Matt Doherty has made most of second chance at FAU
Posted: Tuesday February 28, 2006 12:12PM; Updated: Tuesday February 28, 2006 1:57PM
In his first season at Florida Atlantic, Matt Doherty has the Owls in third place in the Atlantic Sun with a 14-6 conference mark.
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Matt Doherty steers his blue Ford Explorer into a parking lot next to Florida Atlantic's student union and, seeing no available permit spots, pulls into one with a meter. In his old job as head coach at North Carolina, Doherty didn't have to scrape for quarters on the way to his own team's pregame meal, but he doesn't seem to mind as he feeds the machine, then sets an alarm on his Blackberry for when the meter will expire.
It's about 3½ hours before the Owls' home game against Campbell. Doherty's team is gathering at Wackadoo's Grub & Brew on the ground floor of the union, where a row of tables has been reserved and a buffet of chicken, spaghetti and salad is being served. Afterward, coaches and players will move to an upstairs conference room for a final scouting report.
Yard signs -- the kind used to advertise church socials and construction jobs -- bearing the words "Basketball game tonight" have been scattered throughout campus. Twenty minutes before tip-off, there are fewer than 100 people in the gym, though this being South Florida, much of the crowd will arrive late. Once they do, they're treated to a thriller, as Florida Atlantic guard Quinton Young hits three three-pointers in one minute to erase a 80-73 deficit, and freshman forward Carlos Monroe lays one off the glass with 38.2 seconds left to lead the Owls to a 95-90 victory.
The announced attendance is 1,009, nearly double Florida Atlantic's season average (523) the year before Doherty's arrival, but still about 19,000 fewer than a typical night in North Carolina's Dean Dome. "Every negative can be a positive," Doherty, 43, had said from behind his office desk earlier that afternoon. "The negative is, we're only drawing 1,000 people. The flip side is, there's no Web site where every day there's some rumor I have to deal with. There's no big booster who, if you lose a game, is going to call the president of the school."
Nearly three years have passed since Doherty's ugly ouster from his alma mater. From his awkward hiring after only one season as the head coach at Notre Dame to a nightmarish 8-20 record in his second season at Carolina to the unsettling player mutiny that precipitated his exit, Doherty's three-year tenure was a divisive time for North Carolina basketball. Though his first team went 26-7 and climbed to No. 1 in the nation, and though he recruited nearly all the stars (Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants) on last year's national title team, Doherty is remembered in Chapel Hill primarily for the squad's implosion during his final 19-16 season. That's when his alleged temper-fueled tirades became the stuff of Internet legend and caused several players and their families to express their displeasure to school administrators.
The Tar Heels, saved by native son Roy Williams -- Doherty's former mentor at Kansas and the same man whose decision to stay in Lawrence in 2000 opened the door for Doherty's hiring at UNC -- have long since put that tumultuous period behind them. For Doherty, however, the healing process is just beginning.
Here, amidst the palm trees and concrete buildings of this Boca Raton commuter school, the 2001 Associated Press Coach of the Year, who readily concedes that he was unprepared for the pressures of the North Carolina job ("I probably should have stayed at Notre Dame," he says), goes about resurrecting his career. Having inherited a program that went 54-121 in six seasons under his predecessor, Sidney Green, Doherty's first Florida Atlantic squad finished the regular season with a 14-6 record in the Atlantic Sun Conference (15-12 overall) and heads into this weekend's league tournament in Nashville as a No. 3 seed.