Bill Self's 15th season at Kansas will end at the same place on the schedule as it did for Roy Williams when he was the Jayhawks men's basketball coach: in the Final Four.
A few days after KU dropped the 2003 NCAA title game to Syracuse, Williams accepted the North Carolina job he had turned down three years earlier and completed a wildly successful tenure in Lawrence.
With one or two games remaining, Self will have reached the same length of service as his predecessor, creating a moment of equilibrium to evaluate and summarize the tenures of two of the game’s greatest coaches.
And perhaps declare a winner.
Before crunching the numbers, a few differences should be understood.
Kansas was Williams’ first head-coaching position. He had been a North Carolina assistant when UNC head coach Dean Smith went to bat for him with Jayhawks athletic director Bob Frederick. “A tremendous gamble,” Williams called it when he was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2007.
And, yes, Williams, at age 37, assumed a program coming off a national championship. It also was on probation and ineligible to compete beyond the conference tournament.
That’s why Williams’ first team, the 1988-89 Jayhawks, is the last to not play in the NCAA Tournament. That team also is the last not to win at least 20 games or own a winning conference record.
Self had been a head coach for 10 years before taking over at Kansas at age 40. He went 5-22 in his first season at Oral Roberts and 21-7 in his fourth and final year. He took Tulsa and Illinois to the Elite Eight. KU was getting a veteran who had climbed the coaching ladder.
Like Williams, Self dealt with transition-year issues, at least by modern Kansas standards. His first team finished 24-9 and didn’t win the Big 12. But NCAA Tournament muscle memory soon kicked in for the team led by Wayne Simien, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles, and KU reached the Elite Eight, falling to Georgia Tech in overtime one step short of the Final Four.
Self started with a stronger hand than Williams, but after three years, it was questionable whether he had taken full advantage. Kansas had won or shared conference titles in 2005 and 2006 but was bounced out in the first round of the NCAA, something that had never happened to a Williams-coached team.
The 2005 NCAA title game must have been especially painful for Self. There were Williams’ Tar Heels facing his old Illinois team, coached at that point by current K-State coach Bruce Weber.
Did Kansas have the right coach? On the day he was introduced in Lawrence, Self quipped about the “hot seat.” It never really got warm, but Self’s Kansas teams had fewer victories after three seasons than his Tulsa and Illinois teams.
The tone changed quickly with the Jayhawks’ third NCAA championship in 2008.
Both coaches left behind angry programs and fan bases when they made their 2003 moves. When he turned down his alma mater in 2000, Kansas fans believed Williams would finish his career in Lawrence. When he left, “Benedict Williams” T-shirts were sold.
Illinois didn’t hide its feeling about Self, either. Weber once held a mock funeral for Self to lay to rest his memory in Champaign.
Fifteen years later, Kansas and North Carolina are thrilled. Williams won his third NCAA title last season. Self continues to dominate the Big 12, and both men are members of the Naismith Hall of Fame. Self is basking in his third Final Four this week.
The winner here is Kansas. Over the past 30 years, KU has won 865 games, more than any other college basketball program.
So, what does the 15-year Williams-Self scoreboard say?
Overall record: Self 447-95 (.826 winning percentage), Williams 414-101 (.805)
NCAA Tournament appearances: Self 15-for-15, Williams 14-for-14
NCAA Tournament record: Self 37-13 (.740), Williams 34-14 (.708)
Elite Eights: Williams 4-1, Self 3-5
Final Fours: Williams 4, Self 3
National championships: Self 1, Williams 0
Conference championships: Self 14, Williams 9
Conference tournament championships: Self 8, Williams 4
Seasons ranked No. 1 in AP poll: Williams 7, Self 6
Consensus All-America players: Self 5 (Simien, Collins, Robinson, Mason, Graham), Williams 4 (5 times): LaFrentz 2, Pierce, Gooden, Collison
Conference players of year: Self 5 (Simien, Marcus Morris, Robinson, Mason, Graham), Williams 5 (Vaughn, LaFrentz 2, Gooden, Collison)
Winner: By the margin of a national championship, Self
447-95 overall, 15 years, 14 Big 12 regular-season championships, 8 Big 12 Tournament championships, 8 30-win seasons
37-13 in NCAA Tournament, 15 tournaments, 1 NCAA championship, 1 runner-up finish, 3 Final Fours, 8 Elite Eights, 10 Sweet 16s, two first-round losses, 8 No. 1 seeds
2003-04: 24-9, 12-4 Big 12 (T-2nd), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 4 seed
2004-05: 23-7, 12-4 Big 12 (T-1st), NCAA first round, No. 3 seed
2005-06: 25-8, 13-3 Big 12 (T-1st), NCAA first round, No. 4 seed
2006-07: 33-5, 14-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 1 seed
2007-08: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12 (T-1st), NCAA champions, No. 1 seed
2008-09: 27-8, 14-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 3 seed
2009-10: 33-3, 15-1 Big 12 (1st), NCAA second round, No. 1 seed
2010-11: 35-3, 14-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 1 seed
2011-12: 32-7, 16-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA runner-up, No. 2 seed
2012-13: 31-6, 14-4 Big 12 (T-1st), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 1 seed
2013-14: 25-10, 14-4 Big 12 (1st), NCAA second round, No. 2 seed
2014-15: 27-9, 13-5 Big 12 (1st), NCAA second round, No. 2 seed
2015-16: 33-5, 15-3 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 1 seed
2016-17: 31-5, 16-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 1 seed
2017-18: 31-7, 13-5 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Final Four, No. 1 seed
418-101 overall, 15 years, 9 Big Eight/12 regular-season championships, 4 Big Eight/12 Tournament championships, 5 30-win seasons
34-14 in NCAA Tournament, 14 tournaments, 2 runner-up finishes, 4 Final Fours, 5 Elite Eights, 9 Sweet 16s, no first-round losses, 5 No. 1 seeds
1988-89: 19-12, 6-8 Big Eight (6th, KU on NCAA probation and ineligible for NCAA Tournament)
1989-90: 30-5, 11-3 Big Eight (T-2nd), NCAA second round, No. 2 seed
1990-91: 27-8, 10-4 Big Eight (T-1st), NCAA runner-up, No. 3 seed
1991-92: 27-5, 11-3 Big Eight (1st), NCAA second round, No. 1 seed
1992-93: 29-7, 11-3 Big Eight (1st), NCAA Final Four, No. 2 seed
1993-94: 27-8, 9-5 Big Eight (3rd), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 4 seed
1994-95: 25-6, 11-3 Big Eight (1st), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 1 seed
1995-96: 29-5, 12-1 Big Eight (1st), NCAA Elite Eight, No. 2 seed
1996-97: 34-2, 15-1 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 1 seed
1997-98: 35-4, 15-1 Big 12 (1st), NCAA second round, No. 1 seed
1998-99: 23-10, 11-5 Big 12 (T-2nd), NCAA second round, No. 6 seed
1999-2000: 24-10, 11-5 Big 12 (5th), NCAA second round, No. 8 seed
2000-01: 26-7, 12-4 Big 12 (T-2nd), NCAA Sweet 16, No. 4 seed
2001-02: 33-4, 16-0 Big 12 (1st), NCAA Final Four, No. 1 seed
2002-03: 30-8, 14-2 Big 12 (1st), NCAA runner-up, No. 2 seed