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Heel Tough Blog: Top Candidates to be Next Head Coach at North Carolina

The decision of Roy Williams to retire has taken not only the Tar Heel fan base by storm, but those involved in college basketball as well. North Carolina boasts a pedigree of excellence in college basketball that not many schools can match. That is just one of the many reasons as to why it is believed to be the best job in college basketball, and arguably one of the best jobs in sports in the United States. Since the fire of Frank McGuire in the 1950’s, the job has only been open four times, and two of those came within a six year span. The rarity that such a prestigious job comes available, only adds to the pressure that Bubba Cunningham is feeling to make the right hire. Make no mistake either, Cunningham knows that this is the biggest hire he’ll ever make in college athletics. After meeting with the media via Zoom on Thursday, the Tar Heels AD opened up on what the University is looking for in the next head coach of the Carolina Basketball program.

The Favorites

Josh: Wes Miller - UNC-Greensboro Head Coach

Ever since Wes Miller turned around the program at UNC-G, the logical thought process was that he would eventually take over for Roy Williams once the job came available. After taking 5 years to establish his culture within the Spartans program, Miller and the team have since become a staying power atop the SoCon. Miller has guided the Spartans to 2 NCAA Tournament appearances. Miller, who last year was beaten out for the Vanderbilt job by former Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse, doesn’t have head coaching experience at the Power 5 level. Bubba Cunningham said last night when he addressed the media via Zoom, that experience at the P5 level is preferred, but not required. Miller walked on at North Carolina, and Roy Williams has often said that no other player reached their potential like Miller. That’s enough to know that Williams would entrust Wes Miller to continue the basketball legacy in Chapel Hill.

Anthony: Wes Miller- UNC-Greensboro head coach

The former Tar Heel guard who played under Coach Williams from 2004 to 2007 has gotten his coaching career off to a nice start just down the road from Chapel Hill. In his ten years with the Spartans, Miller has posted a 185-135 record, has won four regular season championships and two conference tournament championships, which in turn has earned him two NCAA Tournament appearances. There are some people that are concerned with the fact that he hasn’t coached above the mid-major level, it is worth remembering that Roy Williams was hired at Kansas with zero head coaching experience. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a better in-family candidate than Miller.

Josh: Hubert Davis - Current UNC Assistant

Hubert Davis played for Dean Smith, and was a standout player in his final two seasons. After his playing days in Chapel Hill, Davis went on to a lengthy career in the NBA as a marksman from behind the arc. After hanging up the sneakers he joined ESPN and their College Game Day coverage of college basketball. But in the 2012 season he joined Roy Williams' staff. Like Williams did when he assisted Dean Smith, Hubert Davis coaches the JV program, and that is the extent of his “head coaching experience”. But his time both in the NBA and at ESPN are appealing to today’s players coming out of high school. Add he played for Dean Smith the Godfather of Carolina Basketball, and learned the coaching aspect under Roy Williams, the Caretaker, Davis would provide a nice blend from the two legendary figures. Davis would also become the first African-American head coach in program history, years after Smith broke the color barrier in Chapel Hill, with the recruitment of Charlie Scott.

Anthony: Brad Stevens- Boston Celtics head coach

There aren’t many that I think would be worth reaching out of the family for, but Stevens is one of the few that I would be willing to consider. Stevens, like Miller, only coached at the mid-major level at the college level, but he might just be the most successful mid-major coach ever outside of Jerry Tarkanian. In his six seasons at Butler, Stevens finished with a 166-49 record, won four straight regular season and conferences to begin his career, made five NCAA tournament appearances and was the national runner up in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011. Since moving to the NBA level, Stevens has continued his coaching success, posting a 341-271 record and making the playoffs in every season but his first. With some believing the Celtics may be ready to move on from him, this may be the perfect situation for the Tar Heels to pounce and get Stevens back to the college level.

Josh: Jay Wright - Villanova Head Coach

As painful as this is for this writer, and many Tar Heels, Wright meets the criteria to be heavily in the discussion. Wright is arguably the best coach in college basketball, having won 2 national titles, including beating UNC in 2016 in Houston. The disassembling of the Big East provided a pathway for Villanova to ascend to the top of the storied conference, and college basketball as a whole. He has the ability to recruit the top tier talent necessary to win in any Power 5 conference, while mixing a blend of experience on his rosters as well. The hire of Wright, would lessen the chances the program doesn’t go through a potential rebuild, like is possible with Wes Miller and Hubert Davis. The issues with Wright are that he’s 59 so there’s no telling how much coaching he wants to do, and he has a deep connection to the Villanova program, and the city of Philadelphia, like Roy Williams had in Lawrence, and Chapel Hill.

CBS Sports

Anthony: Mark Few- Gonzaga head coach

Few is another one of the few that going outside of the family would be worth it for. While he might not have any Carolina connections, he does have an extremely strong relationship with Coach Williams and one of the best track records of anyone in the entire country. In his 22 seasons with the Zags, he has posted a 629-124 record and has yet to miss an NCAA Tournament that has been played. He has won 20 West Coast Conference regular season titles, 17 West Coast Conference tournament titles and has gotten over the hump to make two Final Fours in the last five years. The fact of the matter is, Few has turned Gonzaga into one of the national powers over the last 20 years and if an established power like Carolina was to pursue him, it might be hard for him to say no.

In the Discussion

Josh: Steve Robinson - Current North Carolina Assistant

This move would resemble a lot like the move from Dean Smith to Bill Guthridge, right before the 1997-98 season. Robinson has served as Roy Williams’ right hand man, at both Kansas and North Carolina. In between the times spent coaching with Roy Williams, Robinson was a head coach at Cornell and Florida State, so unlike Wes Miller and Hubert Davis, he has head coaching experience at the Power 5 level. But the issues that came with making Bill Guthridge the head coach, are the same with Steve Robinson. Robinson would feel more like a placeholder, than the long term solution. Indication from Bubba Cunningham, is that the University is looking for someone that will be in place for the foreseeable future.

Anthony: Hubert Davis- Current North Carolina assistant

When it comes to the betting favorites, there may not be anyone with better odds to be the next head coach than Davis. The current assistant coach has been on the bench in Carolina for nine seasons now and has felt for a while like he was the guy being groomed for the job. Davis has coached the junior varsity team the last few seasons, something that Coach Williams did himself in his time as an assistant under Coach Smith. He has also been a big part of the Tar Heels success on the recruiting trail since his return to Chapel Hill. He is another guy that could use some more time, though, and you would have liked to see him become the team’s lead assistant, but he will definitely get some strong consideration here.

Josh: Jerry Stackhouse - Vanderbilt Head Coach

Stackhouse's name started popping up on the radar as he was making noise in the G-League with the Toronto Raptors affiliate. Stackhouse led the Toronto 905 to the G-League Finals, before winning a championship. Many thought that success would land him an NBA gig, but after being beaten out by Steve Clifford, for the Orlando Magic job, Stackhouse turned his eyes on college. 2 years ago, Stackhouse was named the head coach at Vanderbilt, a prestigious academic institution in the SEC. With his success in the G-League. That attracted many talented players to Nashville, including the son of former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen. The abundance talent hasn’t resulted in wins on the court, as the Commodores haven’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament under Stackhouse. The hiring of the former Tar Heel All-American would be a win for recruiting, but not a guarantee for on court success.

Anthony: Jerry Stackhouse- Vanderbilt head coach

Stackhouse is another guy in the Tar Heel family that will likely get a hard look from those in the athletic department. He is without a doubt one of the most beloved Tar Heel players of the 1990s and he has coaching experience at both the college and NBA level. He had a successful stint as an assistant with the Raptors and Grizzlies and even led the Raptors D-League team to a D-League title in 2016-17. In his two seasons at Vanderbilt as their head coach, Stackhouse has posted just a 20-37 record, though, which definitely has people worried that the step up might be a bit too dramatic for him. Stackhouse has an NBA feel to his coaching style and I feel like that is where he is better suited to coach, but he will definitely get some consideration from here.

Josh: Jerrod Haase - Stanford Head Coach

Haase played for Williams at Kansas, and is one of his most beloved players. After his playing career concluded, Haase joined the bench and learned under the Hall of Famer at both Kansas and UNC. During his 8 seasons in Chapel Hill, Haase guided the JV program like Williams, and the aforementioned Hubert Davis, before leaving for the UAB vacancy in 2012. While at UAB, Haase orchestrated an upset of the Tar Heels, and his mentor Roy Williams. In his third season, he took the Blazers to the NCAA Tournament, and as a #14 seed upset #3 seed Iowa State in the first round. He was named the C-USA coach of the year his final in Birmingham. In 2016 he became the Stanford head coach, as he replaced Johnny Dawkins. Haase is 0-3 against UNC while at Stanford, and has failed to get the Cardinal in the NCAA Tournament. Haase’s experience and close relation to Roy Williams, is why his name is on this list.

Anthony: Steve Robinson- Current North Carolina assistant

With the inexperience and lack of an obvious replacement from the Tar Heel family, Robinson gives off some Bill Guthridge vibes here. For one, he has been a part of Coach Williams staff for each of the last 26 seasons and his 18 seasons as an assistant in Chapel Hill put him behind only Guthridge as the longest tenure assistant in program history. He was Coach Williams lead assistant in each of the last eight seasons since the retirement of Joe Holloday back in 2013, so there might be no better person to carry on the way Coach Williams did things going forward for the next few seasons. Robinson has some head coaching experience at Tulsa and Florida State, leading the Golden Hurricanes to a conference championship and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, before struggling in his tenure with the Seminoles, only appearing in one tournament with the team in his five seasons. Robinson is far from a long term answer, but he would allow more time for one of the younger family guys to emerge as that next obvious candidate.


Josh: C.B McGrath - Former Kansas, UNC Assistant & Former UNC-W Head Coach

Like Haase, McGrath played for Williams at Kansas, before joining him on the bench. McGrath followed his mentor to Chapel Hill, where he served on the staff for over a decade, before leaving for UNC-W. His time in Wilmington was short lived, as he was let go in his third season after a 5-14 start. Following his departure from Wilmington, McGrath started showing back up around Chapel Hill, eventually doing some work on the production side around the program. While his track record at Wilmington isn’t attractive, his knowledge of the game is respected by everyone that knows, and he’s beloved by his former players. While there’s not a great chance he’s the next head coach, there’s a good chance he’ll be back on the sidelines in Chapel Hill, which the program would benefit greatly from.

Anthony: Mark Turgeon- Maryland head coach

Turgeon was one of Williams first assistants at Kansas and has gone on to have an extremely successful head coaching career of his own at four different stops. In his time between Jacksonville State, Wichita State, Texas A&M and Maryland, Turgeon has won 471 games, made ten NCAA Tournament appearances. While he hasn’t quite been as dominant as some of the other national names around the country, he has been one of the most successful coaches outside of Gary Williams in Maryland basketball history. With his ties to Roy Williams and him being the most successful of Roy’s assistants in terms of head coaching success, he is at least worth a look.


Josh: Brad Frederick - Current North Carolina Assistant

There has always been this connection between North Carolina and Kansas, that extends beyond Roy Williams. Dean Smith went to Kansas, and played under Phog Allen. Larry Brown, a former Tar Heel player under Smith, was the head coach in Lawrence before Roy Williams arrived in 1988. The man that hired Williams, Bob Frederick, is Brad Frederick’s father. Brad played for Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, before getting into coaching. After a tenure at Vanderbilt, Frederick came home to Chapel Hill, first as the Director of Operations. Since then he’s served the last 4 seasons as an assistant, and has led the JV program for the last two seasons. While he doesn’t have any head coaching experience, he’s worked way through the coaching ranks, similar to Roy Williams, and it’s safe to say that’s worked out well.

Anthony: Jerod Haase- Stanford head coach

Haase is another one of Coach Williams former assistants that will be worth taking a look at if it gets this far down the list. Haase was an assistant under Coach Williams for thirteen years prior to earning a head coaching job at UAB back in 2012 and got his coaching career of to a strong start in Birmingham. Although he only appeared in one NCAA Tournament, he made the Blazers into one of the best mid-major in his time there before leaving to take over a Stanford program that was looking for a revitalization of it’s own out West. In his five seasons with the Cardinal, Haase has yet to make an NCAA Tournament appearance, although it was all but a certainty he would have in 2019-20 had the tournament not been cancelled. With him landing the commitment of Ziaire Williams this past recruiting cycle, expectations for him and the Cardinal were high this year and while it may have seemed like he underachieved, the Pac-12 has shown in March that they were a much better conference this season than some may have realized this year. This wouldn’t be the most exciting hire by any means, but it wouldn’t be a terrible one either.

Josh: Mark Turgeon - Maryland Head Coach

Despite never playing for Williams, Turgeon was a member for his staff from the time he arrived in Lawrence, to 1992. Upon leaving Kansas, Turgeon served as an assistant at Oregon, and with the 76ers in the NBA. After his brief extent in pro basketball, Turgeon returned to college becoming a head coach at Jacksonville State, then Wichita State. His success with the Shockers, as he took the program to the Sweet 16 in 2006 landed him the Texas A&M job. His first 2 seasons in College Station were productive despite uneven play. The Aggies won 49 games, and made it to the NCAA Tournament, despite never making it past the Round of 32. Turgeon would stay 2 more years, each time making the Big Dance, before leaving for Maryland. While leading the Terrapins, Turgeon has stacked up 221 wins, while making the Sweet 16 in 2016. Of all the coaches with ties to Roy Williams, Turgeon has the most experience, and postseason success of those on the market.

Anthony: Sean May- Current North Carolina assistant

May has been on the Tar Heel staff for the last six seasons, but there is no denying that this would be a major step up for him. When you go back and watch May’s interviews on the ACC All-Access show from last season, you can see that he understands what is so special about this program. Hearing him talk about the Carolina family and Coach Williams is nearly identical to the sentiments that Coach Williams had for the program and Coach Smith when he was younger. May just gets it and if you get down this far on the list, he is worth the risk because of this fact.

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