Far cry from past

Carolina: Wearing emotion like suit on bench, new Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty has broken the reticent mold at UNC. But like Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, he's winning.

January 10, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Matt Doherty is the kind of guy who cries at movies. He doesn't even have to be sitting in a darkened theater or at home. He doesn't need to be watching a particularly heart-tugging flick. Take the time "The Patriot" was being shown on the North Carolina team bus.

"There was a scene where Mel Gibson's son gets killed and I started thinking about my own son," Doherty said earlier this week. "I get emotional pretty quickly."

Nor does he have to be watching a movie at all.

It happened when Doherty was introduced as the new coach of the Tar Heels last summer, succeeding a suddenly retired Bill Guthridge. It happened again Saturday after his team's dramatic 70-69 victory over then-fourth-ranked Wake Forest.

There was Doherty, arms raised triumphantly, celebrating with his Tar Heels players and hundreds of other North Carolina students on the court at the Dean Smith Center. There was Doherty, tears streaming down his face, acting like no other North Carolina coach has in recent memory.

Certainly not like the legendary Smith did in the 36 seasons during which he became college basketball's winningest coach. Nor like the avuncular Guthridge did the past three years. Maybe not even like Doherty, a three-year starter, did after the Tar Heels won the national championship in 1982.

"It was kind of a spontaneous thing," Doherty said. "I wanted to be part of it with the students. I enjoy their energy. It was my way to be a kid again. I don't think people understand what coaches go through. Moving my family was tough. Things have been hectic. It was a lot of pent-up emotion."

Things are finally beginning to settle down for Doherty, who moved into a new house with his wife, Kelly, and their two young children (3-year-old Tucker and 1-year-old Hattie) two days before Christmas.

Things are also starting to settle down for his team, which will take an 11-2 record (2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference), an eight-game winning streak and a No. 9 ranking into Maryland for its game against the 14th-ranked Terrapins at 7 tonight.

"His team is very well prepared," said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, whose Demon Deacons had not lost before the North Carolina game. "The schemes are his. I think there is a new energy, and that has spread quickly to the team."

Doherty's frenetic coaching style, which he developed in the seven seasons spent as an assistant under fellow North Carolina alum Roy Williams at Kansas and last season as coach at Notre Dame, has endeared him to his players.

"Coach Doherty and Coach Guthridge get the same things accomplished; they just do it a different way," senior center Brendan Haywood said yesterday from Chapel Hill. "This is a new day and time."

Not that Doherty's first season has been glitch-free.

Doherty's decision to bring his staff with him from South Bend - including former Navy captain Doug Wojcik and Baltimore native David Cason - caused problems for those hoping he would retain the assistants who had worked for Smith and then Guthridge.

"It wasn't a hard decision, it was a hard decision to execute," Doherty recalled in his office one day last fall. "My assistants had helped put me in position to get this job. When I was here as a player, we were taught loyalty. I felt loyal to them."

At the news conference introducing Doherty, the man who had taught him to bleed North Carolina blue was still in shock over Williams' choosing to remain in Lawrence, Kan., and was pained by the departure of longtime assistants Phil Ford and Dave Hanners.

"I could see he was very sad," Doherty said of Smith. "I kept thinking, `Maybe he isn't happy that I'm the coach' ... But Coach Smith is a very compassionate man. As happy as he was for me, he was upset because people who had worked for him had lost their jobs."

The first month of the season was not easy for Doherty or the Tar Heels. Playing without starting forward Julius Peppers and point guard Ronald Curry, who were finishing their responsibilities with the school's football team, North Carolina struggled.

It wasn't merely the home defeat to Kentucky or the road loss to defending national champion and then top-ranked Michigan State. It was a sloppy opening-night win over Winthrop, and, more recently, a four-point victory over the College of Charleston.

Except for the replacement of Ed Cota, who left as the school's all-time assist leader, a team that reached the Final Four last year after a disappointing regular season remains virtually intact. The return of Curry, who took over for freshman Adam Boone at point guard, has been the key.

"He adds a lot of maturity and athleticism," Doherty said.

The coach has kept many of the same traditions and routines established by Smith and Guthridge, from freshmen carrying bags on the road to managers charting the number of charges each player takes in practice. But the sideline histrionics are something new at North Carolina.

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