Photo courtesy of Butler athletics
It’s the end of an era in Chapel Hill.
When North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams announced his retirement on Thursday after 18 years as the head man, it was a tough pill to swallow across the college basketball landscape.
33 years and 903 wins between two basketball powerhouses in Kansas and North Carolina will come to an end with Williams’ retirement. While many are rightfully celebrating his career, the big question now looms. Who is next?
Now for our pool of candidates, we’re not going to include longtime assistant Hubert Davis or UNC Greensboro head coach Wes Miller. Quite frankly, they would be disappointing hires.
We’re going to get creative. Should Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham go outside “The Carolina Family,” he could pull just about any coach in the country he wanted to to lead the Tar Heels. This job very well could be the best in the country.
We take a look at some options for who could be North Carolina’s next head basketball coach.
Mark Few, Gonzaga HC
If you were to look up the definition of an impressive hire, it’s Gonzaga’s Mark Few. The 58-year-old has been in Spokane all 32 years he’s been into coaching. 22 of those have come as a head coach.
He’s only had two seasons where the Bulldogs have amassed double-digit losses. Other accolades including winning 17 WCC championships and taking Gonzaga to their first national championship game – a loss to the Tar Heels. Few is poised lead the program to it’s first national championship and complete an undefeated season. He’s two wins away from accomplishing that feat.
There is a question as to whether or not he would leave the dynasty he’s built in the Pacific Northwest. If he wants to take on a new challenge, North Carolina should most definitely give him a call.
Jay Wright, Villanova HC
Here’s another household name in college basketball. Few and Jay Wright would almost certainly never even think again leaving their current institutions. The difference is, it’s North Carolina that’s the one calling– a place almost impossible to say no to. In all actuality, what is left for Wright to accomplish for Villanova?
He’s won two national championships – one against North Carolina – garnered three Final Four appearances, won four Big East titles, and has compiled a 489-190 record in his 20 seasons at Villanova. He’s a Philly boy though, and it’s always tough to leave home. But for North Carolina? It would make for some tough decisions in the Wright household.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics (NBA) HC
You may be wondering why Brad Stevens would leave an NBA team he just took to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020. Again, it’s not often a job like this comes open. It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.
The 44-year-old put together a 166-49 record at Butler from 2007-13; that also included back-to-back national championship game appearances, and three Horizon League titles. He’s still young, and could be the next legend in Chapel Hill when it’s all said and done.
The question is, does Stevens want to return to his old haunt of college basketball? Getting back in the recruiting business, stresses of academic supervision, and so on may not be all that appealing. If he does, Stevens may be the guy that Cunningham and North Carolina are looking for.
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State HC
Another strong candidate for the job comes in the form of another former Butler head coach. Chris Holtmann has been around the block, as he also was previously the head coach of in-state foe Gardner-Webb. Ever since he left the Runnin’ Bulldogs, he hasn’t missed the postseason as a head coach.
The hesitancy for North Carolina in this one, is that he has never been past the Sweet 16, never been past the round of 32 at Ohio State, and has never won a conference championship at any of his stops.
He does know how to win in a tough conference though, so don’t cross his name off the list just yet. Holtmann would still be a solid hire for the Tar Heels.
Nate Oats, Alabama HC
This would be another slam dunk for North Carolina.
Nate Oats has won at multiple levels of college basketball, and has completely changed the landscape of hoops in Tuscaloosa in just two years at Alabama. He just took the Crimson Tide to their first SEC championship since 1991, first regular season title since 2002, and first Sweet 16 appearance since 2004. Alabama finished off the year 26-7 overall, and 16-2 in the SEC — its best ever record in conference.
Oats won at Buffalo, too. He finished his time with the Bulls with a record of 96-43 that included three trips to the “Big Dance” in just four years with the school. Two of those teams advanced to the round of 32.
He just signed a major contract extension back in February where he’s set to make $3.225 million a year, so one could imagine what that buyout may be. We’ll see, but Oats would be a nice choice for the Tar Heels if Cunningham wanted to take that route.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas HC
Ironically similar to Oats, Eric Musselman has completely revitalized a fellow SEC program in Arkansas in just two seasons with the Razorbacks. He also has an eerily similar track record to how successful Oats was at the mid-major level, taking Nevada to three NCAA Tournaments in the four seasons as head coach. His 2019 tournament team made a run all the way to the Sweet 16.
He finished his tenure as head coach of the Wolf Pack with a 110-34 record, and recently took Arkansas to its first Elite 8 since 1995. It ended with a loss to a Baylor team that very well could win the national title.
He’s another guy with a successful track record for North Carolina to consider. While he likely won’t be their first choice, the Tar Heels definitely should call to attract interest.
Tony Bennett, Virginia HC
Definitely an outlier here, Tony Bennett isn’t a fit schematically for North Carolina with his pace of play, but man, this would be fun to see for anyone who extensively follows the ACC.
Leaving a school like Virginia, where he recently won a national championship to a rival that’s in-conference? Love it. This is very similar to Chris Beard heading to Texas, although that was in-state as well. Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders were the ones that fell to the Cavaliers in the 2019 National Championship.
But that brings us back to the point, what left does Bennett have to accomplish in Charlottesville? He’s taken the program to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, secured two ACC titles, and won the school’s first-ever national championship.
Now, it’s hard to still imagine Bennett leaving. The Tar Heels however, sure could make things interesting if they want to go this unexpected direction.