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Sentinel Doherty article


Sentinel Doherty article

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The atmosphere in the gym at Florida Atlantic University isn't anything out of the ordinary on this December afternoon. A first-year men's basketball coach barking instructions toward the end of a three-hour practice, a bunch of tired and sweaty players listening intently.

Just as he did when he was coaching at North Carolina, and Notre Dame before that, Matt Doherty is delivering a tough-love message to his new team. But admittedly, the two seasons he spent out of coaching after his unceremonious departure from Chapel Hill have helped give Doherty some perspective.

It wasn't that Doherty learned he had to change because contentious relationships with former North Carolina stars Rashad McCants and Sean May, among others, led to his forced resignation after three seasons – two years after being named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

In attending leadership seminars at the University of Virginia and at Penn's famed Wharton School, and studying the methods of more experienced coaches such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Louisville's Rick Pitino and the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich, Doherty realized he wasn't much different from them.

"I think the biggest thing is experience, becoming a little older," Doherty, 43, said recently. "The other thing, Coach [Roy] Williams said it to [Florida Atlantic athletic director] Craig Angelos, 'The difference between Matt and me is that I had 15 years of equity built up.' I didn't have that equity."

Doherty is trying to build up his equity again, starting from scratch. Hired to replace Sidney Green last April after the Owls followed their only NCAA tournament appearance with three straight losing seasons, Doherty was as attractive to Florida Atlantic as Howard Schnellenberger was to this commuter school of 26,000 when the former Miami coach was hired to build a Division I-A football program six years ago.

"South Florida is a big-event town, and if there's a big event or a big name, people seem to gravitate to it," said Angelos, who came from Miami two years ago. "That was a big piece to the puzzle with Matt. The fact that he had a big name and coached at some pretty substantial schools made it attractive. He's delivered on everything that we hoped he would."

The 9-10 Owls have been inconsistent under Doherty – following a five-game winning streak with a current three-game losing streak going into tomorrow night's home game against Campbell – but a win in early December over Jacksonville in double overtime proved a revelation to their new coach.

"There were about 1,000 people in the stands, but that win felt as good as my first year at North Carolina when we beat Duke at Duke where there were millions of people watching," Doherty said. "You shouldn't be coaching for the glamour of the job. You should be coaching because you love the game and you want to have a positive impact on the lives of young people."

That Doherty wanted to coach a team in the Atlantic Sun Conference after coaching in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East was a surprise to many of his players.

"I didn't think that a coach of his caliber would take a position like this, or even interview," said Quinton Young, a senior guard from Chicago. "Everybody was in shock. I just thought he was interviewing to get his name out there to let everyone know he was considering coaching again."

Young was familiar with Doherty, knowing not just that he had played with Michael Jordan on the 1982 national championship team at North Carolina, but also of the problems that developed with some of the players Doherty had coached with the Tar Heels.

"I don't see what the major issues were with him," Young said. "He's tough on you on the floor because he wants things to go right. He leaves it on the court and it's over with. Off the court, he's a nice, friendly guy. You can talk to him about anything."

Doherty has different aspirations now in trying to resurrect what was once a promising coaching career than he did when he often found himself on college basketball's biggest stage. Away from the spotlight and such games as the one tomorrow night between North Carolina and Maryland, Doherty is having fun again.

"I have a lot less headaches, and I still enjoy the game," he said.

As much time as Doherty had during the two-year hiatus to reconnect with his wife, Kelly, and their two young children while living in Charlotte, there was at least one difficult moment.

It came after he watched North Carolina beat Illinois in last season's NCAA championship game. Working in New York for College Sports TV, he asked the production staff if he could have a few minutes to compose himself before going on the air.

"It was emotional," Doherty recalled. "Part of you wanted them to be successful because you feel like you did your job in putting together a good team. The starting five and seven of the top eight players we recruited.

"But the weird thing is when they won the championship and Coach Williams and his staff climbed the ladders and cut down the nets, you felt like that it could have been us."

Though Doherty seems invigorated by the change in climate and culture, a more personal scar remains fresh.

His friendship with Williams survived, but his good feelings for his alma mater are gone.

"I don't want to go back to Chapel Hill," Doherty said. "I don't want to go back to see a game. I don't want to take my son and say, 'This is where I hung out as a student. Maybe you'll come to school here some day.' All those rosy, warm feelings you have about your alma mater, I don't have them. Maybe that will change some day. I feel like the black sheep of the family."

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