Not too long ago, Doherty was due to have four of his five starters back for 2001-02 -- with four-year center Brendan Haywood the lone loss. With veterans Kris Lang and Jason Capel returning, an imposing lineup loomed with All-American Joseph Forte and footballers Ron Curry and Julius Peppers ready to round out the quintet.
The fabric began to unravel when sophomore Forte declared for the pro draft, with an undercurrent that he and Doherty hadn't hit it off due to Matt's pushing him to get better each day. Whatever the reason, Forte's using his 20-point scoring average to reap first-round draft riches has caused a huge loss.
Then came word that the 6-7, 275-pound Peppers plans to concentrate on football, where he feels he has a better chance for fame and fortune. Now it appears point guard Curry, a gridiron quarterback of note, will do the same. Peppers and Curry, who drew criticism last season for his erratic guard play, reportedly also were a bit disenchanted with Doherty's guidance and figured one-sport concentration was in their best interests.
That leaves Lang and Capel, neither of which is in Forte's class as a major determinant. Lots of squares to fill and there's no certainty reserves and newcomers can give UNC a lineup close to what it had with Forte, Peppers and Curry on hand.
The Tar Heels, despite an Atlantic Coast co-championship and a 26-7 record, sagged badly down the stretch after once winning 18 games in a row. The deadliest daggers were a 26-point loss to arch-rival Duke in the ACC tourney finals and a second-round NCAA loss to Penn State.
"Eighty percent of the people support the year we had, the ones that matter to me -- my athletic director, the chancellor, coach (Dean) Smith, coach (Bill) Guthridge," says Doherty, readily admitting the year ahead may be a rocky one in a land of high expectations where fans are brutal. Bear in mind, he was voted Associated Press Coach of the Year in his first season at Chapel Hill. He adds:
"Then there are 20 percent of the people out there who are the average fan who question the year we had. You can't let that get to you. Sometimes that one letter out of 100 is a negative letter that can impact you more than the 99 good letters you get. You just try to let it roll off your back." Roy Williams has talked the same way at times.
Forte played in high school for the famed Morgan Wooten, then the low-key Bill Guthridge and had never been hasssled before. Word is, Doherty pushed Joe and he resented it. If Williams had been at UNC instead of at Kansas, he would have ridden Forte, too.
But Roy has a more charming approach to dictatorship than the stern-faced, silver-haired Doherty, on whom you could easily put a tuxedo and cape, then cast him as Count Dracula.
In a tutoring session, Roy for all his intensity might still come off as a bit of a puppy dog while Matt might seem a little scary. But bottom-line, money talks, and chances are first-round bonus booty did far more to send Forte to the pros than a demanding Doherty.
Matt says he also got heat from fans for not having a big sendoff for Forte when he declared for the NBA. "To me, my relationship with Joe was fine," Matt told Sports Illustrated. "We probably should have had a press conference so people could see us up there hugging each other, and loving each other, and saying, 'OK, he is going into the sunset and we're OK.' . . . The wait created so much speculation that the decision took on a life of its own."
Matt also is somewhat less a wordsmith than Williams.
Some felt Doherty's tough practices wore down Forte and the others by tourney-time; Matt says he probably would ease up if he could do it over.
But with Duke poised to feature Jason Williams, Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer and a lot of other big, talented kids, Doherty and UNC have to be apprehensive about the coming season. Matt's not intimidated.
"At Notre Dame, I didn't have a rival. I was safe at Notre Dame," he says of his first head coach job. "I don't want to be safe. I want to enjoy the excitement and energy you get from being at North Carolina, being in the ACC and going up against coach K's (Mike Krzyzewski) teams."
That's the identical way KU's Williams would approach it had he left and been faced with the same UNC challenges as his seven-year assistant.
Only thing is, Roy will have his Triplets Terrific -- Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden -- as seasoned juniors and has brought in some tremendous rookie prospects.
Williams will get tremendous Big 12 static from the likes of Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma State (OSU has everybody back). But Roy doesn't have Duke, Coach K and those white-fanged Tar Heel fans just waiting for him to flop the way some seem poised to do in regard to Doherty.
Roy's decision for stayin' here is looking better all the time.
-- Bill Mayer can be reached at 832-7185 on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.