Delaware Basketball coach Mike Brey was eating breakfast with his wife, Tish, on the porch of their Rehoboth Beach, Del., vacation home on July 7 when he read the news in USA Today: Kansas coach Roy Williams had turned down the job at North Carolina made vacant by Bill Guthridge's unexpected retirement seven days earlier. Suddenly, as if a hidden path had opened right before his eyes, Mike turned and spoke four of the most common words in his profession: "Pack your bags, honey." In this case, he knew exactly where he and Tish were headed. "We're going to South Bend."
Call it what you will—clairvoyance, intuition, a sixth sense. Some folks see dead people, coaches see the next job opportunity. When Williams declined the Tar Heels' job offer, Brey reasoned that Notre Dame's Matt Doherty would be next in line at North Carolina. The Irish, in turn, would need a coach, and Brey had been a finalist for the job a year ago when Notre Dame hired Doherty.
So even though Notre Dame officials hadn't contacted him yet—even though they didn't yet have a vacancy to fill—Brey knew. "When the dominoes start falling, it's like you can hear the rumble in the distance," he says. "When somebody like Bill Guthridge retires, everybody in this business, from established coaches like me right down to a graduate assistant at East Dakota State, starts thinking, Gosh, I wonder if that will create an opening for me." Sure enough, on July 11 the 38-year-old Doherty took the North Carolina job, and three days later Brey, 41, became the new coach at Notre Dame.
One job gets filled, another one opens, over and over again. It happens every year (though rarely as visibly as it did in the aftermath of Guthridge's retirement, which came long after the end of the usual coach-switching season), and as the changes unfold, they touch the lives of coaches and assistants, athletic directors and athletes, to say nothing of secretaries, trainers and fans.
Since June 30, Guthridge's retirement has caused no fewer than 21 coaches from 10 schools to change their addresses (chart, right). As of Monday, there was still one job that had yet to be filled. Here's a look at how some of the lives of these fallen dominoes were affected.
Matt Doherty was preparing for an approach shot on the 15th hole at Warren Golf Course in South Bend on June 30 when his cell phone rang. The caller was a sports-writer advising Doherty of Guthridge's resignation. Doherty's mind quickly shifted to the Domino Theory. "I thought, Coach Williams will be the next Carolina coach, and maybe I'll get a call about replacing him at Kansas," Doherty says. "It was exciting to imagine how the dominoes might fall."
Composing himself, Doherty allowed a foursome to play through and then sliced his next shot into a greenside bunker. After a futile attempt to blast out, he picked up his ball and told his playing partners, "I'm moving on." So he was.
After 11 breathless days during which North Carolinians watched bulletins trail across their television screens informing them that none of the vaunted Tar Heels alumni in the coaching fraternity—not Williams, not South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, not Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl, not Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown—would become Guthridge's successor, Doherty was the last obvious candidate standing. "When I saw myself on the front page of USA Today, the magnitude of the move really hit home," Doherty says. "When you're handed a program that's been to six of the last 10 Final Fours, you can see it as pressure or as an opportunity. I think it's pretty cool."
A forward on the 1982 Carolina national championship team, Doherty returned to Chapel Hill with only one season of head coaching experience at Notre Dame after seven seasons as an assistant under Williams at Kansas and three as an assistant at Davidson before that. He accepted the job during the critical July recruiting period and immediately set off on a recruiting odyssey made more chaotic because the wives of two of the assistants he was bringing with him from South Bend went into labor. It quickly became evident how much happier recruits were to see Doherty wearing powder blue than Irish green. At the Peach Jam tournament in North Augusta, S.C., on July 18, Florida coach Billy Donovan mused about how he had an oral commitment from highly touted 6'6" swingman Jackie Manuel from West Palm Beach, Fla., until Doherty made one phone call. Manuel changed his commitment to North Carolina after talking to Doherty. "That had never happened to me before," Donovan says.