With the future still a completely blank slate, filling the time with a statement of wishes and aspirations for the future might not be a bad idea. Here are ten wishes for the immediate, short, medium, and long term of Carolina basketball and numerous people associated with it.
1. Patience....for all Carolina supporters eagerly awaiting word from Lawrence (cough), check that, word from Chapel Hill, as to who the new head coach of the Tar Heels is going to be. This will be particularly needed if the much speculated "Roy gets first crack, then Larry" scenario falls apart and UNC is forced to open up things beyond the obvious two choices. Hopefully that won't happen, but if it does, the last thing that will help this situation is to react in a panicky fashion--and that goes for administrators and fans. Let's get the best possible coach and teacher, no matter how long it takes.
2. Total support...for the new coach, whoever that may be, from day one, from all segments of the Carolina fan base and university community. A handful of coaches, including the two mentioned above, will command that sort of respect automatically. But even if it's a surprise choice, any coach who shares the values of the university and the Carolina basketball program deserves the warmest possible welcome.
3. A national championship...for Roy Williams, some time in the future. The Kansas head coach's pointed exchange with CBS reporter Bonnie Bernstein was memorable, but the subsequent press conference with Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich was downright moving. This is a coach who understands it's about relationships first, championships second. Whether Roy is in Chapel Hill or Lawrence over the next decade, it will be a good day for college basketball when he finally wins the big one.
4. Better reporting...from the national media, who have mostly missed the boat on events in Chapel Hill last week, substituting catch phrases and pre-set narratives for actual reporting. Few people who rely on ESPN for sports information are going to get any sense of the context, relevant issues, or process of Matt Doherty's departure. Moreover, numerous national reporters continue to report as fact items which are just wrong.
Case in point: it was widely reported on the airwaves earlier this week that Coach Doherty's buyout is relatively low (less than what he would have been entitled had he been formally fired) because he donated funds to his assistant coaches. According to UNC officials, however, the outgoing staff of assistants is only being paid through the rest of the fiscal year and there is no additional university money involved beyond what was announced last week.
5. More respect...from the national media for the University of North Carolina's decision last week. For years, a hobbyhorse of critics of college sports was to point to Bob Knight at Indiana and ask why no university officials ever did anything to rein him in. Well, without drawing a misleading parallel between those two situations, it does seem like UNC should be getting more credit from someone, somewhere, for standing up and saying that wins and losses are not the only bottom line that counts in evaluating coaches--and for making a decision that was almost certain to be regarded as unpopular in the short terms. Sometimes leadership requires bucking existing public opinion to do what is right--last week was one of those times.
6. More acceptance...of the university's decision among disappointed fans and alumni. The bottom line is this: Nobody had more reason to resist the conclusion that a change needed to be made than Dick Baddour, and no one had more information with which to make that decision. He took persistent reports of an unhealthy climate seriously, conducted the necessary research, then drew his conclusions. Nobody knows exactly what was said to Baddour in those meetings with players, parents, and other university officials; but no one who was not in those meetings can seriously claim that they are in better position than Baddour was and is to make this painful decision.
And if that doesn't convince you, ask yourself why Dean Smith, a man who has spent a lifetime practicing fierce loyalty to all his former players, did not attempt to stop this process. If he thought the process leading to a decision was unjust, it's pretty much inconceivable he wouldn't have gone all out to try to call a halt.
7. More appreciation...for Carolina's players, who have been unfairly attacked and "blamed" for Coach Doherty's departure. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the players' input was just one step in a process involving numerous people and which was ultimately in the hands of university officials.
No one on the outside can judge just how difficult it was for this team to work through a season marked by turmoil of all descriptions. But all of us should be able to credit the maturity this group showed in sticking together and doing their best, and just as Chancellor Moeser noted last week, playing hard for the uniform and each other.
8. Learning and growth...for Matt Doherty. Should Doherty continue in the coaching profession, he might look no further than George Karl for an example of a coach who learned something important from the experience of being fired and grew because of it. Doherty is now acknowledging making mis-judgments of a political nature upon arriving in Chapel Hill, but the crux of the issue lies elsewhere. In my opinion, based on all the available evidence, at some point Doherty is going to have to seriously re-evaluate his methods of treating people if he is going to be successful in a head coaching position for any extended period of time, anywhere. Anyone who truly cares about Matt Doherty and would like to see his numerous strengths put to productive use should hope that's exactly what happens as the future unfolds.
9. Healing...for all concerned with Carolina basketball--from office and support staff to players and managers to families to students and faculty to fans and even anonymous message board posters. (Well, I'm not sure about that one, but we can dream.) Right now, if you look up "fractured fan base" in the dictionary, Webster shows you a picture of Inside Carolina's home page. Hopefully, at some point this spring the realization that we're all supposed to be on the same side will kick in--already I see an encouraging sign or two in that direction.
Looking forward is the only proven way to accelerate this all-important process, although I suspect it may take up to another year, and the experience of what hopefully will be a great 2004 season, for the healing to be fully complete. In the meantime, a re-statement of some basic shared premises won't hurt either:
10. That we all remember what this is supposed to be about. Carolina basketball is not the center of the universe--we all know that, especially during recent times, but it's never inappropriate to point that out. But Carolina basketball is, in its own way, important for its own sake, and important to lots of people not just because of the vicarious experience of triumph, but because of a sense that Carolina basketball has stood for doing, or trying to do, things the right way. That is why passions on all sides of the debate about Coach Doherty raged so intensely for so many mon