Cleat Geeks

Rivalry Renewed: Roy v. Rick

In the scope of modern college athletics the idea of rivalries has evolved from the player versus player variety. With the deluge of college athletes leaving early for the professional stadiums and arenas across the United States, the college sports rivalries of the 21st century are coach versus coach.

Certainly the in-state school, conference foes, and border war rivalries captivate many fans, but the new era focuses on the face of the program. The coach versus coach rivalry is the most intense rivalry in college sports. The Head Coach versus Head Coach, of course. Not the Athletic Director versus Athletic Director rivalry, if there is such a thing. Not the University President versus University Chancellor rivalry, it probably does exist but outside of the former Ohio State President not many are public.

There will always be the university versus university rivalries, but because the players move on, and now at a faster rate than ever, the Head Coach is the face of the program. No greater example exists than the face of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, Head Coach Roy Williams and the University of Louisville Cardinals, Head Coach Rick Pitino.

These two Hall of Fame coaches undoubtedly have respect for one another. The statistical accomplishments that these men have achieved in the college basketball profession are certainly Hall worthy and even legendary. Both men have had success in every stop on their respective career journeys. However, until the recent addition of the University of Louisville Athletics program to the Atlantic Coast Conference, ACC, these legends only squared off during tournament play or in a made for television game.

I was witness to one of their earliest encounters when Coach Williams was the Head Coach of the Kansas University, KU, Jayhawks and Coach Pitino was the Head Coach of the University of Kentucky, UK, Wildcats.

During Coach Pitino’s first season in Lexington, UK traveled to Lawrence to face Coach Williams and his Jayhawk team at the Allen Fieldhouse. On December 9, 1989 the probation short-handed Wildcats suffered the worst loss of the modern era to the Jayhawks 150-95. Correctly or incorrectly, the perception in Lexington has always been that Roy ran up the score on Rick.

My encounter took place at Rupp Arena the next season. The normally quiet social gathering morphed into a raucous crowd and propelled the still undersized, under-talented Wildcats to the revenge win versus the Jayhawks. The annual school rivalry ended soon after a round of conference expansions came along before the NCAA rules change on the number of games schools could play. However, I firmly believe that a rivalry, a coach versus coach rivalry, began that cold December Saturday with no live television and only the silky smooth voice of a legend to paint the pictures on the radio dial. (Pre-digital radio of course.)

Fast-forward 25 years. These two coaches became legends, winning two national championships each, and even moving on to other schools with great success. They have coached against one another a few times over the years. However, now with the current round of conference change and expansion, the basketball gods have shined upon the fanatics and these two Hall of Fame winners will face off at least twice each season!

Saturday, we witnessed round one going to Roy and the Tar Heels in exciting fashion 72-71 at the Dean E. Smith Center. Better mark your calendars and reserve your oxygen tanks for January 31st and round two when the Tar Heels visit the Cards at the KFC YUM! Center.

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