Roy Williams: College Basketball's Coach of the Decade

Streeter Lecka

Back in August, a group of anonymous D-I coaches voted Roy college basketball's "Most Overrated Coach," and the doubters will be in full force as Roy brings his powerhouse-turned-8th-seed Tar Heels into Kansas City. (His first-round opponent this year, Jay Wright, was voted fifth.) But the numbers below suggest that his detractors--peers and peons alike--might want to take him a bit more seriously.

When we consider college basketball's contemporary coaching establishment, there are ten names we can speak of as elite: Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun (retired), John Calipari, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Thad Matta, Rick Pitino, Bill Self, and Roy Williams. (With Tom Crean, Sean Miller, and Ben Howland paving the second tier.)

With Coach K's recent Olympic success, Calipari's resuscitation of Kentucky basketball, and the resurgent recruiting coups at programs like Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and UCLA, it might be easy to take for granted the fact that in the nine seasons he's been in Chapel Hill, lowly ol' Roy Williams has been the most successful of the bunch.

Granted, if you define success by total wins, then Roy's your third-best coach of the decade (behind Self and Krzyzewski). If you define it by win percentage, he's your fourth (Self, Calipari, Krzyzewski). Roy also ties Calipari for second in the regular season conference title tally, behind Self; and ties Krzyzewski for fourth in combined regular season and conference tournament titles, behind Self, Calipari, and Matta. (Which tells us, among other things, that it's been good to be an elite coach in the Big 12 or Conference USA).

But if you define success--as the rest of the pulsating college basketball world does--by what you accomplish on the national stage, then it's a no-brainer who you want helming your ship in the post-season.

Over the past nine seasons, Roy ranks first or tied for first among D-I coaches in National Championships, Finals appearances, Final Fours, Elite Eights, and Sweet Sixteens. If you want to play for a coach who can consistently take you the distance, Roy's your guy.

The table below illustrates how the ten elite coaches mentioned above measure up over the past nine seasons in the major categories of coaching accomplishment (no 2012-13 data included):


Champs Finals Final 4 Elite 8 Sweet 16 Reg. Sea. Title Conf. Tour. Title Record
Roy Williams 2 2 3 6 6 6 2 257-68 (.791)
Jim Calhoun 2 2 3 4 4 2 2 225-77 (.745)
Billy Donovan 2 2 2 4 4 2 3 237-85 (.736)
Bill Self 1 2 2 5 6 8 5 269-52 (.838)
John Calipari 1 1 2 5 6 6 5 245-50 (.831)
Mike Krzyzewski 1 1 2 2 6 3 5 264-57 (.822)
Tom Izzo 0 1 3 3 5 3 1 223-91 (.710)
Thad Matta 0 1 2 3 5 5 4 247-76 (.765)
Rick Pitino 0 0 2 4 4 2 3 231-86 (.729)
Jim Boeheim 0 0 0 1 4 2 2 237-77 (.755)

The one chink in Roy's armor is the fact that he completely missed the national tournament in 2010. But that failure had less to do with Roy's ability as a coach and more to do with the extraordinary circumstances he faced. Our current season has shown that even Calipari--that supposed recruiter-coach savant--is not immune from the effects of losing four starters from a national championship team to the NBA Draft, then your best post player (and future lottery pick) 20+ games into the ensuing season--the exact fate that befell Roy in 2010. To my knowledge, these are the only two coaches ever forced to endure this circumstance, and it afflicted them both to the same degree.

Moreover, the only elite coaches not to have missed the tournament in the past nine seasons are Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and Mike Krzyzewski--all of whom have taken multiple first-round losses over this same time frame, a distinction Roy has yet to suffer even once in his 24-season head coaching career. (K's first-round loss as a 2-seed last year and Self's back-to-back first-round exits as a 3- then 4- seed in 2005 and 2006 are at least as appalling as Roy's 2010 NIT runner-up in terms of post-season accomplishment.)

In fact, Roy's post-season superiority over this span is great enough that even if the Heels had failed to make the tournament again this year, and the Final Four consisted of Duke-Kansas-Kentucky-Florida with Duke beating Kentucky for the National Championship, Roy would still be the most successful NCAA Tournament coach of the past 10 seasons.

If I'm a big-time prospect looking at big-time programs, I'd pay serious attention to the fact that when it comes to post-season success and national acclaim, it doesn't get any bigger than Roy Williams and Chapel Hill.

And if I'm a Kansas Jayhawk perched proudly on a No. 1 seed, I might not want to get too comfortable.

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