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Passing Dean: Roy Williams' Place on the All-Time Wins List

Roy Williams moved up the all-time Division 1 wins list in 2019-20, including passing his mentor, the legend Dean Smith.

I often say that, in sports, stats don’t tell the whole story, but they do help tell the story. The same is true of a coach’s win-loss record.

A coach’s ability to coach isn’t completely wrapped up in whether his or her team puts up a W or an L; however, wins and losses are our most effective measure of succinctly judging a coach’s capability.

But before we judge, the wins and losses also help remind us of the players a coach has molded. That young man whose game really blossomed over the course of four years and wound up getting drafted. The student who struggled academically, but now is graduating and has a full-time job lined up. The player who never had NBA or WNBA talent but learned lessons that helped grow leadership skills and teamwork. The player who stuck it out and became the first person in his family to graduate from college.

While the wins are what bring better jobs down the road, the losses allow a coach to teach lessons about character.

While the wins bring accolades and honors, the losses bring greater opportunities to exhibit graciousness.

While the wins bring better, longer, and more lucrative contracts, the losses remind a coach and team of their dire need to keep working hard in practice.

At the same time, it must be said that no one gets into competition to lose. The goal is to go win a basketball game. If we’re going to play, we might as well win, right? And that’s what Roy Williams does. Win basketball games. Lots of them.

One of the big storylines heading into the 2019-20 college basketball season was the anticipation of Roy Williams moving up the rankings on the men’s all-time Division 1 coaching victories list, including passing, amongst others, legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.

How did he fare? Let’s find out.

Before the 2019-20 season, this is what the top 10 in all-time Division 1 coaching victories looked like:

1. *Mike Krzyzewski – 1132
2. *^Jim Boeheim – 946
3. Bob Knight – 902
4. Dean Smith – 879
5. Adolph Rupp – 876
6. "Jim Calhoun – 873
7. *Roy Williams – 871
8. Eddie Sutton – 806
9. *"Bob Huggins – 788
10. Lefty Driesell – 786

* = Active Coach
^ = Vacated wins not counted in total
" = non-Division 1 wins not counted in total

Notice that four of the 10 on the list are active coaches. Coach Williams is joined by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.

It’s also an appropriate moment to stop and honor Eddie Sutton, who passed away on May 23. He went to the Final Four three times (Arkansas in 1978, Oklahoma State in 1995 and 2004) and was the first coach to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament. Sutton had just been elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame on April 3, but unfortunately died before the ceremony took place.

As you can see from the list, for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels, anything better than 2001-02’s eight victories would allow him to pass the three men above him on the list (Calhoun, Rupp, Smith). An incredible season (32 wins or more) would allow him to additionally pass Bobby Knight.

However, as we are all aware, 2019-20 wasn’t exactly the most successful season in Carolina basketball history. The Tar Heels did still notch 14 wins though, enough to pass Jim Calhoun, Adolph Rupp, and his mentor, Dean Smith.

When Did Roy Williams Pass The Other Coaches?

Jim Calhoun (873 wins)

On November 15, 2019, Carolina beat Gardner-Webb 77-66 behind 28 points from Cole Anthony and a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) from Armando Bacot. This was win number 874 for Roy Williams and moved him into sixth place on the all-time wins list.

Adolph Rupp (876 wins)

On November 29, 2019, while most of America was doing their Black Friday shopping, the Tar Heels battled Oregon in the consolation game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Carolina held on for a tight 78-74 win behind Armando Bacot’s season-high 28 points. Cole Anthony (19) and Brandon Robinson (13) were also in double figures. The victory was number 877 for Roy Williams, giving him sole possession of fifth place on the all-time wins list.

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Dean Smith (879 wins)

After the Oregon victory, Carolina needed just three more wins for Roy Williams to pass Dean Smith. However, this was where things started going sideways, and the Heels went 2-9 over their next 11 games before absolutely pummeling Miami (94-71) on January 25, 2020. Brandon Robinson scored a career-high 29 points, while Armando Bacot had a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Garrison Brooks contributed 14 points. It was this victory (880) that moved Coach Williams into fourth place on the all-time coaching victories list.

For the record, many clamored that it was time to declare one or the other of these two men the greatest basketball coach in Carolina history. Why do we always have to have “the greatest” debate? Why can’t we just celebrate both men as two of the greatest to ever do it? I wrote about that very conundrum of having to pick Dean vs. Roy here.

All told, Carolina won 14 games in the 2019-20 season. Roy Williams now has amassed 885 career victories.

Obviously, Duke (25 wins), Syracuse (18 wins), and West Virginia (21 wins) all won games in the 2019-20 season, so Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, and Bob Huggins also added to their total number of victories.

Following the 2019-20 season, here is the new and updated top 10 winningest coaches in Division 1 history.

1. *Mike Krzyzewski – 1157
2. *^Jim Boeheim – 964
3. Bob Knight – 902
4. *Roy Williams – 885
5. Dean Smith – 879
6. Adolph Rupp – 876
7. "Jim Calhoun – 873
8. *"Bob Huggins – 809
9. Eddie Sutton – 806
10. Lefty Driesell – 786

* = Active Coach
^ = Vacated wins not counted in total
" = non-Division 1 wins not counted in total

What’s Next?

Assuming a more typical win total in 2020-21 (and assuming there’s a season), Coach Williams will move into third place, supplanting "The General", Robert Montgomery Knight. Carolina needs 17 wins for Coach Williams to tie Coach Knight, and 18 to pass him.

For Coach Williams to move up any higher than that on the list, he’ll need Boeheim to retire or Syracuse to be awful for the next several years.

Krzyzewski's hold on first place is seemingly insurmountable.

While the 2019-20 season didn’t turn out the way Coach Williams or anyone associated with Carolina basketball would have liked, they did notch several wins and Roy moved higher on the coaching victories list.

But perhaps more importantly than the wins and losses, a multitude of great stories were created and told. 18 more student-athletes received an education. 18 more student-athletes learned the value of self-sacrifice and commitment to a team for the greater good of everyone.

In the eyes of many, the 14-19 record indicates an unsuccessful season. Not true. Because 18 young men got to play a game they love while they went to school, and Roy Williams got to coach them. 

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