willing to pay him enough to consider a return to college? Lots of questions. Very few answers. But I will say this: If, for whatever reason, North Carolina had to hire a coach today, and you put me in charge, I'd take a serious look at both Jerry Stackhouse and Kenny Smith.
I think either could be great.
Both have been so famous for so long that the attention this job places upon a coach wouldn't faze them at all. Both understand the so-called Carolina Way because they lived it. Both are familiar with the grassroots scene. Both would have no issues recruiting. Stackhouse has already proven he can coach. And there are plenty of people, even NBA executives, who believe Smith could too.
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