What Stories Could Define UNC Football and Men's Basketball in the 2020s?
As 2020 arrived, there were no shortage of all-decade lists, detailing the players, games, and moments that defined programs around the nation through the 2010s.
But what about the 2020s?
Here, we’ll take a shot at the storylines that could define the decade for North Carolina football and men’s basketball:
At 69 years old today, it’s likely that Roy Williams calls it a career at some point in the decade.
When he does, he’ll be among the top three Division I coaches in all-time victories and over the next several years, he’ll have an opportunity to tie Dean Smith’s 11 Final Fours and join Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches with more than three national titles.
As Williams moves toward the end of his career, it will be intriguing to see how his accomplishments are put into context among the all-time greats. Will he be remembered as one of the top five or 10 to ever do it?
Of course, Williams’ retirement would be followed by a story that would go just as far in defining the next decade for the Tar Heels as would be looking for its fifth coach in the past 50 years.
Each of the past four hires, from Smith sliding over to the big seat in 1961 to Williams’ return in 2003 has been a member of the Carolina Family, and there’s little doubt that will be the case this time around.
Could it be someone on the current staff like Hubert Davis or Steve Robinson taking over, just as Bill Guthridge did in 1997, or will a former player come home, as Matt Doherty did in 2000?
On his current trajectory, Wes Miller certainly looks like an intriguing possibility, while Williams has praised the potential of Sean May and Kendall Marshall, who currently serve in administrative roles on his staff.
Lack of Mack
As energized as Mack Brown is by his return to Carolina, it’s hard to imagine the 68-year old hall of famer will still be around in 2030, but he could certainly hang around much longer than some expect.
Brown, already the program’s all-time wins leader, will depart with an impressive number of victories, and if this season’s five-win improvement was any indication, the Tar Heels will certainly have at least one Coastal Division title during his tenure.
Amid the debate surrounding the name of Kenan Stadium, could UNC decide to instead honor Brown by putting his name on it?
At the very least, his statue should be up before opening kickoff in the season after Brown decides to retire for good.
There’s an argument to be made that the next hire to lead the Carolina football program might be a more important decision than the next basketball coach, largely because the basketball interest and tradition will ultimately lead to finding the right leader.
Just like the last time Brown left, it’s likely Carolina will be a top-25 program when he decides to hang it up. Last time around, the Tar Heels weren’t able to maintain that momentum, only briefly flirting with sustained success since.
With the investment the university has made in the program, it absolutely has to nail this hire.
It figures that coordinators Jay Bateman and Phil Longo will have the inside-track, while former Carolina assistants Blake Anderson and Seth Littrell have had success as head coaches.
ACC Network Dollars
It might not be on par with the money that the SEC Network generates for its members, but the ACC Network figures to offer a significant financial boost for the conference.
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, SEC schools got $43.1 million per school from the network, while the ACC’s media rights generated $28 million for schools before the network was launched.
If things work as the league imagined, that could mean well over $100 million in extra revenue for the decade for every school.
For Carolina, Olympic sports stand to see a major boost from the increased funds, while there are certainly other tweaks the athletic department can make for football and men’s basketball, like improving the bells and whistles in facilities, investing further in nutrition, upping assistant salary pools and similar.
It could also lead to one big facility improvement….
The Smith Center Conundrum
The Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center is due to turn 40 years old in this decade, and one way or another, something has to change for where Carolina basketball calls home.
Whether that’s a massive, wholesale renovation or a completely new arena is the question, and there’s no easy answer.
The biggest issue for the university is that despite its size, there are very few premium seating options and similar amenities that fans expect these days, eliminating a massive revenue source.
The Smith Center is all about going to watch a basketball game, and unfortunate as it might be, selling a first-class gameday experience that has nothing to do with basketball is just as important in landing major donors.
There have been renderings for renovations and a new arena, but the problem Carolina faces is that there’s no great on-campus location for a potential new arena. Meanwhile, the type of renovations that the building requires would likely require the Tar Heels to find a new home for at least a season, and there aren’t any great options for that, either.
Players get Paid
It’s clear that the status quo will not stand with the NCAA.
In one way or another, players are going to get a larger piece of the financial pie, whether that be through name, image and likeness deals or a direct payment from the massive revenues that the NCAA and athletic programs generate.
It’s far more likely the NCAA caves on the NIL issue first, opening the door for local businesses to provide athletes with endorsement opportunities, and with one of the most recognizable brands in college athletics, Carolina’s stars would figure to have plenty of options when it comes to getting compensated.
No one truly knows what will come of players controlling their own name, image and likeness, but it figures that the rich will get even richer, as companies want to be associated with winning programs like Carolina’s.