Doherty handed reins at UNC

Frustrations end as Tar Heels keep coach's job in 'family'

July 12, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He has the pedigree, having started on North Carolina's 1982 national championship team. He has the track record, having been associated as a coach with winning programs as an assistant at Kansas for seven years and, last year, in his first season as a head coach at Notre Dame.

But does Matt Doherty have the experience to take over one of the most storied college basketball programs in the country?

That's the question many will ask now that Doherty, 38, has been named to succeed Bill Guthridge as the coach of the Tar Heels.

The decision to hire the relatively unproven Doherty comes less than a week after Kansas coach Roy Williams turned down the job. Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown, Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler all withdrew their names from consideration earlier this week.

"It's a numbing experience," Doherty said at a campus news conference last night. "Kind of surreal. You dream it and you wonder if you're going to wake up."

North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said that Doherty has been given a six-year contract worth $350,000 a season, with additional money coming from the school's relationship with Nike. Doherty was called by Baddour while shopping at Wal-Mart last Wednesday night, interviewed over the weekend and accepted the job yesterday.

"This is a big day in my life, one that I did not see coming," said Doherty, who will become the first former North Carolina player to coach the program in 75 years. "I was just cruising along in South Bend, and then the phone rang, and here I am. Maybe a lot of you saw this coming, but I never did."

A telephone call from former teammate Michael Jordan might have convinced Doherty, who admittedly had some trepidations, to take the job.

"Michael said you have to do what's best for your family," said Doherty. "Then, at the end of the conversation, he said, 'Who knows? If it doesn't work out with you, maybe they will have to go outside the family.' Right then, I made my mind up."

"I think he's a great choice for this program because I think he maintains the same character, quality and integrity that has always marked North Carolina," said incoming North Carolina chancellor James Moeser. "He's the right person to keep this program No.1 in the country."

Doherty also maintains the same bloodlines, and they are distinctly Carolina blue.

The announcement of Doherty's hiring raised questions about whether anyone without a degree from the Chapel Hill campus was even considered for the job, and who exactly did the hiring - legendary retired coach Dean Smith or Baddour.

"What this tells you is that, as long as Dean Smith is alive, the coach is always going to be one of his guys," said recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons, who runs his business out of Lenoir, N.C. "It's like the Mafia; you've got to be part of the family."

Gibbons said Smith , who attended last night's news conference with Guthridge, and school officials were left scrambling when Williams stunned and snubbed them last week by deciding to stay in Lawrence as Kansas' coach.

"They did not have a Plan B," said Gibbons. "Matt Doherty was their fifth choice. But if you remember, Roy Williams was the seventh choice when he was hired at Kansas."

Doherty credited Williams with helping him prepare for this job.

"Someone I want to thank that some people may be a little sore at is coach Williams," Doherty said after breaking into tears.

"If it wasn't for coach Williams, I wouldn't have learned the nuances of Carolina basketball. I know a lot of people are sore he's not here, but he loves North Carolina basketball more than anyone can imagine."

Those who know the prematurely gray-haired Doherty believe he will have similar success to Williams, who was Smith's second assistant when he was hired to coach Kansas in 1988.

"At each school he's been at, he's met every challenge," said Bob McKillop, who coached Doherty at Holy Trinity High on New York's Long Island and later gave him his first coaching job, as an assistant at Davidson in 1989. 'There are guys out there with more experience, but nobody will outwork Matt."

The news that Doherty will bring his entire staff with him to Notre Dame, including former Navy guard Doug Wojcik, did not go over well with his new players, who were expecting him to retain at least someone from Guthridge's staff.

"Obviously, I'm hurt by that," said junior forward Jason Capel. "Getting to know one new person is one thing, but having four new people is tough for anybody to handle. It's going to be a learning process. But you've got to grow up and get accustomed to change."

The decision by Doherty to leave Notre Dame after one season - the Fighting Irish finished 22-15 and ended the season losing in the championship game of the NIT - comes on the heels of Doherty talking the team's star, Troy Murphy, into passing up the NBA for another college season.

"Leaving Notre Dame was not an easy thing for [Doherty]," said Moeser. "In many ways, it's a natural fit for him - a Catholic kid from New York. But there's only once place I think is more home for Matt Doherty and that's North Carolina."

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