Tobacco Road Replacements: Who are the candidates to be North Carolina's coach after Roy Williams retires?
HOUSTON – Ol' Roy Williams came onto the interview dais at the Final Four on Thursday and, doggone it, took a stand. He criticized an article from The Washington Post that he later admitted he hadn't read—the kind of delusional things coaches in their twilight say when there's no administrators around brave enough to tell them how foolish they sound. "I was very disappointed in the article," Williams said. Followed soon by: "I never read the article, never will read the article."
Williams often terms distractions as "junk," and no one produced more of it than the veteran North Carolina coach on Thursday. This went beyond Williams's hokey repertory of "dickens" and "doggone." Williams had two friends come to him and claim they were misquoted in the story, which detailed the 65-year-old coach's struggles with his health and the looming specter of North Carolina's NCAA issues.
The article discussed Williams's vertigo, bone-on-bone knees and a bad shoulder. Williams says his friends claimed they were misquoted when putting his age and health in context. Regardless, if you don't think Roy Williams is aging before our eyes then, doggone it, you need glasses. Only one thing Williams said about his future and health sounded genuine on Thursday: "I have thin skin."
Williams is also facing the difficult decisions that come at the end of a Hall of Fame career. He collapsed on the sideline in a Feb. 9 game at Boston College from vertigo, he admits to having "two bum knees" and he has appeared to be in a perpetual wince on the sideline this season. The UNC academic scandal has also worn on him.
Amid the bustling hotel lobbies, dim bars and over-gelled bro hugs on the streets at the Final Four, the future of Ol' Roy is perhaps the buzziest topic. That's in part because no one is sure what Williams will do, not even Williams. He came out on Thursday and said that no matter what happens in Houston—the Tar Heels are the definitive favorite to win the national title, which would be Williams's third—it will not impact his decision. "When I quit," he said, "it will not be because of anything that happens this weekend."
Part of the intrigue surrounding the fate of Williams is that there's no clear-cut favorite to replace him as North Carolina's coach. UNC is a place that values UNC ties, but the Carolina tree is essentially barren of qualified candidates. So who will replace Ol' Roy when he limps into retirement, whenever that may be? Here a few candidates based on interviews in and around the Final Four. This list was put together with the understanding that Shaka Smart is happy at Texas and Brad Stevens isn't leaving the NBA. The names below are presented in order of the likelihood that they'll wind up with the job in Chapel Hill.
Sean Miller, Arizona — As the coach of a fellow blueblood and given his track record of success, the 47-year-old Miller is the only truly obvious name. If Williams waits for a while after the season to make a decision, it would benefit Miller financially. USA Today reported this week that if Miller were to leave the school before April 30, "he'd be forfeiting about $6 million," partly due to a retention bonus. Miller likes Arizona, which has been aggressive about keeping him happy. There's also a chance Miller could follow the path of friends Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan to the NBA if the right opportunity arose. But Carolina is arguably the country's best college job, and Miller would have a difficult decision if Williams calls it quits.
Hubert Davis, UNC assistant — Few places in college basketball are as insular as North Carolina, which views its basketball family as powder-blue royalty. There's zero chance that Davis, a fourth-year assistant, is as qualified, experienced and competent as any of the veteran head coaches on this list. But he's the name on the staff getting the most attention. His background as a former Tar Heels guard and his 12 years as a player in the NBA are viewed as a plus, and he could become a Fred Hoiberg-type figure.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State — His coaching acumen would certainly qualify him for this job, which is why he's listed here. There are few better pure basketball coaches in the country than Marshall. But personality-wise, he'd likely be considered a tough fit, as Marshall seems best suited to continue as the big fish in Wichita State's small pond.
Archie Miller, Dayton — At age 37 he's viewed as the brightest young coach of the next generation. Does all of his success at Dayton—three straight NCAA appearances, including an Elite Eight in 2014—translate into one of the sport's Cadillac jobs? He'd perfectly fit the UNC image, and has the type of classy, poised demeanor North Carolina would want to project. He's an NC State graduate and a former assistant there, which gives him familiarity with the ACC.
Chris Mack, Xavier — It's odd that Mack doesn't get mentioned for more jobs considering the consistent success he'd had at Xavier. He's reached six NCAA tournaments in seven years with the Musketeers, including this year, when Xavier was a No. 2 seed. Much like Dayton, Xavier is a hard place to leave because of the resources and the passion of the fan base. Mack, who has won nearly 68% of his games, has earned the distinction of being considered for top jobs.