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University of North Carolina Alumni Distinguished Service Medal 2010 Speech
Coach Roy Williams

Roy Williams says the hardest job he ever had was selling calendars. But it wasn’t the only job he had at the University of North Carolina.

While working his way through UNC for an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s in teaching, he served as a referee for intramural sports – even working his way up to supervisor of intramural officials.

He didn’t take out any student loans because he didn’t want to owe anybody money. Having failed to earn a basketball scholarship, his chief concern in those days was getting the money to stay in school.

He managed to get by but it was hard, very hard, and it was something that he remembered when he took over as head basketball coach at North Carolina for the 2003-2004 season. He wanted to help low-income students who are in the same situation he was. As a result, he and his wife Wanda served as honorary chairs of the initial Carolina Covenant fund-raising drive. Between 2004 and 2007 donors contributed $10 million to support the launch of the program which allows eligible low-income students admitted to Carolina to enroll without worrying about how to pay for it. If they work 10-12 hours a week in a federal work-study job, they can graduate debt-free plus they receive academic and personal support services to help them complete their undergraduate degree.

Roy and Wanda Williams made the first significant donation to the fund and the Williams family – which includes a daughter, a son and a daughter-in-law who are all University of North Carolina graduates - has contributed more than $250,000 to the Carolina Covenant.

Roy Williams says, “I think making it easier on kids to reach their dream and strive to reach their goals is something that we should do. I’m very fortunate in the position I’m in that I’m able to do some things like that. The Carolina Covenant would have been a great help to me.”

Roy had no idea he would one day be in the financial and influential position that he is - he really just wanted to be like his respected high school coach and mentor Buddy Baldwin – in fact, he devotes a whole chapter to that in his book appropriately titled “Hard Work: A life on and off the court.” And, by the way, part of the proceeds from that autobiography are being donated to the Covenant.

But the hard-working, skinny little kid from the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville, who turned down an engineering scholarship to Georgia Tech to follow the footsteps of Buddy Baldwin to the University of North Carolina, has forever made his mark on a basketball program, on countless students and on this great University.

As legendary Coach Dean Smith told Roy, “Being part of North Carolina basketball is the front porch of the university, but it’s not all of the University nor is it the most important part.”

Roy has taken those words to heart and enjoys donating his time to helping others – whether it’s simply talking to someone’s son or daughter who he interested in enrolling at Carolina or by raising more than $1 million for cancer research at the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center.

Asked to help raise funds for the Center, Roy Williams suggested a charity breakfast event at the Smith Center. As a result, the Fast Break Against Cancer event now enters its sixth year with funds going toward research, treatment and prevention programs in our community. Roy directed that half of the proceeds of the sold-out 100th year UNC alumni game go to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and half to the UNC Children’s Hospitals.


Roy Williams is always looking for ways to get money for the University and worthy charities. As Roy half-jokingly told long-time radio announcer Woody Durham, “If Chancellor Thorp calls and wants an autographed basketball, Chancellor Thorp is going to pay $175 for it.” In fact, Roy has been in charge of an autographed basketball program that has contributed more than $500,000 to local charities. Plus, he hosts an annual Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast that has raised more than $750,000 for the American Cancer Society.

His success on and off the court comes down to passion, says Woody Durham. “It’s amazing the passion the man has for everything he does,” says Woody, who teared up talking about Roy Williams. Woody added, “I get passionate talking about him because he has meant so much to this place, not only as a basketball coach but he’s meant so much to this place for who he is.”

Yes, he is the winningest active college basketball coach percentage-wise but his former players and former teammates on the 1968-69 UNC freshmen team think of him as a loyal friend and even a member of their family.

He treats his players like human beings, not just basketball players, says former Carolina teammate Bill Chamberlain. “He’s concerned with their social life and spiritual foundation,” Chamberlain says, adding “He is insistent upon class performance, being a good person off the court, being a part of the community, and taking part in all kinds of service projects.” Indeed, he teaches his players about campus life and other things not related to basketball.

Roy Williams is perhaps the biggest supporter of other sports at Carolina. He says he’s always honored when people think it’s “neat” – his word – that he’s there. But he is there to watch them, not to be watched - whether it’s field hockey or soccer or baseball or volleyball or football. It’s something he truly loves. He even drove to Winston-Salem for a field hockey championship game the morning after Carolina played a road game.

He also went on a recruiting trip the day after returning from his first national championship title in 2005. Former Coach Dean Smith told Woody Durham something that Woody believes is the greatest compliment Coach Smith has ever given another coach. He said, “Roy Williams is the hardest working basketball coach I know about.” Woody told Coach Smith that he worked pretty hard himself. He shook his head and said, “not as hard as Roy.” Talk about the ultimate compliment.

Much of that hard work, passion, competitiveness and dedication comes from Roy Williams’ love for UNC. He says, “My love for this University grew every day that I was here as a student; my love for this university grew every day I was here as an assistant coach. I left for 15 years to be the head coach at Kansas but I never lost that love for the University of North Carolina. My feelings get stronger every year the more that I’m a part of it.”

Let’s be frank - some UNC alums felt Roy had betrayed Carolina by not accepting the Tar Heel coaching job the first time it came open in 2000. Even after accepting the head coaching job in 2003, Roy said he wasn’t sure he could ever repair the damage from turning down the job in 2000.

Well, the 2005 and 2009 national championships certainly helped repair any damage but today, after receiving the ultimate alumni honor – the Distinguished Service Medal – Coach, you can be assured that bygones are bygones.

We are proud of your contributions not only to the basketball program but to the community, the students, the University of North Carolina and indeed our entire Carolina family.

- Speech written by Clifton Barnes