North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he apologized Monday to the five players left on the court for the final 14.2 seconds of his team’s 33-point loss at Florida State on Saturday.
The coach said on his radio show that he was not aware that he had left the quintet of reserves and walk-ons on the Tucker Center floor Saturday -- while he and most of the rest of the team left early to avoid the floor-rushing crowd -- until he watched the tape of the loss.
“I said, 'Guys, I apologize. There was a miscommunication between [assistant] coach [Joe] Holladay and myself. I would never have left you out there to play the game.’” he said. “What I wanted to do -- needless to say, we’re not going to erase a 33-point lead with 14 seconds left -- [so] I was trying to get my entire team off the court, apologize to Florida State, make sure they weren’t interpreting it the wrong way; I was just doing it for safety.”
Williams, whose team dropped to No. 8 in the polls after the most lopsided loss since he became head coach at UNC in 2003, said time was winding down on the blowout when he started to become concerned about the raucous crowd. At the end of UNC’s loss to UNLV in Las Vegas earlier this season, a female manager got pushed to the ground by rushing fans, and he didn’t want anything similar to happen.
“If you watch the tape, Joe Holladay and [director of media relations Steve Kirschner] and I are talking and Coach said, ‘We’re going to have problems getting off of this court. Because they’re already in the aisles, we’re going to have problems.’ … And I think -- and I say think -- [official] Jamie Luckie was in front of our bench. And I’m whispering and talking into his ear, and saying, ‘Jamie, we’re going to have problems getting off this court, do you have any suggestions?’ He says ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’
“And then all of a sudden there’s a loose ball, and a dead ball timeout, and I start walking and motioning to [FSU coach] Leonard Hamilton, and Leonard comes up there, and I say, ‘Leonard, I’m worried about getting our guys off the court; would it offend you we were to leave?’ And he said, ‘No, I think that’s what you should do.’ Which I thought was great … he’s always sensible on things like that. And I said, ‘Leonard, I appreciate it. Please understand this is not intended to be an indictment on your security. … He said, ‘No, go ahead.’
“So I turned to Joe Holladay, and I motioned and said, ‘Come on’. And I took about three steps -- and you can see it on TV… Leonard says something, he says, ‘Roy, your players.’ And I turned around and said, ‘Come on.’ You can see me motion my arm again. And I take off, but I stop and I try to congratulate as many players as I can. … I said to every player, ‘Congratulations on the win.’ I said to the assistant coaches, ‘Please don’t be offended by this.’ And everybody said, ‘Coach, we understand.’"
Assistant coach C.B. McGrath, strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian and two managers stayed on the sideline to help the remaining players get off the court when the game ended. Williams said he waited outside his locker room for all of the players, and when it took a while for Holladay and on walk-on Patrick Crouch to arrive, Williams asked Holladay what took Crouch so long. “And he said, ‘He got caught up in the crowd,’ and I didn’t know what the crap he was talking about.”
Williams, angry at the game’s outcome, said he didn’t talk to his team about the game immediately afterwards, or during Sunday’s clinic with the Special Olympics. It was only after watching tape of the game, he said, that he realized freshman scholarship players Stilman White and Jackson Simmons, as well as walk-ons Crouch, Stewart Cooper and David Dupont played the final 14.2 seconds, with no head coach or teammates on the bench to support them.
“I am watching the tape of the game, and it’s the first time the I realized the Blue Steel guys stayed out there on the court,’’ Williams said. “Every prospect, every walk-on I have ever had -- if I eat steak, you’re going to eat steak; whatever happens to every scholarship player, you have to do. I would never leave five kids out there. If I was going to do that, why wouldn’t I stay out there? I saw it happen one time on TV, and I thought, ‘Why would they leave those kids out there?’”
Williams, during his show, also expressed his anger towards a local radio talk show that implied Kirschner was spinning the story when he called in to explain the miscommunication that led to the five players remaining on the court.
Later, he reiterated: “There’s no way in Hades I would leave five of my guys out there.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.