UNC Basketball: Top potential coaching replacements for Roy Williams

Who will take over as UNC basketball’s next head coach following Roy Williams’ retirement? Here are the top six candidates.

UNC basketball is looking for a new head coach for the first time in nearly two decades as Roy Williams announced his retirement Thursday.

The Hall of Famer spent 18 seasons at his alma mater and won three national titles with the Tar Heels (2005, 2009, 2017). Williams is 70 years old, has been battling health issues in recent years, and has reportedly been frustrated with the direction of college basketball.

His departure creates one of the most desirable openings in the sport. North Carolina is a top three program that recruits nationally and has all the resources possible. There are high expectations that naturally come with a job of this magnitude, but it’s a smart fan base that isn’t unrealistic.

The search to replace Williams will look different than other coaching searches because there is a preference to stay within the “UNC family” originally cultivated by former head coach Dean Smith. The school’s three hires since Smith’s retirement were all coaches with significant ties to the Tar Heels, whether having played for UNC or coached for UNC.

North Carolina will look there first, but that won’t be the end-all-be-all. The administration didn’t have to make that decision with an obvious candidate like Roy Williams available last time. This time, though, there are a number of directions the Tar Heels can go. Chris Beard would have been a name at the very top of their list, but Texas reached an agreement to hire Beard early Thursday morning, shortly after news of Williams’ retirement broke.

So, which direction will UNC choose? Here are the top six options:

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6) Jerod Haase, Stanford head coach

Haase is involved only as a “keep it in the family” kind of name. He was an assistant for Williams at both Kansas and UNC, spending a decade on staff in Chapel Hill before taking the head job at UAB and then Stanford. Haase has had middling success with the Cardinal over the past five years — no NCAA Tournament appearances and only one NIT appearance — but his teams have outperformed their preseason expectations in four of those five years. He also proved he can land elite talent this past offseason when five-star wing Ziaire Williams picked the Cardinal over several bigger programs, including UNC.

That said, his lack of significant on-court success keeps him at the bottom of the list. He’ll be mentioned in UNC’s search, but only as a backup option.

5) Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago head coach

This is where things could get interesting if the Tar Heels decide to look for the best coaches available regardless of previous ties to the school.

Moser has been a hot name given his success at Loyola Chicago over the last four seasons, and there’s a thought that he could be looking for a change as this season showed the ceiling in his current job. Despite lofty KenPom and NET rankings and past tournament success, the Ramblers were slotted with a No. 8 seed on Selection Sunday and were ousted in the Sweet 16.

Moser has indicated he won’t leave the Ramblers for just any job and has a preference to stay in Chicago. That said, this isn’t just any job. This is one of the jobs the sport has to offer.

A lack of success before Loyola’s 2018 Final Four run and the lack of ties to Chapel Hill keep Moser fairly far down the list, yet he will certainly be considered.

4) Nate Oats, Alabama head coach

Oats has only been at Alabama for two years and turned down any interest from Indiana in order to stay with the Crimson Tide. He even signed an extension in February to keep him in Tuscaloosa.

But North Carolina is considered to be a better job than Indiana and Oats has nearly all the prerequisites for someone coming from outside UNC family. Oats has had immediate success everywhere he has been and has proven he can recruit at an elite level and do so at the national level. Projecting out, he might be able to do even more with North Carolina’s resources.

That said, does UNC decide he’s worth going after? If the top three on the list don’t take the job, watch out.

3) Hubert Davis, UNC assistant coach

There have long been rumors that Roy Williams and UNC have been grooming Davis to be his eventual successor. He left an analyst role at ESPN to take a job on Williams’ staff (that was actually created by Haase’s departure for the UAB head gig) in 2012 and has worked his way to becoming the top assistant. Davis is also credited with a majority of UNC’s recent recruiting successes and has played a major role in helping sign a number of five-star prospects.

The only drawback with Davis is his lack of head coaching experience. He has extremely strong ties to the school, having played there and now been on staff for nearly a decade.

If UNC decides to offer Davis the job, the assumption is he would accept. When Davis left ESPN, he said he had to take the call to “go home” back to Chapel Hill. I don’t know if he’s at the very top of UNC’s list — there are conflicting sources on that — but he’s definitely in the top group.

2) Scott Drew, Baylor head coach

This is something of a long shot but if UNC opts to pursue the best coach available regardless of ties to the program, Scott Drew will be the first name it calls.

Drew has built Baylor from absolutely nothing into a perennial title contender and has done it every way possible. He’s brought in excellent recruiting classes, developed talent, identified impact transfers, and has won with both big lineups and small lineups. He has experience and success playing in one the nation’s toughest basketball conferences and is as proven as any coach that doesn’t have a national championship to his name (which could change very soon).

There are two things working against this, though. Does Drew want to leave Baylor, a program he has built for 18 seasons and will likely have a statue and/or the court named after him if he stays? And does UNC even want to pursue someone without ties to the school? If it does, Drew is the guy.

1) Wes Miller, UNCG head coach

Looking for the candidate within the UNC family that has the best chance to get the job? It’s Wes Miller, and he’s at the top of this list because all indications are that the Tar Heels do want to hire someone with ties to the program.

The 38-year-old is young but has a decade of head-coaching experience, completely rebuilding UNC Greensboro into one of the nation’s better mid-major programs. Miller guided the Spartans to two of the last three NCAA Tournaments and won three of the last five SoCon regular-season titles.

He’s a former UNC point guard who played under Williams and was a key reserve on the 2005 national championship team. He also spent all but two years of his life living in the state of North Carolina.

Miller has been in line for a power-conference job for several years but has routinely turned these opportunities down. Many believe he was waiting for this job to open. If UNC wants to keep it in the family, Miller brings the most to the table.

Header image courtesy of Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.