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December 06, 2001

Outtakes: Matt Doherty (uncut)

A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty appears in the Jan. 22 edition of ESPN the Magazine.

DP: Butch Davis, the head coach at Miami, got involved in the presidential race supporting Bush. Would you do that?
MD: No. I don't think it's my role to be public about who I support because I think that's maybe an abuse of my position.
Matt Doherty
The demeanor of North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty can range from contemplative...
DP: If Coach K and Dean Smith ran against each other for governor of North Carolina, who's winning?
MD: Obviously I'm going to say coach Smith -- but I really do think he's a very brilliant man, who is knowledgeable on all topics: politics, religion, education. I think he would be a great governor, senator, even president.

Dan Patrick: Does the ACC title go through Duke this year?
Matt Doherty: I hope not, but they're certainly the favorite right now, and they're darn good, and ... you know, they deserve it. They've got a great team back, with Shane Battier, and those young guys are sophomores now. So, you know, Duke is the team to beat in the league.

DP: There's talk about freshman eligibility. Do you think that we ask too much of those freshmen to step right out of high school, right into a big-time program, and then contribute?
MD: No. I don't think you can have freshman ineligibility. I think, one, the kids that are flirting with the NBA will say, "Forget college" -- for sure.
Matt Doherty exuberant, as he was after the Tar Heels won his UNC coaching debut this season.
"I'll go directly to the pros." And you know, it's been done for a while, and I don't think I'm any worse off for playing basketball as a freshman. I think the structure is good. My best grades in college were my first semester of my freshman year and my last semester my senior year. So I don't think that we're asking too much. I think it'll be a distraction to them if they're not playing. And I think just financially, you know, so many programs are strapped that to add some more scholarships, more coaches, you know, more stress on practice facilities -- I don't really think it's worth talking about, to be honest with you.
DP: So why is there a push to have freshmen just be students?
MD: Well, I think sometimes people that are bringing these topics up haven't lived through it. I don't know for sure, but I'd like to know, you know, who are the main people who are making the push and what are their backgrounds. And I would guess -- and I'm saying guess -- that a large portion of them either never played college ball or never coached it. And you know, maybe it's coming from a group that thinks that, "OK, graduation rates are low -- we need to react." And, you know, that's not the way to react. I think graduation rates are low for probably different reasons, and a large part of it is kids do go pro early.

DP: Speaking of freshmen, when Jordan hit that jumper to win the national championship, where were you?
MD: I was at the foul line, wide open, and I'm still mad he didn't pass me the ball.
DP: That was the play coach Smith diagrammed, right -- that you got the ball?
MD: Exactly. Just think, Dan, how history could be changed. Michael could be coaching here, and it could have been Air Doherty shoes for everybody. ... I was open at the foul line -- but I was holding my hands up saying, "No, no -- don't pass it."
DP: Those would have been Hot Air Doherty shoes.
MD: Airhead Doherty.
DP: When you're playing with the freshman, was Michael your typical freshman?
MD: No, because of the poise he had to -- you know, just think of that shot. The poise for a freshman to take that shot -- he didn't have to take it. You know what I mean? My point is, if the ball's in his hands with three seconds to go, you don't have a choice but to shoot. But to actually have to catch it and, you know, want to take that shot, without any hesitation, like you're shooting in warmups -- that blows my mind.

DP: When I first spoke to you after getting the North Carolina job, you relayed a story about Michael Jordan convincing you to take the job in Jordan style. Has he talked to you any more, and can you use him in a way that can help the program?
MD: Well, first of all, I wouldn't want to use anybody. You know, there's only so much you can do, recruiting-wise. I mean, I can't have him call recruits; I can't have him meet with recruits, you know, those kind of things...
DP: Why can't you do that?
MD: It's against NCAA rules ... an alumni kind of thing.
DP: He can't have any contact with anybody?
MD: Not at my direction.
DP: Well, let's just say Michael reads between the lines and says, "Doherty needs a good recruit. Let me help him."
MD: You know, he can't do that. ... People know I played with Michael. There's a picture in my office that Michael signed, of he and I sitting together getting ready to go into the game back in the '80s.
DP: But is that strategically placed so the recruits can see it when they come in?
MD: Oh, yeah -- they trip over it.
DP: It's actually a -- a doormat. And a place mat.
MD: I've got a doormat. I've got a picture. I've got a pocket size. You know, I've got it all over the place. So people know. And Michael was gracious enough to have a quote in the media guide and those kinds of things, so people know. But, you know ... there'll be a picture. We're going to put a picture of Michael hitting a game-winning shot against Georgetown in our lobby -- it'll be about eight feet by four feet. You know, so people know he's played here. I mean, I don't think a kid's going to come here just because Michael played here or because Michael tells them it's a good place. I think they come here for a lot of different reasons, and part of it is Michael and the former players.

DP: Tell me something that would surprise me about Dean Smith.
MD: I think that people would be probably surprised to know that he would still be coaching here today if it wasn't for the outside distractions -- you know, ticket demand, parking passes, speaking engagements, recruiting. He still has an incredible passion and energy for the X's and O's and practice.
DP: So he would still be coaching, you think?
MD: I believe that, yes. If it wasn't for all the other stuff.
DP: Is he still coaching in his mind? Do you think he coaches every single game that he goes to at Carolina?
Dean Smith
North Carolina legend Dean Smith was all about loyalty.
MD: I do. I know he analyzes it. He was at our exhibition game the other day, and he's come to some practices. He sits now up in the box, where you can't see him. But I knew he was there at the exhibition game, so I called him after the game on my ride home, and we were talking. He says, "Do you have a second?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "Well, let me get my notes." And that was great, because that's what I wanted. I mean, I wanted to hear his input and his evaluation because he's the best ever. And for him to have an interest and take notes, you know, I think that I might learn something. So, you know, we evaluate practice sessions and games, and I ask him. He doesn't force it on me. I have to ask him; otherwise he wouldn't give it to me.
DP: But you have Big Brother watching you. Is there a false sense of security that you can always tap into him, that he's always there? And is there part of coach Smith that wants you to find your own way and maybe not give you all the answers to the test?
MD: I think so. I think he definitely wants me to find my way, and whenever he gives me some advice he always couches it by saying, "Now, it's your program. You know, you don't have to do it." And I probably have done 25 to 50 percent of the things he's suggested. ... I really enjoy the relationship I have with coach Guthridge and coach Smith now because it's a different relationship. I see them on a regular basis. We can sit and laugh about something. We can analyze basketball. We can talk about things that are intimate to this program that I wasn't privy to before, and it's neat to be that close to those two great men.

DP: If I took that Tar Heel team [Doherty, Jordan, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Jimmy Black] and put you into the college ranks, are you guys winning the national title?
MD: We'd go undefeated.
DP: OK. If I put that starting five in the NBA, how would you guys fare?
MD: We'd win the championship.
DP: That starting five would win it all.
MD: Yeah. Now, I'm the weak link. I know that.
DP: Oh, I know that.
MD: But I could maybe hit an open jump shot like Steve Kerr ... His Airness has had a bunch of guys worse than that group you're talking about jump on his back and ride him. So I think we would have won the world championship. ... I'm not being cocky. ... Just make sure you have enough subs for my position and you'll be fine.

DP: Growing up on Long Island, were you an Islanders fan?
MD: I was an Islanders fan ... and I played goalie whenever we played street hockey. I loved playing goalie. ... A family friend had seats eight rows from the ice, like on the blue line, and I'd go to probably a handful of games each year. ... They were fun times, and they won four championships in a row.

DP: Favorite Disney character?
MD: Tigger, because he's got some good hops.
DP: Something you never had.
MD: Exactly. And I'm up on Disney now -- I've got a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.

DP: Favorite song, right now.
MD: I just like all jazz. I may not even know the artist. ... Brendan Haywood was talking about R. Kelly. He says, "You need to get the new R. Kelly CD." Usually I ask my assistant, Fred Quartlebaum -- when he goes out and gets CDs -- I say, "Here's some money. Pick me up a couple." ... You know, to get a handle on what the kids are listening to.
DP: So, R. Kelly. You're going to step into today's society.
MD: I might have to.
DP: When was the last time you went to a concert?
MD: I went to see Bruce Springsteen a little over a year ago in the United Center. And growing up I was a Springsteen fan. I saw Springsteen in the Meadowlands in, like, '86, a couple years out of college. And "Born to Run" was one of my favorites songs when I was in high school.
DP: Once again, something you couldn't do.
MD: Thank you very much. I've got to live vicariously through other people in music.

DP: Every time I talk to coaches, they talk about the horrors of recruiting. Do you have a funny story?
MD: I have access to some alums who are great to us and let us use private planes. So I took a private plane, and I needed to go to Alabama. And, I guess I'm tipping my hand, but I needed to go to Montgomery. So I ... talked to this alum's secretary. She was great. You know, got to the airport, just rolled up. I parked 50 feet from the plane, you know, feeling big-time, the head coach at North Carolina, jump in the plane, probably take a little nap, land, get a rent-a-car, and the directions were to get 65 North. So I'm on 65 North for 20 minutes. I'm looking for the exit. And I don't see the exit. I pull out the map, and the map is of Birmingham, not of Montgomery, OK? And I had plenty of time, but now I don't have plenty of time to go back to the plane, get the pilot, go back to Montgomery. So I'm panicking a little bit. I get a cell phone. The pilots were going to lunch. Called the secretary. She got in touch with the pilots. I get back. You know, when I was driving through Birmingham, I'm saying, "Boy, this town looks familiar." I'd never really been to Montgomery before. I'm saying, "Now why does this look familiar?" Well, when I was in Kansas, we lost to Arizona in Birmingham in the NCAA tournament. So I'm just firing mad. I'm mad as heck. I go back, the pilots are there. We're on our way. I ended up being five minutes late for my appointment, but it worked out OK.

DP: What did being a bond salesman teach you? Can you use any of those traits as a college coach?
MD: I think so. I think aggressive phone sales, the telemarketing kind of thing in a competitive market. And then the other thing, I realize what the options are, you know, for me. If I'm not coaching, I'm in business or doing this or doing that. And I didn't like it at the time. If I went back to it now I'd probably like it more, but at the time I didn't like it. So I know what else is out there. So a tough day in basketball is better than a good day on Wall Street.
DP: Could you be a car salesman?
MD: Whoo! I could if I sold a good product.
DP: Do you feel like you're a car salesman at any time in your job?
MD: No. And I've got to be careful with the car-salesman thing because I made a comment about a used-car salesman, and I got a bunch of letters from [a car salesman group] ... and I had to write a response. So I might get away from that a little bit. ... What I'm selling here is a dream for a kid to play at North Carolina and win the national championship, to be around good people and to get an education -- something that will last you a long time. And also relationships. And I think you don't sell that in other areas. You didn't sell that on Wall Street. I don't think you do sell that in the car market. I think selling as a basketball coach at North Carolina, I'm selling a dream of putting that jersey on and winning the national championship, of playing in front of 21,000 people, of getting a degree that'll be with you for the rest of your life and developing relationships that will be with you the rest of your life. And I'm a product of that here.

DP: When was the last time you dunked?
MD: We lowered the basket a few weeks ago.
DP: No, I mean 10 feet.
MD: I think I dunked at Notre Dame last year. Um, I was feeling really good, and we had the portable floor out. Gave me a little extra spring. I think I dunked at Notre Dame before practice, but I was kind of laid up for a couple days after that.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan and Matt Doherty were college teammates at UNC, winning a national championship in 1982.

DP: What's in your pockets right now?
MD: Let me check. I've got my car keys in my left pocket. My right pocket, nothing. And in my back right pocket, my wallet.
DP: How much money do you have in your wallet?
MD: You want to know the truth?
DP: Yeah.
MD: OK -- I've got one George Washington. I've got a single.
DP: That's all you have.
MD: That's the truth. I'm serious.
DP: You've got less money than your kids do, then.
MD: It's funny because I'm constantly going to my wife for money. You know, I don't have time to go to [an ATM] machine ... so I go to my wife for money, or when we order out lunch -- I don't like going out to lunch, so I have my assistant sort of -- I write a check or I ask them to front the money and I'll get them back.

DP: Do you use the Internet? Can you use the Internet for recruiting?
MD: Yes.
DP: How?
MD: Oh, just communicating with kids.
DP: OK. But you're allowed to do that?
MD: Yes. As long as they are eligible to receive a letter. So after September 1 of their junior year when you can write them, you can also e-mail them.
DP: But how often can you e-mail?
MD: You can e-mail every day if you want.
DP: Are you going to set up a chat room or something?
MD: No, I don't surf the Net or anything like that, but I do use e-mail. I didn't use it last year because I thought it was a distraction when I was an assistant. You know, you had all that at your fingertips. But e-mail is a great way to communicate. I don't give out my e-mail address to everybody. My secretary may receive some e-mail for me, but ... to my brothers, to people in the athletic department, to recruits, I e-mail, yes.

DP: What book are you reading?
MD: You know, I'm not reading a book right now. The last book I read, and this summer I did some reading -- but I'm not a great reader. I usually think I should be reading recruiting brochures or recruiting lists instead of reading books. But I read Coach K's book. That's the last book I read, and I finished it about two months ago.
DP: What did you learn from Coach K that can help you in this job?
MD: Well, obviously if I wasn't coaching here, I'd still want to read his book. I think I wanted to know what makes him tick. You know, I want to better understand him. I want to -- as Bill Murray said, get in his head and crawl around the pulpit. That was a great movie, wasn't it? You know what I'm saying? You're with me on that, aren't you?
DP: I'm with you on that. Do you think that Coach K would be surprised or humbled that you read his book?
MD: I think I actually thanked him for writing the book at the ACC Basketball Media Day ... either I thanked him for that or I thanked him for his time on these basketball issues because it's a lot of work. But, you know, it was helpful. I mean, I read some things that I felt I did at Notre Dame as a coach, and other things that I liked, some ideas that I liked. You steal from everybody. I read Coach Smith's book earlier this summer -- on leadership, the 12 principles of leadership. ... I like reading those books. ... like Phil Jackson's book, "Sacred Hoops" ... those are the kind of books I enjoy reading.

MD: Hey, I got a question for you, Dan, before you go.
MD: What's in your pockets, and how much is in your wallet?
DP: Well...
MD: Because I would love to have your salary.
DP: Yeah, you probably would. I don't have anything in my pockets right now. I don't even have my wallet with me.
MD: No kidding.
DP: And I'm king of asking people for money to go get something to eat. But I don't have a thing in my pocket right now.
DP: Nothing.
MD: Do you have pants on?
DP: I -- well, hold on. Now I do.

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