NCAA BK

BURLISON: Doherty's homecoming ends with resignation

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
Not quite three years ago — July 11, 2000 was the day — his hiring seemed so logical:

Matt Doherty was coming home.

A starting forward for coach Dean Smith on North Carolina's 1982 national championship team — the one that got its winning basket against on a jump shot by a freshman — Doherty had a pedigree that spelled "can't miss."

Besides playing four seasons for Smith — a Hall of Famer and, conservatively, one of the three or four great college coaches of all time — Doherty also spent seven years as an assistant to another UNC graduate and a future Hall of Fame coach, Roy Williams, at the University of Kansas.

After his team went 22-15 in his first season (1999-2000) as a head coach, Doherty seemed destined to spend at least a few more seasons in South Bend, probably not leaving until Williams, as expected, eventually took over from Bill Guthridge — Smith's longtime aide and replacement when Smith retired suddenly in October 1997. Then, it was thought, Doherty would probably return to Lawrence to replace Williams.

When Guthridge also abruptly retired in late June 2000, the Williams-to-UNC and Doherty-to-Kansas parlay seemed very likely.

But Williams, in a move that was even more startling to some than the "sudden" retirements of Smith and Guthridge, spent a week pondering a decision that most considered a slam dunk and said he was staying in Lawrence.

The names of NBA coaches Larry Brown and George Karl, both UNC grads and loyal members of the UNC/Smith "Family," were bantered about before Doherty was invited to Chapel Hill and given the coveted Tar Heels job by athletic director Dick Baddour.

Doherty's transition was thought to be as seamless as the switch from to North Carolina golf shirts before he went back on the road to recruit the next day.

Fast forward to Tuesday, April 1, and a press conference in the Dean Smith Center, where sports information director Steve Kirschner read a statement from Doherty announcing his "resignation."

Then Baddour and UNC chancellor James Moeser took turns explaining — sort of — minus much specific detail as to what led Doherty to "resign" following almost five full days of intense public speculation that Doherty's days were numbered.

Very carefully worded explanations about "player-coach relationships" and "leadership ability" were used, without any real illustration of the things or incidents that apparently led some UNC players and their parents to voice concern about their relationships with Doherty, and his coaching "methods."

Baddour said he would honor his promise of confidentiality to the players, parents and, apparently, some UNC employees who were critical of Doherty.

Ultimately, Baddour said, Doherty offered his resignation for the "best interests of the program and school."

Baddour sidestepped the question as to whether Doherty would have been fired if he had not tendered his resignation. But it's understandable why Doherty offered to step aside, after the public battering of his image as a "coach and leader."

Let me throw my opinion on the matter now: Matt Doherty is a good and honorable man. Is he an intense competitor? Absolutely. I saw that in him as a player and a coach.

And, contrary to what some who follow UNC basketball passionately might believe, Doherty is a good basketball coach and did a fine job, all things considered, with the Tar Heels this season.

And, given the opportunity, he would have done an even better job for his alma mater next season.

I hope he'll have the opportunity to coach again somewhere very soon, if that's what he wants.

But the specter of the gossip about players threatening to quit unless he was replaced, and the basic "death watch" that hung over his UNC future since Friday, will be something that isn't going to be forgotten anytime soon, unfortunately.

Where does North Carolina go now?

The focus now turns to who will be the next coach of this vaunted program.

Baddour spoke of conducting a "nationwide, open search" without limiting the field to members of the "North Carolina coaching family."

That being said, of course, anyone who knows that the powder blue is a color near and dear to UNC students and alumni also knows who the No. 1 — no, make that the only — candidate is right now.

You can bet Baddour and Smith, still a prime force in the athletic department, have targeted Roy Williams.

Tuesday, Williams insisted he would answer no questions about "North Carolina or any other job" while his team prepares for its Final Four semifinal Saturday against , and a possible Monday night championship game.

Well, Coach, be prepared to be hit with those questions, whether you want to answer them or not.

Williams should also be prepared for many in the media to continue to speculate on his possible UNC candidacy. And that isn't going to stop until he says he's going to remain at Kansas or until the Tar Heels hire someone else.

And here's saying that the former is going to have to happen before the latter will.

So, who do Smith and Baddour turn to if Williams says "No" again?

UNC grads and Dean Smith disciples Larry Brown of the and George Karl of the will lobby, privately or openly, for the job. But some believe that Tubby Smith of is a more viable option. Dean Smith considers Tubby — currently rumored as NBA bound — a member of the "UNC Family Tree," despite the fact that Tubby never attended UNC or worked for him in Chapel Hill.

Rick Majerus of Utah, very well respected by Dean Smith, could be another "non-family member" to get consideration, as could Bill Self (Illinois) or Tom Crean (Marquette).

But the name on the lips and minds of everyone who holds UNC basketball near and dear, will be Roy Williams.

That is, until, of course, Williams decides to do something about it. Senior writer covers college basketball for FOXSports.com and can be reached at his e-mail address: fburlison@foxsports.com.

Tagged: Bucks, 76ers, Wizards, Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky, Brown, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Kansas

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