Roy Williams looked as if he lost 10 pounds, his face drained, his eyes rimmed red.
He marched miles on the sideline, jumping and flailing his arms, crouching and barking at his players, snapping at the refs, pumping his fists, smiling and snarling, and always straightening his tie. He was coming apart on the inside but didn't want to show it.
Williams coached his heart out and left a piece of it in the Superdome on Monday night when Syracuse beat Kansas 81-78. He wanted this game for his players, for Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich and all the rest. He wanted it for the heritage he had built at Kansas, for the legacy he wanted to leave behind -- if he does move on to North Carolina.
Maybe, unselfishly, he wanted this game least of all for himself, but he'd be lying if he said that wasn't immensely important, too.
The emotionally churning moments after the loss were not the time for him to talk about leaving or even to think about it. Anyone who wanted an answer about his intentions would have to wait.
''I could give a flip about what those people want,'' Williams said, adding that ''it's not very sensitive'' for anyone even to ask right now.
''I haven't thought about that for one second. .... I've got 13 people in that locker room that I love.''
Williams is right about that. It's too soon to ask about it and too soon for him to think about it. North Carolina hasn't even approached him yet about taking the job that Matt Doherty gave up last week under pressure.
But the time will come soon and when it does, Williams should take the job that he turned down at the last moment three years ago.
Williams could go on coaching Kansas forever. He could stay until he finally wins an NCAA championship, completes his mission and satisfies all those Jayhawk fans who have been waiting for him to deliver on a promise he never made but certainly set up.
Williams is too good a coach, too decent a man, for any school to want to lose.
He stayed three years ago when he thought it was the right thing to do. He had young players and he had the extended family of players who had come and gone and were counting on him.
But the time is right now, at age 52, for a change.
Maybe not this week. Maybe not next week. But soon.
And Williams may make the move this time because it's the right one for him, for Kansas and, most assuredly, for North Carolina.
In his heart, Williams is a Carolina man. He played at Chapel Hill and worked as an assistant under Dean Smith. His son, Scott, played guard for the Tar Heels. His daughter, Kimberly, graduated from North Carolina last year.
Williams is exactly the kind of coach North Carolina wants and needs. A coach who has Smith's respect and, more important, a coach who won't alienate Smith, as Doherty did. Williams has that blend of toughness and love and civility that North Carolina's chancellor and athletic director said they want when they pressed the volatile Doherty to quit.
The challenge for Williams at North Carolina is to rebuild a program that has gone adrift, but he is not one to shy from that kind of task.
Winning or losing a championship game shouldn't define a coach's talent or reputation, yet in the minds of many that's exactly what it does.
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is no better because he won his first national title, but his victory will validate for many what every other coach and all of his players over the past 27 years already knew: The man can flat-out coach.
''I don't feel any smarter yet,'' he said. ''Maybe tomorrow.''
Boeheim took his young players, harnessed their raw skills and molded them into a tight, efficient team. The Madness of March sang out in their exquisite harmony. In their zone defense and in their sweet shooting they were joyous to watch.
On the other side, it would be stupid to suggest Williams' second championship loss somehow tarnishes him, as if he is any less a coach because his team missed a few free throws near the end or because a game-tying shot by Michael Lee in the final second was blocked by Hakim Warrick, or because the Jayhawks came up three points short.
Boeheim argued that Williams actually did the better coaching job, bringing his team back from 53-42 at halftime after Syracuse had played almost perfectly for the first 20 minutes. Maybe Boeheim was simply being gracious, but he wasn't too far off.
Truth is, both these coaches are among the best in basketball, winning year after year, staying out of trouble, running honest programs. Boeheim says he knows his place and that's Syracuse. He longs for nowhere else.
Williams has Carolina in his blood. He made a home in Kansas, built a winning program there, but the time has come to follow his heart.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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