- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Bromides are being issued to Roy Williams right on cue, as if he somehow finally discovered the coaching secret of the NCAA tournament.

The validation of a national championship is inevitably overstated, especially in a single-elimination event that routinely entertains with improbable suspects, most notably Vermont and Bucknell this time around.

This is hardly a criticism of the tournament, just a recognition of its unjustly premise.

A 40-minute game is a cruel measure of a coach, as opposed to judging the body of his work.

The body of work of Williams was impressive, just considered incomplete before Monday night, for whatever reasons, his capacity to manage a game not one.

The crowning of a college coach — the only stars of the talent-depleted game today — is an undertaking stuffed with qualifiers. Recruiting, after all, is the lifeblood of the game, and a college coach is only as competent as his sales pitch.

That has nothing to do with the sideline preening that passes as exceptional coaching in the eyes of Billy Packer and Dick Vitale.

This is the drill of early April, and it always misses the larger point.

The true masters of the coaching profession toil in the NBA. They happen to be the easiest ones to dismiss because of the NBA’s player-first interests. Their mastery is imposed on them by an 82-game schedule fraught with coaching choices in all too many games decided in the waning minutes.

The best of the best in the college ranks preside over about one-third as many games as the NBA and litter their nonconference schedules with creampuffs. Theirs is an endeavor to please the selection committee in March.

NBA coaches have no such scheduling out, and even the so-called easy outs on the schedule can extend a team to the end, especially in the leg-preserving environs of home.

The celebration of Williams comes amid an array of coaching excellence in the NBA, starting with Eddie Jordan of the Wizards. Yet Jordan is not even perceived to be in the top tier of coach-of-the-year candidates, so strong is the field this season.

The semi-short list is stocked with Nate McMillan in Seattle, Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, Scott Skiles in Chicago and George Karl in Denver. These are truly the best of the coaching profession, yet the NBA ilk is rarely acknowledged as such, as the feting of Williams reveals anew.

Even this week’s newcomers to the Basketball Hall of Fame expose the college coaching bias, with the induction of Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Sue Gunter.

This is not unlike honoring the junior varsity in place of the varsity.

It is a peculiar dynamic that stems in part from the coaches being the only constants of the college game. The hype goes to them because it is fixed in place, ever handy each March.

This is not to minimize the challenges before college coaches. This is merely to adjust a screen that is out of focus, no more so than when one of the stars of the college coaching ranks secures a national championship after being long denied.

As hard as it is to believe, the IQ of Williams did not go up 20 points because of the Tar Heels holding off Illinois. He was quick to make that point and then return to it.

“Like I said, I’m not a much better coach after winning the title,” he said.

On another night, in a different city, the outcome could have gone a different way. In fact, after the Tar Heels squandered a 15-point lead and momentum swung in the favor of Illinois, Williams appeared destined to be stuck with the “can’t-win-the-big-one” assessment for at least another season.

It is a variation of an old and distinctly unfair story line.

Gary Williams could not get past the Sweet 16 for the longest time, which revealed nothing in the end.

So Roy Williams has reason to shout, and good for him. He is an able coach, as far as it is defined in the college ranks.

It is not to be confused with the button-pushing work of the NBA.

The pro league is several clicks up the coaching scale from college, although you hardly would know it.

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