This is what retirement looked like for former North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams on Wednesday:
A sun-drenched day at the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am in Charlotte, with his son Scott caddying for him, his good friend Mack Brown as one of his playing partners and his wife Wanda and several of their grandchildren walking outside the ropes.
In other words, it was a pretty darn good day for Ol’ Roy, who on April 1 retired after 18 years and three national championships coaching the UNC men’s basketball team. The 70-year-old Williams called Wednesday a “neat deal,” although his competitive instincts kicked in early and he got frustrated several times on the Quail Hollow Club course that hosts its annual PGA event beginning Thursday.
After three-putting on the 15th green Wednesday, Williams moaned to the crowd: “I don’t have a job and I still can’t play!”
Williams was clearly a better golfer than Brown, however, who repeatedly ribbed the basketball coach about his retirement and occasionally signaled the crowd for more applause after a good tee shot by Williams. Brown is 69, only a year younger than Williams, but is still coaching UNC’s football team.
Of Williams’ current demeanor, Brown said: “He’s not worried about name, image and likeness. He’s not worried about the transfer portal. I can see that flow in that backswing, with a smile on his face.”
The event was Williams’ first public appearance since he retired from coaching five weeks earlier in Chapel Hill, saying in a tearful news conference, “I no longer feel like I’m the right man for the job.”
The coach has spent a large part of the past month in Charlotte, quietly attending his grandsons’ baseball and flag football games and visiting with his son Scott and daughter Kimberly and their families.
His presence has been so constant in the lives of his children and grandchildren, in fact, that his son Scott Williams laughed Wednesday and said: “I walked into the house last week, looked up and was like, ‘Gosh, you’re here again?!’ ”
Roy Williams said Wednesday was only the seventh time he’s played golf in the 35 days since he retired, and he clearly doesn’t believe that’s quite enough. He had a hitch in his giddy-up when he walked the course Wednesday, limping noticeably due to a knee that he said would need to be replaced soon. He’s waiting to have that operation until the wintertime, though, so as not to interfere too much with this golf season.
Normally superb around the greens, Williams used a stand-up putter for the round because he has trouble bending down. He still shot “84 or 85,” he said, but wanted to do better. Golf for Williams is always somewhat fun, but it’s a lot more fun for him when he’s sinking 20-foot birdie putts instead of scrambling for pars and bogeys.
Said Scott Williams about his father’s off-and-on round: “He just gets so salty. At one point on the front nine, I’m like, ‘Yeah we’re gonna have to get somebody to sub in for him because this is getting ugly.’”
It got better on the back nine for Williams in what was officially dubbed “Roy Williams Day” at Quail Hollow, with some of the ticket-sale proceeds being used to assist athletes at UNC. The Hall of Fame coach made par on four of the final six holes and came off the 18th green smiling after finishing with a 12-foot putt that rolled into the cup for bogey.
He needed to make that last putt, the coach said, because he had told himself “it would be bad if you break a putter in front of all these people.”
On the first tee, Williams was mistakenly introduced to the crowd as “Coach Smith,” which he took as a compliment. Williams has always said he wasn’t as good of a coach as his mentor, Dean Smith. But Williams is no longer chasing recruits or legacies now, just golf balls and grandchildren.
“This week I’ve seen two Little League games and I’m going to see another one tonight,” Williams said. “I’m seeing a dance competition at (daughter) Kimberly’s dance studio. I’ve seen a flag football game; I loved watching that with my two oldest grandsons. And I’m playing golf here…. I’m going to hang around for a little while.”
Some of that hanging around will occur in the Triangle area, where Williams said he has agreed to do some special-assignment work for UNC in a sort of Tar Heel ambassador/fundraiser type of role. He also plans, he said, to attend as many Tar Heel sports events as he can and will buy football and basketball season tickets. It’s still unclear where he and Wanda will live permanently, however.
“I doubt they’ll stay in Chapel Hill, but I don’t know,” Scott Williams said. “Pops’ friends — and me to a great extent — don’t think he can just play golf (in retirement). But he seems to think he can, and he is going to give it his level best. ... So between the mountains, the beach or Pinehurst, he’ll find somewhere that he’s going to settle down and spend the majority of the year.”
Scott Williams, 44, once played basketball for UNC himself (although not as well as another Scott Williams). He said he wasn’t particularly surprised at his father’s retirement and that his mother had been working on Roy Williams to retire for a decade.
“Mom has been trying to get him retired for 10-plus years now,” Scott said. “I would have probably even guessed it would have happened earlier, but ... I think when the (NCAA) investigation was going on he felt like he couldn’t quit because he needed to stay there and be responsible and kind of guide (the program) through that. And then these last two seasons, I think he just … wanted to feel like things were headed back the right direction for who’s coming in next.”
That, of course, is Hubert Davis. Williams said he has been talking to Davis, that he’s “around, but I don’t want to be there all the time and get in the way.” Williams also said he had sneaked over to his old office and “got all the stuff out” so that Davis, his former assistant, could use the head coaching office right away.
“Hubert Davis is one of the finest, if not the finest, individual I’ve ever known in my life,” Williams said. “He’s going to do a great job as the North Carolina coach.”
And with that, Williams took his leave. He had a Little League game to attend.