North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was feeling both thankful to be alive, and proud of how his team responded in the aftermath of a vertigo attack that forced him to watch most of the second half of the Tar Heels’ 68-65 ACC win over Boston College on Tuesday night from the locker room.
In a huddle on the sideline with about 14 minutes left in the half and his team in danger of suffering its third straight conference loss, Williams said he jerked his head suddenly while discussing a foul call with the referee. He got dizzy and collapsed momentarily before having to be helped to the locker room.
“I’m alive. I’m kicking. … I’ve had some vertigo attacks over the last 17 or 18 years. This is the first time I really had one during a game,” Williams said afterward. “I said something to the referee. I didn’t respond correctly to his response. I kind of whirled around and that’s when it hit.”
The 65-year-old former Kansas University head coach said his condition, known as benign positional vertigo, is triggered by those kinds of sudden head movements. Williams had previous bouts with vertigo in the past and felt dizzy when standing up quickly.
“Every attack that I’ve had is when I’ve jerked my head quickly,” Williams said.
Assistant coach Steve Robinson assumed coaching duties on the sideline for the remainder of the game. Williams received medication in the locker room and remained there until after the game, when he went out to shake Eagles’ coach Jim Christian’s hand.
He said he wanted to let Christian know that he never intended to be a distraction.
Christian said he was thankful that Williams incident wasn’t serious.
“For him to come back out and congratulate our kids on their effort speaks volumes as to why he’s a Hall of Fame coach,” Christian said. “He really wanted to congratulate them. And deservedly so. Anybody who saw this game today saw a lot of heart, a lot of character.”
“I’ve been diagnosed in Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Kansas, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Chapel Hill Hospital. All three. I don’t know that the doctors really care that much about me. I just think they don’t want me to die on their watch,” Williams deadpanned.
Though the incident stunned many in Conte Forum on Tuesday, Robinson said there wasn’t panic in the UNC huddle after Williams collapsed.
“I think we really rallied around the fact that Coach was down,” Robinson said. “Our team really tried to pick things up with coach out.”
Sophomore swingman Justin Jackson, who led the Tar Heels with 20 points, said part of the reason the team was able to stay focused was because it had seen Williams go through similar attacks.
“We know he'll be back out there for us. He’s our leader. We'll rely on him and know he'll be back out there,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen it before. Not in a game, but we’ve seen it before and he’s been fine after a little bit.
“It definitely stinks in the middle of a game to see your coach go down like that. But Coach never quits. So we know he'll be back.”