At that same tournament Doherty ran into Mike Brey for the first time since both men changed jobs. Brey, a former Duke assistant, kidded Doherty about Doherty's meteoric rise and then thanked him for creating the opening at Notre Dame. Says Brey, "Who'd have thought that all the Carolina movement would help a Duke guy?"
"Congratulations," Doherty responded. "Want to buy a house?"
Turns out that Matt and his wife, Kelly, were putting the finishing touches on an addition to their home in South Bend. In fact, the night Guthridge retired, Matt had signed a previously negotiated five-year contract with Notre Dame because he didn't want Irish athletic director Kevin White to think he would use the Tar Heels' opening as leverage. That contract did, however, contain an escape clause that would allow Doherty to accept the North Carolina job if it became available.
Doherty was the Tar Heels' coach for more than three weeks before he spent an entire day in Chapel Hill, and he went 17 days without seeing Kelly, who was tying up loose ends in South Bend before coming East with their two kids, Hattie, 11 months, and Tucker, 3. Then, just when it seemed as if things had calmed down a little, Doherty faced his first player crisis. He had to inform his highest-rated incoming recruit, Jason Parker, that he was being denied admission to North Carolina after the NCAA Clearinghouse disqualified his SAT score. Guthridge, who had recruited Parker, and Doherty traveled to Charlotte to deliver the news to the Parker family.
"The transition has been more difficult than I ever expected," Doherty says. "Only recently has our staff finally had time to take a deep breath and begin to look ahead."
Only North Carolina's fourth basketball coach since 1953, Doherty follows Frank McGuire, who guided the Heels to their first NCAA title, in '57; Dean Smith, the college game's alltime winningest coach; and Guthridge, who took the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three years but was nonetheless never wholeheartedly embraced by North Carolina fans. Undaunted by the enormous expectations, Doherty for the first time in nine years is wearing his '82 national championship ring, and he has talked to his team about winning another one this season.
After his introductory press conference, on July 11, Doherty and his assistants de-toured through the Smith Center gym to gaze up at the championship banners and happened upon a girls' summer basketball camp. All the girls stopped their dribbling drills to give Doherty high fives. One young camper asked her counselor, "Is he the President?"
Yes, it's a long way from South Bend to Chapel Hill, but Doherty has understood the college basketball pecking order since the sixth grade, when every summer evening he walked to Prospect Park near his home in East Meadow, N.Y. The park had two basketball courts, and the best players—college stars, NBA refugees, even Julius Erving now and again—played on court number 1. Doherty always arrived early in hopes of getting into the elite game and battled to keep winning when he did because a loss meant he wouldn't get picked for another game that night. "I learned to compete at that park, and now I feel like I'm back out there on court number 1," he says. "I'm testing myself against the best, knowing I'd better win or I could be on court number 2 in a hurry. My goal is to make sure Carolina is my last job. I hope I'm never one of those dominoes again."
The July 1 headline on the Delaware sports Web site neatly summed up the situation: MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH MIKE BREY AWARDED CONTRACT EXTENSION THROUGH 2007. Two weeks later came another: MIKE BREY RESIGNS AS DELAWARE MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH.