Tar Heels make it three for Owen High School legend

Roy Williams continues to make the Swannanoa Valley proud with third title

Fred McCormick

Like thousands of other Tar Heels fans, Jarod McIntosh paced nervously April 3, yelling at his TV while watching UNC Chapel Hill claim its sixth NCAA tournament championship.

For Owen High alumni like McIntosh, UNC's run through the tournament was made a little sweeter because of Roy Williams, the Tar Heel's head coach whose legend looms large in the Swannanoa Valley.

It’s been almost 40 years since Williams patrolled the Owen High sidelines. Williams, who now has his third national collegiate championship as a head coach, coached his first games there.

Roy Williams (far left) helped Bill Mott (beside Williams) coach the ninth grade team at Owen in 1973, and was a member of Jim LeVine's varsity staff (LeVine is second from right).

Williams has had a hall-of-fame career. Inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, he made it into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame the next year. Twice Williams has been named AP Coach of the Year. His teams have won eight regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference titles, as well as three ACC tournament championships.

For some, it seems that Williams coached at Owen a lifetime ago - and for McIntosh, who wasn't even born yet, it was. But McIntosh's dad Gary played for him and used to tell his son about the experience.

“It’s always neat when I’m talking to people and get to tell them Roy Williams coached my dad and used to coach at my high school,” he said. “People usually think that’s pretty cool.”

The connection between Williams and Owen High is a point of pride for many Tar Heel fans in the Swannanoa Valley.

McIntosh, who graduated in 2004, went to Owen in the middle of the Kenny Ford era. Ford, who retired in 2015, was the high school's successful football coach whose 29 seasons were bookended by quarterback Brad Johnson and running back Jager Gardner. Ford was a junior playing football at Owen in 1973, the year Williams (and Bill Mott) coached the school's freshman football team.

One of Ford's earliest memory of Williams involves "monkey rolls," a typically short football drill in which a few players repeatedly leap over one another, roll away and re-enter the roil. The drill can be exhausting.

“Right off the bat he had me, Mike Raines, Stan Turner and Porky (Spencer) in a monkey roll,” Ford said. “Usually after like eight or nine seconds of those you’re done, you had enough. Well, the coaches got to talking with Roy and they looked over after about a minute and a half and we’re still going, falling all over each other and everything.”

Ford, who played golf at Owen under Williams, would often go to basketball practice in the winter and wait for his friends to finish.

“A lot of times Roy would hand me a hand shield because if I was going to be there standing around, then I would have to do something,” he said. “My job was, when they threw the ball into the big guys - everybody knows after the other night (the NCAA championship) how much he likes using those big men - was to knock the hell out of them if they put the ball on the floor.”

Ford came away from his time with Williams with some valuable lessons.

“It’s hard to coach kids and keep their respect and instill discipline, but also be their buddy and friend,” Ford said. “That’s a fine line and a lot of folks can’t do that. Roy was that way.”

Williams’ five years at Owen can still be felt on the basketball court and golf course, two places where Tim Raines got to know his former coach well. Raines, who just finished his 23rd season as head coach of the Owen Warlassies basketball team, is in his third season as head coach of the school’s varsity boys golf team.

Williams came to Owen when Raines was in grade school. “Back then, there was no rec league in the Valley, so as young kids we didn’t have a lot of ways to participate in basketball," he said. "When coach (Williams) got here he started doing clinics on Saturdays.”

Raines played basketball one season under Williams. He got to know his former coach better on the golf course.

“Some of my best memories from high school are from those golf teams,” Raines said. “Hanging out with coach after our golf outings and getting dinner as a team on the way back, things like that stick with you. Coach had an infectious smile and great laugh. You never forget those kinds of things.”

Four of the players from that golf team went on to coach later in life, according to Raines, who believes that fact is a testament to the coaching acumen of Williams.

“It says a lot about him that so many of us would want to go into his chosen profession because of his leadership,” Raines said.

The legacy of Williams lives on in the Swannanoa Valley through a healthy basketball culture, which he helped nurture and maintain. Raines recalls Williams telling the team, “through big tears,” that he was leaving to work under the late Dean Smith in Chapel Hill. He also promised, as the athletic director at Owen at the time, to find the best replacement possible.

“He was responsible for hiring Bill Burrows,” Raines said. “I’d still run through a wall for Coach Burrows, so I would say he really did keep that promise.”

Ford was on break from Mars Hill College and visiting his old high school in summer 1978 when he learned that Williams was leaving to join the Tar Heels staff. Ford ran into Williams in the Owen gym.

"I remember asking him what he was thinking," Ford recalled. "I thought at that time he had everything. To be a head coach and an athletic director at Owen High School, what more could a man want?”