For Doherty, UNC's title victory is a source of pride, frustration

OTHER VOICES

April 11, 2005|By JOE GERGEN

AT THE END of a long, emotional news conference after the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship game last Monday night, one in which he managed to mention Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, Phil Ford, Doug Moe, George Karl and Bill Chamberlain, Roy Williams reached out to one last member of the extended North Carolina family.

Exulting in his first national title as a head coach, he said he empathized with the man who preceded him, the man whose dream it also was to return his alma mater to the top of the college basketball world.

"I feel for Matt Doherty," Williams said. "I really do. If Matt was here, I would want him to know this was special and I would give him a big hug." They have hugged at other times. Williams was an assistant coach when a Carolina team that featured Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and a skinny sophomore forward named Doherty earned Smith's first NCAA title in a classic 63-62 victory over Georgetown. Doherty later served as an assistant to Williams at Kansas, and the pair shared many significant triumphs.

But when the Tar Heels turned back Illinois at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis last week, Doherty was a thousand miles away. His only connection with the program was through the players he had recruited in his three years as head coach in Chapel Hill.

With the exception of freshmen Marvin Williams and Quentin Richardson, who totaled eight points in the championship game, they were all Doherty's players. The group included senior starters Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel and junior stars Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants.

"There's a great sense of pride that we had the vision and were able to recruit such talented players," Doherty said from his Carolina home.

While he said he found the celebration "rewarding," he also conceded it was "frustrating that we couldn't finish the job. But that's life."

Doherty laid the foundation. He was dismissed after the 2003 season when graduations and defections left the program dependent on sophomores and the outstanding freshman class led by May and Felton.

During Final Four week, Williams said Doherty still might be the coach at Carolina if May, the powerful center who was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in St. Louis last weekend, had not broken his foot early in his freshman year. Doherty did not disagree.

"We could not afford an injury to Sean or Raymond that season," Doherty recalled.

But in the 10th game of the season, against Iona in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, May broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. In his absence, the Tar Heels' post offense disappeared. The team struggled to a 19-16 mark that included three games in the National Invitation Tournament.

There were factors aside from the overall record and the consecutive years watching the NCAA tournament from the outside. Dissatisfaction expressed by players and alumni alike was construed as a budding mutiny against Doherty.

He was viewed as the leading candidate for the coaching vacancy at St. John's a year ago but was passed over for Kansas assistant (and Queens native) Norm Roberts.

"Matt Doherty needs to get back into coaching," Williams announced the other night, and Doherty is eager for the right opportunity.

He spent the past season as an analyst for College Sports Television and enjoyed the experience.

"It was a great way to stay involved in the game," he said. "I even watched films with coaches and got to see how they went about things. And I haven't lost a game in two years."

True. But he hasn't won one, either, and he remains too competitive not to miss the action.

Although his name has been mentioned in connection with several jobs recently, "I've probably talked to 5 percent of the people rumored to have talked to me. It's been a quiet spring in terms of jobs. Fortunately for the game, there hasn't been a lot of turnover. For a coach looking to re-enter, that makes things more difficult to me. It's been a quiet spring in terms of jobs. Fortunately."

He's 43, so time still is on Doherty's side.

"I don't want to take a job just to take a job," he said. "I want it to be a good situation, in an area where my family wants to live."

One such area is Carolina. Another is Long Island, where he grew up and where the bulk of the Dohertys still reside. He flew back for a dinner honoring the 2005 Hall of Fame inductees at Holy Trinity High School, his alma mater. The applause was not for him but for his sister, Nan.

Another case of reflected glory, but this time he was close enough to hug.

Joe Gergen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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