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
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
September 3, 2000
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
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 sportswriter 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.
At that same tournament Doherty ran into Mike Brey for the first
time since both men changed jobs. Brey, a former Duke assistant,
kidded Doherty about Doherty's meteoric rise and then thanked him
for creating the opening at Notre Dame. Says Brey, "Who'd have
thought that all the Carolina movement would help a Duke guy?"
"Congratulations," Doherty responded. "Want to buy a house?"
Turns out that Matt and his wife, Kelly, were putting the
finishing touches on an addition to their home in South Bend. In
fact, the night Guthridge retired, Matt had signed a previously
negotiated five-year contract with Notre Dame because he didn't
want Irish athletic director Kevin White to think he would use
the Tar Heels' opening as leverage. That contract did, however,
contain an escape clause that would allow Doherty to accept the
North Carolina job if it became available.
Doherty was the Tar Heels' coach for more than three weeks before
he spent an entire day in Chapel Hill, and he went 17 days
without seeing Kelly, who was tying up loose ends in South Bend
before coming East with their two kids, Hattie, 11 months, and
Tucker, 3. Then, just when it seemed as if things had calmed down
a little, Doherty faced his first player crisis. He had to inform
his highest-rated incoming recruit, Jason Parker, that he was
being denied admission to North Carolina after the NCAA
Clearinghouse disqualified his SAT score. Guthridge, who had
recruited Parker, and Doherty traveled to Charlotte to deliver
the news to the Parker family.
"The transition has been more difficult than I ever expected,"
Doherty says. "Only recently has our staff finally had time to
take a deep breath and begin to look ahead."
Only North Carolina's fourth basketball coach since 1953, Doherty
follows Frank McGuire, who guided the Heels to their first NCAA
title, in '57; Dean Smith, the college game's alltime winningest
coach; and Guthridge, who took the Tar Heels to two Final Fours
in three years but was nonetheless never wholeheartedly embraced
by North Carolina fans. Undaunted by the enormous expectations,
Doherty for the first time in nine years is wearing his '82
national championship ring, and he has talked to his team about
winning another one this season.
After his introductory press conference, on July 11, Doherty and
his assistants detoured through the Smith Center gym to gaze up
at the championship banners and happened upon a girls' summer
basketball camp. All the girls stopped their dribbling drills to
give Doherty high fives. One young camper asked her counselor,
"Is he the President?"
Yes, it's a long way from South Bend to Chapel Hill, but Doherty
has understood the college basketball pecking order since the
sixth grade, when every summer evening he walked to Prospect Park
near his home in East Meadow, N.Y. The park had two basketball
courts, and the best players--college stars, NBA refugees, even
Julius Erving now and again--played on court number 1. Doherty
always arrived early in hopes of getting into the elite game and
battled to keep winning when he did because a loss meant he
wouldn't get picked for another game that night. "I learned to
compete at that park, and now I feel like I'm back out there on
court number 1," he says. "I'm testing myself against the best,
knowing I'd better win or I could be on court number 2 in a
hurry. My goal is to make sure Carolina is my last job. I hope
I'm never one of those dominoes again."
The July 1 headline on the Delaware sports Web site neatly summed
up the situation: MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH MIKE BREY AWARDED
CONTRACT EXTENSION THROUGH 2007. Two weeks later came another:
MIKE BREY RESIGNS AS DELAWARE MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH.
Don't contracts mean anything? "They do, because they're binding
on the institution," says Delaware president David Roselle, "but
I had an agreement with Mike that if one of the majors wanted to
hire him and it was a good school, I would help. He did well by
us, and we did well by him."
So what do you do if you're a successful mid-major program--the
Blue Hens were 99-52 in five seasons under Brey--that wants the
best coach possible, on short notice, in the middle of the summer
recruiting period? Start dialing. On July 14, within hours of
learning that Brey was leaving for Notre Dame, Roselle was on the
phone with a couple of friends, former Kentucky athletic director
C.M. Newton and Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino. "I wouldn't do
anything in basketball without talking to C.M. or Rick," says
Roselle, who hired both men during his tenure as president at
Kentucky. "So I called them and said, 'My coach went to Notre
Dame. Do you have a good name for me?'"
Roselle posed the same question to coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke,
a school Roselle also knows well, having earned his Ph.D. there
in 1965 and having hired Brey off Krzyzewski's staff in '95.
Later Roselle rang Florida's Billy Donovan, who had been a
Kentucky assistant under Pitino. Over the weekend Roselle and
Delaware athletic director Edgar Johnson made a few final calls.
By Monday, faster than you could say, "Assistants without
pedigrees need not apply," the Blue Hens had a list of four
candidates: John Pelphrey, an assistant to Donovan who had played
for Pitino at Kentucky; David Henderson, an assistant to and
former player for Krzyzewski at Duke; Mike Davis, the top
lieutenant to Indiana's Bob Knight; and Tim O'Shea, a relative
outsider as an assistant to Al Skinner at Boston College. "Things
are done in this world through networking and friendships,"
Johnson says. "Fortunately Dr. Roselle is well connected, and I
have a few friendships, too."
Still, university presidents rarely lead coaching searches,
especially university presidents who have every reason to resent
the role of basketball on America's college campuses. A
mathematician by training, Roselle is still reviled by many
die-hard Kentucky fans as the man who cooperated fully with the
NCAA investigation of the Wildcats' basketball program in 1989
that resulted in the ouster of coach Eddie Sutton and three years
of probation for the Kentucky team. Saying that the basketball
scandal had made it impossible for him to be an effective
president, Roselle resigned and left for Delaware later that
year. "The agenda for the University of Kentucky is education,"
he said at the time, "and I had a difficult problem, which was
Nonetheless, Roselle took part in the interviews of all four
candidates for the Delaware job. "It's a little unusual, but I
place a high value on the basketball program," Roselle says.
"It's an evening's entertainment, and it's great for the
community and the university. This year we have a waiting list
for season tickets for the first time."
And for the third straight time a former Duke assistant was hired
as the Blue Hens' coach. One week after the resignation of Brey,
who had succeeded former Blue Devils assistant Steve Steinwedel,
Delaware announced the hiring of Henderson.
The men behind the minicams waited for Ryan Humphrey to blow up.
What would you expect him to do after learning that Matt Doherty
had just resigned after one year in South Bend? Hadn't Doherty
persuaded Humphrey to choose Notre Dame when he transferred from
Oklahoma, lured him like the Pied Piper, only to coldcock him
with his flute? But all Humphrey said was, "It's not a problem. I
What the men behind the minicams didn't know was this: Humphrey
had been receiving hate mail from Sooners fans since he left
Oklahoma after his sophomore season a year and half ago. And one
day last year, while Humphrey was strolling through a mall in his
hometown of Tulsa, a heckler had called out his name and yelled,
"Go back to Notre Dame, you traitor!"
Traitor. The epithet was in the back of Humphrey's mind on July
10 when Doherty invited him into his office. Humphrey could tell
something was wrong. Doherty's voice broke. His face turned red.
He told Humphrey, haltingly, that he was going to interview for
the North Carolina job. "Coach," Humphrey replied, "I'm your
friend first and your player second. I remember when I
transferred, how my so-called friends in Oklahoma turned on me. I
saw how fickle people were. If you feel this is best for you and
your family, then I'll support you. I won't go negative."
Humphrey has kept his promise, though the coaching change hasn't
been easy for him to accept. "Sure, it hurt," says Humphrey, who
has known Doherty since his sophomore year of high school, when
Doherty began recruiting him for Kansas. "He was the reason I
came to Notre Dame. His leaving was on the same level as your
girlfriend breaking up with you after you've been going together
for a while. You'll be sitting in class and just start thinking,
Almost immediately after Doherty announced he was leaving, there
was speculation about Humphrey's future: He's transferring back
to Oklahoma. He's following Doherty to Carolina. Eventually
Humphrey felt compelled to go on a South Bend TV news show and
say he was staying. He likes Notre Dame, nearly as much as he
likes new coach Mike Brey.
On July 14, the day he took over, Brey met with all of the Irish
players who had remained on campus for the summer. Brey cracked a
few jokes, trying to break the palpable tension, and before long
he was asking about the players' preferences for conditioning
drills. Humphrey looked at his teammates. They were nodding
approvingly. A few days later, when Brey returned from a
recruiting trip, he called the players together and said, "I
don't know anybody here. Is it all right if I hang with you
guys?" That night Brey, All-America forward Troy Murphy and some
teammates spent three hours trading tales at Bruno's, a pizza
Still, Humphrey does have a few concerns. "Everyone's nervous
because practice starts in a couple of months, and you don't know
where all the shots are coming from in the offense," he says.
"You don't know what the practice style is going to be. He's
going to bring in different stuff than Coach Doherty, but the
good thing is, we're a veteran team. We'll pick up everything
more quickly. Hopefully I can have an even better relationship
with Coach Brey than I had with Coach Doherty."
On the night of July 24, Humphrey returned to his dorm room and
saw the light blinking twice on his answering machine. The first
message was from Brey, who wished him a happy 20th birthday. "If
he's doing that," Humphrey says, "it's only right that I should
try and make him feel comfortable." The second message was
another birthday greeting--from Doherty, calling from North
Carolina. As he went to sleep that night, Humphrey thought back
to their final exchange in Doherty's office, to the bear hug his
coach had given him, and then he gave thanks for his friends.
Pat Sullivan's apartment contains enough powder-blue
paraphernalia to decorate the all-male wing of a large children's
nursery. Among other things, there's a game ball signed by his
1993 national champion teammates at North Carolina, a framed pair
of '93 Final Four tickets bearing the scrawl of Dean Smith, and
an assortment of photographs from his participation in five Final
Fours--three as a player and two as an assistant coach--with the
Tar Heels. "Everything's Carolina," says Sullivan, 28, surveying
the scene. "I treasure all that stuff."
In fact, about the only thing that isn't Carolina is Sullivan
himself. Four months after helping guide the Tar Heels to another
Final Four, he's unemployed, a man without a school.
It's the cruelest of ironies. Loyalty--a virtue instilled at North
Carolina--was the reason that Roy Williams turned down the Tar
Heels' offer and remained at Kansas, just as it was the rationale
Matt Doherty cited for bringing his assistants from Notre Dame to
Chapel Hill. Another man's loyalty, in effect, claimed the jobs
of Guthridge's most loyal assistants: Sullivan, Phil Ford, 44,
and Dave Hanners, 46, all former Carolina players. "I'm not
bitter," Sullivan says. "There's nobody really to be bitter
toward. It's just that nobody thought about what was going to
happen after Coach Guthridge was gone."
Least of all Sullivan. When Guthridge resigned, Sullivan hardly
stopped to consider his own fate. "I was happy that Coach did
what was best for him," he says, "but then I went to the beach
that weekend and came back and thought, I wonder what's going to
happen to me and the other assistants?"
Thus began a week with his job in limbo. At times Sullivan's
hopes would rise, as on the day the Durham Herald-Sun reported
that Williams would take the Carolina job and retain Sullivan as
an assistant. At other times they would ebb, as on the day
following Williams's decision to stay at Kansas. Sullivan hit the
recruiting trail anyway, flying to Teaneck, N.J., for the Adidas
ABCD camp. Suddenly, 300 coaches from around the country were
asking him the same questions: Sully, what's going to happen?
Sully, who are they talking to? "They were nice, but when you've
got to answer it a hundred times, it kind of wears on you,"
Sullivan says. "Shoot, I didn't know what was going to happen."
Finally, on July 4, five days after the resignation was
announced, Guthridge and athletic director Dick Baddour called
Sullivan, Ford and Hanners into Baddour's office. His voice
breaking, Guthridge told them that Doherty had accepted the
coaching position and wanted to bring in his own staff. "It was
hard for him to get it out," Sullivan recalls. "They know the
three of us would bleed for Carolina. Coach Ford and Coach
Hanners have over 25 years invested in this program, so I know
where their loyalties lie. I've been in this program more than a
third of my life. Even if Mike Krzyzewski was the coach, I'd
still pull for Carolina."
Doherty, too, met with the three outgoing assistants and said he
was sorry. "I felt a little guilt, sadness, awkwardness," he
says. "They did nothing wrong--two Final Fours in the last three
years. I have a great deal of compassion for Pat and the others
because sometimes this business is not fair."
What now for Sullivan? He'll still receive a paycheck from
Carolina this season, and he plans to try to catch on with
another school in the spring when the coaching turnover begins
again. But for a while he toyed with the idea of getting out of
the profession and going into business. "I'm torn," he admits.
"Part of me says I still want to coach, but part of me wants to
close this 10-year chapter and say, 'Five Final Fours in 10
years, you can't top that.' I'm spoiled here."
Sullivan, who is single, had envisioned a different career track,
one that until July 11 closely resembled the path taken by
Doherty. "I figured I'd be here for a while," Sullivan says, "but
I wanted to be a head coach, and I knew I'd have to take a
smaller job somewhere, do well there, and maybe I'd be able to
come back 10 to 15 years from now. That was the dream, to be the
head coach at North Carolina someday." He smiles, then shrugs. "I
don't know if that's possible anymore."
The toughest moment, Sullivan says, came when he was cleaning out
his office and he bumped into the new assistants. "I've learned
how fragile things can be," Sullivan says. "Like when Coach Smith
retired. I went home one night after work as an administrative
assistant, someone who basically got Coach Smith's lunch. Next
day, boom! I'm on the staff. Same thing now. I was on top of the
world. We'd just finished summer camp, and I was excited to go on
the road recruiting. Boom! Next day Coach Guthridge retires, and
I'm like, Shoot, I'm out of a job."
There's a windowless room in the basement of the Dean Smith
Center that serves as an office for Smith and Guthridge. On Aug.
21, Guthridge stood in that room and talked about the sad morning
seven weeks earlier when he couldn't bear to tell his staff he
was retiring, so he passed out handwritten notes instead. He said
this had been both the best and worst summer he could remember.
He marveled at the long chain of coaching promotions resulting
from his departure, from Doherty all the way to Northwestern
assistant Billy Schmidt, who replaced Chris Collins at Seton Hall
after Collins replaced Henderson at Duke. He grinned when he was
told that Wildcats coach Kevin O'Neill was on vacation trekking
to Machu Picchu in Peru and was probably trying to contact
candidates from there to fill Schmidt's job. (O'Neill had 117
messages, mostly from job seekers, on his voice mail when he got
home.) "When I left I didn't think about the impact outside our
program," Guthridge said, "but I've come to realize that many
coaches out there are very happy that I quit."
Lines of Succession
Here's how the tiles fell in place during the weeks following
the resignation of Guthridge (red). Some coaches capitalized on
the resulting job frenzy and moved on to what they felt were
better opportunities (white), while others found themselves
suddenly out of coaching (black).
Retired as Head Coach
Left Notre Dame to replace Guthridge
Followed Doherty from Notre Dame
Followed Doherty from Notre Dame
Followed Doherty from Notre Dame
Not retained as assistant
Not retained as assistant
Not retained as assistant
Left Delaware to replace Doherty
Followed Brey from Delaware
Hired as assistant from Clemson
Ex-Virginia Tech coach signs on as Clemson assistant
Hired as assistant from Coastal Carolina
Hired from Central Florida to replace Preston
Gets first coaching job, replacing Burgess
Left Duke to replace Brey
High school coach jumps to Delaware
Left Duquesne to be Delaware assistant
Ex-Robert Morris coach signs on as Dukes assistant
Left Delaware to go into business
Hired from Seton Hall to replace Henderson
Leaves Northwestern to take Collins's place
Schmidt's position remains open