Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Vitale, Doherty & UNC

Collegeball has a link to Dick Vitale's recent rant on how unbelievable it is that Matt Doherty has yet to find work. Vitale cites the following examples as reasons this guy should already be employed:
Doherty brings to the table a tremendous work ethic and an unbelievable passion and love for the game...I can't believe a school with a head-coach opening wouldn't look at a candidate like Doherty and consider his consummate work. Think about how he was such a tremendous team player, blending in with the likes of Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins on that title-winning '82 team.

...Talk to anybody who knows him -- whether it's the Michelangelo of coaching, Dean Smith, or Roy Williams or anyone else who has been around him for any length of time. They will flat-out tell you that Doherty is a workaholic and a gym rat. He gives his ultimate effort and energy for the success of his program.

...Doherty knows what it means to face tough challenges and top competition, having coached the Irish in the Big East and the Tar Heels in of the ACC. His recruits helped get the Tar Heels back into the limelight this season.

...Doherty is ready to be a head coach again, and a school looking to rebuild would find him to be a perfect hire. His loyalty and integrity stand out. I've gotten to know him, and I feel that many athletic directors are making a mistake by not giving him a chance. If a job opens quickly, the AD should call Doherty -- he is ready, willing and able to be a success again at the college level.
Is it just me or does Vitale's whiny voice ring in your ear as you read this? Let's see, where to start. First let me say that I think Doherty got hosed last year. It should never be the case that players can run a coach out of town (unless the coach is choking players (Bob Knight), allegedly sleeping with undergrads (Jeff Jones), violating NCAA rules (Quin Snyder) or just wielding firearms (Nolan Richardson Jr.)). Dick Baddour, UNC's athletic director, showed no spine throughout the ordeal -- especially considering that he was the brains behind the operation responsible for hiring Doherty.

Back to Vitale. I don't think anyone doubts that Doherty worked hard, recruited hard and coached hard. The problem was with his style. You can cite the Bob Knights and Bob Huggins of college basketball, but you have to remember that players going into those programs knew what they were getting from the start. Dean Smith was known as a players coach -- and that's not to say he let players do whatever they wanted. Even today, former players (in both the NBA and the real world) call him regularly for advice -- and he willingly dispenses it. And his hand-picked successor, Bill Guthridge was the same way -- and players wanted to run through walls for both of them.

Enter Doherty and his seemingly endless engergy. The energy he brought to Chapel Hill wasn't the problem -- it was how he dealt with the players. I have no first hand knowledge of what transpired, but by the end of 2003, it looked pretty much like a mutiny in the making. Some players were going to meet Baddour with their parents and other players threatened to turn pro or transfer instead of playing one more season for Doherty.

So Vitale trumpeting his work ethic is the wrong point to make. No one disagrees with that. Doherty is also a great recruiter. He was responsible for Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May. He knows how to talk to kids -- until he gets them on the court. And I don't think any coach short of Jesus Christ could have won more than eight games in 2001. Doherty had to play both Adam Boone and Brian Morrison that year -- and they were the afterthought recruits of the retiring coach Guthridge.

Vitale also claims that Doherty is ready to be a coach again. I'm not sure how he knows that -- maybe the same way he knows that every telecast he does is a matchup between "two of the best programs in the country" -- but either way, Doherty may have to prove himself at a smaller school and work his way back up. And there were rumors earlier this year that Doherty was offered the James Madison job only to turn it down because the two sides couldn't agree on contract terms.

I'm sure in retrospect, Doherty probably wishes he never left Notre Dame -- or at least handled things differently at UNC. He was extremely successful his first (and only) year there, he is a really good recruiter and I'm sure he knows the game of basketball. But as his three-year's in Chapel Hill showed, big-time college basketball -- especially today's game -- is more about the psychology of coaching than the X's and O's.