Matt Doherty received a telephone call
early Tuesday morning. On the other end was Michael Jordan, telling
his former North Carolina teammate and friend to follow his heart.
Doherty, a starter on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA national championship team, took Jordan’s advice later in the day, leaving Notre Dame after one season to become coach of one of the more storied college programs in the country.
“Michael said you have to do what is best for your family. 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 [Carolina] family,’” Doherty said, ending a 12-day search for Bill Guthridge’s replacement. “Right then, I made my mind up. I wanted to be the head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina.”
Doherty said he first talked with North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour late Thursday night, taking a cell phone call in a Wal-Mart aisle. He interviewed over the weekend on the UNC campus, and accepted the post at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s a numbing experience,” Doherty said. “Kind of surreal. You dream it and wonder if you’re going to wake up.”
Doherty, 38, was scheduled to sign a six-year contract at $350,000 a season, Baddour said, adding that additional money would be coming from a deal with Nike.
Doherty had four years remaining on a five-year deal at Notre Dame, but Baddour said there was no buyout.
Doherty became the leading candidate after last week’s decision by Kansas coach Roy Williams not to take the job at his alma mater, according to James Moeser, incoming Carolina chancellor.
Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl and Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown, who both played for UNC under Dean Smith, took their names out of the running Monday.
Assistant to Williams
Doherty, an assistant to Williams for seven years, led the Fighting Irish to a 22-15 record and a second-place finish in the NIT in his only season there.
“He is a great choice for this program because I think he maintains the same character, quality and integrity that has always marked Carolina,” Moeser said. “He is the right person to keep this program No. 1 in the country.”
About 75 reporters, 100 basketball supporters, Guthridge and former coach Dean Smith, and some North Carolina players attended Doherty’s news conference. He received several standing ovations.
Doherty broke down and cried 10 minutes into his opening remarks when he thanked Williams.
“Someone I want to thank that some people may be a little sore at is coach Williams,” Doherty said, stopping to wipe away tears. “If it wasn’t for coach Williams I wouldn’t have learned the nuances of Carolina basketball. It’s one thing to learn them as a player, it’s another to learn them behind the scenes.
“I know a lot of people are sore he’s not here, but he loves North Carolina basketball more than anyone can imagine.”
Hires Notre Dame Assistants
Doherty brought his three Notre Dame assistant coaches with him, replacing North Carolina assistants Phil Ford, Dave Hanners and Pat Sullivan.
“These are the guys that have put me in a position to be sitting before you now,” Doherty said of Doug Wojcik, Fred Quartlebaum, Bob MacKinnon and David Cason.
Not every player was pleased with the coaching turnover.
“Obviously I am hurt by that,” junior forward Jason Capel said. “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 have to grow up and get accustomed to change.”
Notre Dame Fans: Stay Here
Doherty met with Irish players for about 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon in South Bend, Ind. Hand-drawn signs taped to windows on the campus implored Doherty to stay.
“The only place for Coach D is ND,” one sign read.
Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said the school is “seriously disheartened” by Doherty’s departure and wished him and his wife well.
Doherty was a star at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, N.Y., and a member of the ’82 NCAA championship squad that featured Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins. Williams also was an assistant on that squad.
Doherty and former UNC players Jeff Lebo and Randy Wiel were mentioned as candidates still in the running Tuesday to replace Guthridge, Smith’s longtime assistant who led the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three years before announcing his retirement June 30.
Wiel flew in Tuesday from a coaching clinic in Spain to interview with Smith, Guthridge and other basketball officials.
Wiel noted that Doherty is a high-profile coach.
“Matt’s been at Notre Dame and people see him all the way in California,” he said. “Matt has a big upside. Matt’s very popular, he’s a good coach, he’s coached a year and proven he could do it.”
North Carolina officials were determined this week to keep the job in the school’s basketball family after Williams’ emotional decision Thursday to remain with the Jayhawks. Williams had been an assistant at UNC before taking the Kansas job in 1988.
The 1999 UNC basketball media guide listed 26 NBA and college coaches who were either former Tar Heels players or coaches. But Doherty will become the first former player at UNC to become coach since Monk McDonald in 1925.
South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, an assistant with Williams and Guthridge under Smith, withdrew his name from consideration Friday. Karl and Brown said the timing of the vacancy was not good for them.
Doherty, also a former assistant at Davidson, will take over the mantle of the Tar Heels program left by Smith, the all-time winningest coach in Division I with 879 victories and NCAA titles in 1982 and 1993.