The first week of the last job Matt Doherty ever hopes to have ended Tuesday as the new face of North Carolina basketball stood silently along the Riverview Park wall, sharing a whisper and a laugh with the man who had passed on what he, too, considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
There stood Doherty, dapper in his Tommy Hilfiger Tar Heels polo, his salt and pepper hair, and the 1982 championship ring finally removed from its case and adorning his left hand. To Doherty's right stood Roy Williams, the man who many in Chapel Hill and within the UNC family, including Doherty, expected to succeed Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge as Lord of Blue Heaven.
When Williams decided he could not abandon the utopia he'd created in Kansas, the Heels contacted the 6-foot-7 New Yorker who spent four years being coached by Dean Smith in the early '80s, seven years as Williams' lead assistant and chief recruiter in Lawrence, Kan., and a season on his own, employing his interpretation of the Carolina tenets to revive Notre Dame basketball.
In Doherty, the Tar Heels may have found a coach old enough to understand the Dean way and young enough to relate to the modern player and his evolving game. He mixes his statements with passion, with quips and with a stern sense of authority as he talks about preserving UNC history and continuing to move forward.
Remember that Williams was once an unproven selection to Jayhawks fans, and that Duke fans once had no idea who Mike Krzyzewski was or how to pronounce his name.
What Doherty's initially needed to overcome is the awesome idea, the yes, he now presides over his alma mater, the home to the game's greatest player (Michael Jordan), the winningest coach of all-time (Smith) and of one's first three seasons (Guthridge).
"You don't want to come in and screw it all up, you know," Doherty said after the Nike Peach Jam's morning session.
"You want to come in and establish that trust that's so important. I met with the players individually after my press conference, and I took off my jacket and let them know that this is difficult for everyone. All this has really accelerated the relationship process among us all."
It's only been a week, but Doherty, 38, probably has a sense of how Ray Perkins felt his first week at Alabama after Bear Bryant retired, or Gene Bartow's first few days manning UCLA once John Wooden stepped down.
That is excited about the task's enormity, yet overly cautious about getting underneath it all.
"You try to look forward to what's ahead of you, but you're always looking back to see what you've left behind," Doherty said. "I don't think people realized how much of an agonizing decision this was for me. It's never a good time to change, but the North Carolina job might never fall in my lap again."
And the hard-to-please fan base will let Doherty know if the silver's polish seems to be fading. These are the same people who once hung Smith in effigy, and who a year ago, pleaded for Guthridge's ouster despite his having won 80 games and having reached two Final Fours in three years.
There was a part of Doherty that watched Guthridge's cool reception from a far and wondered if everything -- the unworldly expectations, the thin line for error, the cauldron of pressures -- would be worth it.
"I conferred with Roy a lot before accepting," Doherty said. "The one thing he kept stressing to me is that you've got find out what's important in your heart, and what's important to me is family.
"You can't put more pressure on me than I've put on myself," Doherty said. "I know the expectations are to win national championships every year. I wouldn't want those expectations any other way. That's one reason I came. North Carolina is home for me."
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us