Thursday, April 03, 2003

Tar Heel blues

The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon offers the best summary to date why UNC fired Matt Doherty. When you go to a tradition-rich institution, clean house, and try to prove you're beholden to no one, you'd damn well better succeed. Doherty didn't, and so he's gone.

I've been a tentative Doherty supporter for much of his tenure, mainly because I loved his intensity and enthusiasm. Putting student fans closer to the floor, tossing out t-shirts before the games, singing the alma mater with the cheerleaders after wins -- passionate alumni just love that stuff.

But you can't ignore the on-court performance of the players -- and their relationship to their coach. After MD's first year, three players left early: Joe Forte to the NBA, Ronald Curry and Julius Peppers to the NFL. Each of them could have helped the team avert its meltdown -- and in hindsight, Forte and Curry really screwed up by departing prematurely. Forte has played fewer than a dozen games in two pro seasons, and Curry's experience as a point guard might have prevented a half-dozen losses in the 8-20 season last year.

After that season, the team lost three more players -- Bill Guthridge's final recruiting class in its entirety. None was destined for stardom, but their departure left this year's team depending on six freshmen and three sophomores to play 95+ percent of the minutes.

Finally, there's the issue of loyalty, which in a program the caliber of Carolina's cannot be overstated. As Wilbon's WP column stated about The Legend,

There wasn't a college basketball coach in America, maybe not in any sport at the pro or college level, more beloved than Smith. His players, from before Billy Cunningham and Larry Brown to Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter, consult him on virtually everything in their entire lives, from whether to take a certain job to what kind of car to lease.

You get the impression from the reaction by MD's ex-players that they'll be glad if they're never in the same time zone as their former coach.

Athletic Director Dickie Baddour -- a human resources director's worst nightmare -- comes out of this the real loser. He's been burned before on "hiring" decisions -- in 1999, when he fired football coach Carl Torbush and then re-hired him within a few hours ... the next year when he had Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer hired, only to see Beamer change his mind after returning to Blacksburg ... and then, the most famous jilting of all, when Roy Williams played "Lucy and the football" with Carolina fans, agreeing to leave Kansas and then reneging a few days later. If Dickie blows this one, the next pink slip will have his name on it.

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