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Domino Effect
Tim Crothers
September 04, 2000
Bill Guthridge's resignation as North Carolina's coach set off a chain reaction that changed the lives of scores of people in the game
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September 04, 2000

Domino Effect

Bill Guthridge's resignation as North Carolina's coach set off a chain reaction that changed the lives of scores of people in the game

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Thus began a week with his job in limbo. At times Sullivan's hopes would rise, as on the day the Durham Herald-Sun reported that Williams would take the Carolina job and retain Sullivan as an assistant. At other times they would ebb, as on the day following Williams's decision to stay at Kansas. Sullivan hit the recruiting trail anyway, flying to Teaneck, N.J., for the Adidas ABCD camp. Suddenly, 300 coaches from around the country were asking him the same questions: Sully, what's going to happen? Sully, who are they talking to? "They were nice, but when you've got to answer it a hundred times, it kind of wears on you," Sullivan says. "Shoot, I didn't know what was going to happen."

Finally, on July 4, five days after the resignation was announced, Guthridge and athletic director Dick Baddour called Sullivan, Ford and Hanners into Baddour's office. His voice breaking, Guthridge told them that Doherty had accepted the coaching position and wanted to bring in his own staff. "It was hard for him to get it out," Sullivan recalls. "They know the three of us would bleed for Carolina. Coach Ford and Coach Hanners have over 25 years invested in this program, so I know where their loyalties lie. I've been in this program more than a third of my life. Even if Mike Krzyzewski was the coach, I'd still pull for Carolina."

Doherty, too, met with the three outgoing assistants and said he was sorry. "I felt a little guilt, sadness, awkwardness," he says. "They did nothing wrong—two Final Fours in the last three years. I have a great deal of compassion for Pat and the others because sometimes this business is not fair."

What now for Sullivan? He'll still receive a paycheck from Carolina this season, and he plans to try to catch on with another school in the spring when the coaching turnover begins again. But for a while he toyed with the idea of getting out of the profession and going into business. "I'm torn," he admits. "Part of me says I still want to coach, but part of me wants to close this 10-year chapter and say, 'Five Final Fours in 10 years, you can't top that' I'm spoiled here."

Sullivan, who is single, had envisioned a different career track, one that until July 11 closely resembled the path taken by Doherty. "I figured I'd be here for a while," Sullivan says, "but I wanted to be a head coach, and I knew I'd have to take a smaller job somewhere, do well there, and maybe I'd be able to come back 10 to 15 years from now. That was the dream, to be the head coach at North Carolina someday." He smiles, then shrugs. "I don't know if that's possible anymore."

The toughest moment, Sullivan says, came when he was cleaning out his office and he bumped into the new assistants. "I've learned how fragile things can be," Sullivan says. "Like when Coach Smith retired. I went home one night after work as an administrative assistant, someone who basically got Coach Smith's lunch. Next day, boom! I'm on the staff. Same thing now. I was on top of the world. We'd just finished summer camp, and I was excited to go on the road recruiting. Boom! Next day Coach Guthridge retires, and I'm like, Shoot, I'm out of a job."

There's A windowless room in the basement of the Dean Smith Center that serves as an office for Smith and Guthridge. On Aug. 21, Guthridge stood in that room and talked about the sad morning seven weeks earlier when he couldn't bear to tell his staff he was retiring, so he passed out handwritten notes instead. He said this had been both the best and worst summer he could remember. He marveled at the long chain of coaching promotions resulting from his departure, from Doherty all the way to Northwestern assistant Billy Schmidt, who replaced Chris Collins at Seton Hall after Collins replaced Henderson at Duke. He grinned when he was told that Wildcats coach Kevin O'Neill was on vacation trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru and was probably trying to contact candidates from there to fill Schmidt's job. ( O'Neill had 117 messages, mostly from job seekers, on his voice mail when he got home.) "When I left I didn't think about the impact outside our program," Guthridge said, "but I've come to realize that many coaches out there are very happy that I quit."

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