Friendship leads to a dinner and series for Pack
Appeal Sports Writer
Mark Fox and North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams have been friends for a long time.
Fox, the Nevada head coach, used that friendship to lure Williams, who coached the Tar Heels to the 2004 national championship, to speak at the 39th annual Governor’s Dinner in Carson City Saturday night where Jack and Rick Reviglio were given the Jake Lawlor Award for their support of Nevada’s athletic program.
It was only fitting that Williams was in Northern Nevada, considering he and Fox have agreed on a three-game series over the next three seasons. The series will start in the 2007-08 season. Two of the games will be played in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The contracts have yet to be signed, and dates haven’t been released. The last time North Carolina played Nevada in Reno was the 1987-88 season, and the Tar Heels won 115-91.
“I’ve known Mark a long, long time,” said Williams, who added that he and Fox had talked a lot about working out a deal while they were on the recruiting trail. “He was looking for a game to help his schedule out (in terms of strength). I love to travel around the country (to play). We were able to make it fit.”
The 2-for-1 seems to be the only way that national powers will play mid-major programs. Williams intimated that he doesn’t consider the Wolf Pack a mid-major, and pointed out that Fox has done a great job since taking over for Trent Johnson.
“There are some things North Carolina does offer,” said Williams, who has a 2-for-1 contract with Penn of the Ivy League. “We can guarantee a national television game that greatly benefits them. I’m not looking forward to playing them at our place or here (in Reno).”
Fox has spoken out against 2-for-1s, and admitted that he doesn’t like to schedule them.
“Mathematically you just can’t do it often,” Fox said. “You would end up with too many road games. We have a 2-for-1 with Montana State (two home games) so that balances it out. Between Montana State and North Carolina, we have six games, three at home and three on the road.
“This is a chance to play the best basketball program in America and the best coach in America.”
The Fox-Williams relationship began after the 1993 season. Fox had been an assistant coach for two years at Washington, but lost his job when then-head coach Lynn Nance was fired.
Williams took over the story at the point, admitting that it was one of his stories that he would probably tell during the dinner.
“I was coaching at Kansas, and got this letter from somebody I didn’t know (Fox),” Williams said. “He was coming back to Kansas to work on his graduate degree. We had a full staff at the time.”
Williams said that Fox was interested in observing practices, and Williams took that proposition to the rest of the staff.
“One of my assistants (Joe Holladay) said he wouldn’t let him do that,” Williams said. “I said this is a guy that is trying to stay in coaching. If I can help him learn something that’s a good thing.”
Williams was impressed with Fox’s dedication.
“He never missed a practice,” Williams said. “He kept a notebook throughout the entire season.”
Fox landed a job with archrival Kansas State the next season, and Williams chuckled when he talked about the first time Kansas and KU played in the 1994-95 season.
“Mark knew every out of bounds play,” Williams said. “We scored and our staff looked down (at the K-State bench) and Mark slammed down his clipboard. That was the most fun we had the whole day.”
Fox readily admits to being a private person, and his inner circle isn’t big. Johnson and Lynn Nance are two past head coaches that he trusts and holds in high regard and uses as a sounding board or asks for advice. The same goes for Williams.
“I remember when Trent left (for Stanford),” Fox said. “I was on vacation in Hawaii. It was midnight or a little later in Carolina. I needed coach’s (Williams) advice. I wasn’t sure whether I should wake him up or not.
“He told me he had to go downstairs. We spoke for an hour. He talked to me about pursuing the (Nevada) job. We talk once or twice during the actual season.”
Fox said that most of his conversations with Williams are usually on the recruiting trails when head coaches from around the country turn up at the same summer camps and summer tournaments to evaluate talent.
“I’ve probably seen him more this month than his wife has,” Fox said.
This is the second time Williams has negotiated a contract to play the Wolf Pack, but he never actually coached against the Pack the first time. He left Kansas for North Carolina before any of the three games were played.
Nevada won two of those three games against the Jayhawks, including a 75-61 victory at Lawlor Events Center during the 2003-04 season.