NEW YORK (WFAN) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams says the seeds for this season’s national championship were planted almost immediately after the Tar Heels’ heartbreaking loss to Villanova in last year’s title game.
“I did last year, after that very disappointing loss, told them to use the feeling that they had at that moment, to use that as fuel and as motivation to work extremely hard to become an even better player before this year started, and then it would be up to me to try to put them together as a team,” Williams told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Wednesday, two days after his Tar Heels beat Gonzaga 71-66 in the championship game. “And I think our kids did work extremely hard, and they were really focused.
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“Sitting back right now, I’m thrilled to death,” added Williams, who now has won three titles as a head coach. “I’m excited about it. It’s been a wonderful ride. And I had a saying that we gave them and emphasized it the last day: ‘I didn’t come this far just to come this far.’ It’s been a magnificent run, a group of kids really for the last two years that just made my job a dream coaching job.”
It was not a pretty championship game. The officials called 44 fouls in the game — 22 for each team. The constant whistles disrupted the flow of the contest.
“I’ve tried to push my guys all year that we’ve got to play — don’t worry about the officials,” Williams said. “You can’t control them. And yeah, we probably talked about it a little bit more in the game Monday night. … It was an uneven game. It was an ugly game. Both teams’ defenses were better than the offenses. The pressure, I think, cuts into the youngsters a little bit more on the offensive end. But the officials, that’s a hard, hard game to call, and especially when two teams are playing as hard as those two teams were.”
Williams played for and served under legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Williams still remembers advice Smith, who died in 2015, gave him about not walking away from the game too soon.
“He said, ‘I quit at 66.’ And he said, ‘I missed the coaching for the next couple of years,'” Williams said. “He said, ‘I didn’t miss all the other junk.’ He said, ‘No. 1, don’t let all the other junk run you out of the game like it did me. Don’t stop when I did at 66.’ And I said, ‘Coach, as long as I have my health, I’m going to be OK.’ The crazy thing is I’m 66 right now.
“I did tell him that. It just depends on my health. I love coaching. I’m enjoying my teams. The last two years are probably the most fun I’ve had in coaching. And for me, I don’t want to stop yet. I want to keep coaching until my body tells me that it’s not ready.”
Part of the “other junk” Williams has been dealing with is the academic fraud scandal that has been hanging over the UNC athletic department for the past few years. The NCAA has been conducting a slow-moving investigation into student-athletes receiving grades for phony classes.
Williams said he is eager to put the situation behind him.
“I am dumbfounded by it. I made the statement one time: I said, ‘I want to make sure this is over with before I retire.’ Now, Michael, I had to change it, I hope it’s over with before I die,” Williams said, laughing.
“It’s in a hard situation, and this is Roy Williams’ layman’s terms: There were some mistakes made. There were some mistakes made that I’m sad about, I’m mad about, all of that. But we were not involved,” the veteran coach said.
“There’s been a lot of sensationalism on the side of the media in certain areas, and it’s a very difficult case for the NCAA. And we just have to sit here and wait until it’s done.”
To listen to the interview, click on the audio player above.