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Roy Williams never lost that dislike for NC State or that Wolfpack red

Chip Alexander
·3 min read

There has always been a certain feistiness about Roy Williams.

Even in his calmest of times, joking, laughing, sipping on a Diet Coke, dadgumming it up with the media, Williams always seemed one bad question away from showing off that feisty, even angry side, especially when it came to N.C. State.

It was that way when he was a freshman at North Carolina, the kid from T.C. Roberson High. He played on the UNC freshman basketball team, the former all-county guard and spunky kid from up in the hills of Western North Carolina.

In a freshman game against N.C. State at Carmichael Auditorium, Williams had the ball knocked away as he dribbled up court by the Wolfpack’s Dan Gatewood. That didn’t sit well, and Gatewood, a Raleigh native, still remembers the look in Williams’ eyes, the competitive burn, all these years later.

But Williams never liked N.C. State, once saying he’d rather beat State than eat. Maybe it was David Thompson and the Pack dominating the Tar Heels during the 1970s. Maybe it was some of his buddies, as Williams once said, who went to State and gave him a lot of “crap.” It didn’t matter that he was 38-5 against State, the Wolfpack always had Williams seeing red.

Williams once mentioned being the Kansas coach and watching a State-Carolina game on television in 2002. Matt Doherty was the UNC coach and a lot of Wolfpack fans found their way into the Smith Center as UNC fans apparently unloaded their tickets, not wanting to see State win.

“There were five million red shirts in the crowd,” Williams later recalled at a press conference. “If I had a BB gun, five million red shirts would have had a burned rear end.”

Williams meant it, too. Remember, one Presbyterian fan was ejected in 2009 from the Smith Center for yelling “Miss it!” during a game as the Tar Heels were shooting free throws. Imagine a bunch of State fans being in the building, hooting it up, when Williams was coach.

The Pack did beat Williams and the Tar Heels 58-46 in the Smith Center in February 2015. Think he took extra satisfaction in crushing the Pack by 51 points two years later?

“We were pretty doggone good,” Williams said after the blowout win.

The Tar Heels usually were when they played the Wolfpack while Williams was coach. That included a February 2007 game that UNC won 83-64, when NCSU coach Sidney Lowe experienced extreme dehydration at the steamy Smith Center and had to be transported at halftime to UNC Hospitals for treatment.

Williams stopped by the hospital after the game to check in on Lowe. Cynical types might say he wouldn’t have visited had the Pack won, but Williams has a compassionate side and Lowe publicly thanked him.

Williams, like most coaches, also has had an intensely protected private side. Those outside his circle rarely seemed to get a good look inside, although many can be mesmerized by his folksy persona and one-liners and think they know him.

Williams has had a longstanding relationship with Phil Knight, the billionaire co-founder of Nike. The sports apparel giant also has had a longstanding and lucrative relationship with UNC athletics.

While the Nike contract with UNC is a public document, Nike also had a private services contract with Williams for an unspecified amount. Williams, a state employee, initially would not release the private contract, a decision supported by UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham. In December 2018, the personal services contract was released.

But what Williams always did publicly was win basketball games, and he did it while being a lot more volatile on the bench than Dean Smith ever was, a bad call or play causing those eyes to flash and see red.

Kind of like that freshman game against State way back when, when he had the ball knocked away.