North Carolina coach Roy Williams, already embroiled in one of the toughest seasons of his career, apologized Thursday for comments he made earlier in the week that compared his disappointment in his struggling team’s season to the suffering Haiti.
“In no way am I equating the tragedy in Haiti with basketball,’’ the Hall-of-Fame coach said in a prepared statement released by the school this afternoon. “I’m sorry that my statement at the press conference made it seem like I was comparing the two. The people of Haiti are suffering through unimaginably difficult times. I know very well that we are just playing a game.”
With the Tar Heels playing well below .500 in the ACC after losing at Virginia Tech last week, the Hall-of-Fame coach stuck his foot in his mouth on Tuesday while talking to a roomful of media about the rough season he has been having.
"Massage therapist told me, she said, 'You know, coach, what happened in Haiti is a catastrophe. What you're having is a disappointment,'” he said the day before UNC lost to Duke to fall to 13-11, 2-7 in the ACC. “And I told her that depends on what chair she was sitting in. Because it does feel like a catastrophe to me, because it is my life.”
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Williams had relayed a similar story during his weekly radio show on Feb. 1 but said then that the massage therapist’s comments put basketball into perspective. “What those people are having to go through is just unbelievable," he said during his show. "And it does put what we’re going through in a different light, but it doesn’t make it any easier but it does make us understand what we’re facing.”
Williams left out that explainer, however, during his news conference the afternoon before the Duke game, causing an uproar online and in the blogosphere. Deadspin, an irreverent sports Web site, called the coach “clueless.”
A spokesperson for International Medical Corps said she had no comment. Efforts to reach Spokespeople for other Triangle relief groups working in Haiti were not immediately successful.
It’s not the first time this season – or in past years -- that Williams has drawn criticism for something other than his coaching. During a win over Presbyterian in December, he turned his attention away from the court after an opposing fans screamed “Miss it, Deon!” to senior forward Deon Thompson as he attempted a free throw. Williams pointed out the fan to security, who ended up ejected the fan from the building.
Last season, he raised eyebrows when he was asked if he would return part of his salary to the university in the face of tough economic times and responded that he “was the most sensitive person in this room to the state of our nation’s economy” because his son had been laid off from Wachovia Securities.
After his team lost to Kansas in the Final Four in 2008, he showed up at the national title game with a Jayhawks sticker on his sweater, drawing the ire of Tar Heel fans who thought he was showing disloyalty to his current school by cheering on his former one.
And then there was 2003, when he was asked about the open UNC job moments after his Jayhawks team lost to Syracuse in the NCAA title game.
“I don’t give an [expletive] about Carolina right now,” Williams told CBS sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein on the live postgame broadcast.