Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Dear Roy,

Life is hard. Believe it or not, I can identify with you, albeit loosely. As a columnist and basketball official, I know what it’s like to have people love you one second, and be, shall we say, disrespectful the next.

Simply put, Roy, I feel your pain.

I know many fans and some columnists have ripped you for not being loyal to the University of Kansas. I wasn’t aware of any lifetime contract, and this is still a free country, so I don’t know where people come off expecting you to stay forever.

Loyalty is in the eye of the beholder. You’re rightly proud of the student-athletes under your tutelage who earned college degrees. But let’s be frank. If your teams didn’t win most of the time or if they failed to advance in the NCAA tournament, fans would have pushed you out the door faster than you could say “Rock Chalk Jayhawk.”

Fans show loyalty when you win, and only when you win. I dare say that more than a few of those same “loyal” fans and sportswriters have questioned why you haven’t won a national championship.

I wish you would have stayed. You made a name for yourself as the coach of Kansas, not as an assistant from North Carolina.

From everything you’ve said, and from everything I’ve heard, you didn’t want to leave. In fact, if North Carolina hadn’t struggled, you wouldn’t have been in this predicament. But you gave Kansans 15 great years of championship-caliber basketball. It was quite a ride.

You are one of only a few coaches who could leave on his terms. Usually, coaches are forced out for overstaying their welcome. How could you know that even when you leave on your terms, there are pitfalls, too?

I’m sorry, but there was no graceful way for you to go. Every year you worked hard to recruit the best athletes you could to ensure future success. Every year you developed a special relationship with your team.

There was never going to be a perfect time to say “goodbye” short of retirement. However, your new boss at North Carolina could have done you a favor by not breaking the story the week before the NCAA Final Four. He still would have had time to close the deal with you after the tournament.

It’s a bit ironic that one of your recruits chose KU over North Carolina because of you, and now you’re not going to be coaching at KU. In hindsight, that’s probably one recruiting battle you wish you would have lost. I hope that reports of efforts on your part to get him to change his mind are not true. I’d like to think that you are better than that.

When you turned down North Carolina three years ago, a Lawrence businessman printed “In Roy We Trust” on T-shirts. Now he has done a brisk business by printing “Benedict Williams” T-shirts.

It doesn’t make sense that you’re being labeled a traitor when you aren’t from Kansas and you’re going home to North Carolina. But these are strange times.

As time passes and cooler heads prevail, fans will recall the good times. I hope you will too. In fact, if new coach Bill Self wins a national championship at KU, fans will say, “Roy who?”

When all is said and done, we only have ourselves to blame for your departure, for it was perhaps our most famous Kansan, Dorothy, who helps justify your final answer. “There’s no place like home.”

I wish you all the best and much success-except when you play Kansas teams. And thanks for making Kansas your home away from home.

* * *

Roy Williams turned out to be a great hire at KU. It’s remarkable that a prestigious basketball program like Kansas took a chance on a coach with no head-coaching experience.

Undoubtedly, other assistant coaches could do the job as a head coach if given the opportunity. It helps to be in the right place at the right time.

* * *

P.S. Which runs longer, the Energizer Bunny or the NBA playoffs?

P.S.S. The NBA game is spectacular. You see millionaires running all over the floor. It’s like watching the U.S. Senate on C-Span.

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