Work in Sports
Doherty getting a feel for his new job, wardrobe
By Marc Lancaster, CNNSI.com
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Surveying the scene Tuesday at the Nike Peach Jam, a staffer for the shoe company couldn't help but smile when he noticed Matt Doherty.
"It's funny," the man said. "A week ago, Doherty was up in Indianapolis (at the Nike Camp) all decked out in Notre Dame gear, and now he's here wearing North Carolina stuff."
By changing the color scheme of his golf shirt, Doherty has suddenly become an entity. No one would have batted an eye if Doherty had been seen chatting amiably with Roy Williams on the stairs leading into Gym 4 at Riverview Park a year ago. But a brief huddle between the two Tuesday morning was intriguing to observe from afar, serving as fodder for the imagination, if nothing else.
"Thank you, Roy, thank you ..."
Doherty's first week in charge of one of the most prestigious basketball programs in the land has been a whirlwind of handshakes, hotels and phone calls. Not that Doherty is in any position to complain about landing his dream job after only a year of head coaching experience, but having everything fall into place smack in the middle of the crucial summer recruiting period has left the tall, energetic coach wondering which end is up.
As soon as the evening press conference announcing his hiring was finished on July 11, Doherty and his staff of assistant coaches -- all holdovers from last season in South Bend -- went to their new offices and started dialing. They didn't leave until 1:45 a.m., the start of a non-stop stretch that may not let up anytime soon.
"The next day (July 12), I met with the players individually, then I went out and saw a recruit up in Baltimore," he said. "I went back (to Chapel Hill) the next morning and did some work in the office, and then I went out recruiting and I've been out ever since."
The Peach Jam is Doherty's first major national stop on the recruiting circuit since being hired. There are so many coaches wandering the four gyms at Riverside Park this week that they seem to blend together...there's Williams, and Denny Crum, and Billy Donovan, and Tubby Smith, and Perry Clark, and Eddie Fogler, and Steve Lavin, and Mike Jarvis.
But Doherty stands out, he's the one with cachet. Nothing against Notre Dame of course, but Doherty's role is different now.
"The kids' reaction when you call them from the University of North Carolina -- they're excited," he said. "Not to compare it to any other school, but I'd just say they're more excited to hear my voice from Chapel Hill. And that's not a knock against Notre Dame, it's just that North Carolina's the best job in all of basketball, as far as I'm concerned."
Doherty said he would like to sign two wing players and a post player in his first class at North Carolina. But his main concern right now seems to be a different, though no less stressful, type of recruiting: Gaining the trust of the players already in Chapel Hill.
"It's hard on anybody, just the change and uncertainty," he said. "I think every kid's initial reaction is 'I want to transfer.' And then they meet the new guy it's 'Oh, OK, he's OK.' But the first time, they're sitting around, they're not sure how to take you, and then you get to know them and warm up to them. That's why I tried to meet with them as much as possible right away and find out what their concerns are, what their needs are, and just get to know them, find out what they like to do off the court."
One of the requests Doherty addressed immediately came from junior Jason Capel, who was hoping the players could get easier access to the Smith Center late at night if they wanted to go shoot around. Doherty made some calls and got it done. It was a gesture that might not seem like a big deal, but at this point, Doherty says he is "just trying to accelerate the relationship process."
It also hasn't hurt that the players know Doherty can, on some level, relate to what they're going through. Unlike Bill Guthridge or Dean Smith, or any Tar Heel coach since alumnus Monk McDonald took over the program in 1925, Doherty actually played in Chapel Hill -- and on a fairly high-profile team, at that.
"No question it helps," he said. "I think they've seen pictures on the wall and they've seen highlights of Michael (Jordan), and I just happen to be passing him the ball quite a bit."
The hope of creating more memories just like those is what brought him back to Chapel Hill, and he might just be the man to do it. There's no getting around the intense pressure involved in coaching at North Carolina -- remember how badly Guthridge was ripped by the fans and media last year before easing the pain with a trip to the Final Four? But Doherty has nothing but a shrug to any suggestions that it might be too much for him at this point in his career.
"You can't put more pressure on me than I put on myself, and I mean that," he said. "At Notre Dame, there wasn't that much pressure, but there was pressure that I put on myself. (At North Carolina) there's more newspapers, there's more rivals, but it's the best program and I always like to be pressured. I was that way as a player -- I could have gone to a mid-major school and averaged 20 points a game, but I wanted to go to North Carolina and win national championships. That's one of the main reasons I'm back at North Carolina."