CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — When Matt Doherty was hired to be North Carolina's head basketball coach in July 2000 -- despite concerns that he had only been a head coach for one year and was only chosen after several others took themselves out of the running -- UNC Chancellor James Moeser said Doherty was the perfect choice to keep the program running as the best in the country.
"I think he is a great choice for this program," Moeser said, "because I think he maintains the same character, quality and integrity that has always marked Carolina."
Less than three years after Moeser made that statement, Doherty is out as UNC's coach.
The announcement at a press conference on campus Tuesday night was not an April Fool's joke: Doherty had, indeed, resigned after feeling immense pressure on and off the court to uphold the Carolina tradition of success, team unity and leadership.
Doherty's first three years were a bumpy run marked by feuds with players and a failure to lead North Carolina back to national prominence. The Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or win 20 games the last two seasons.
Athletic director Dick Baddour met with the players, both individually and as a group, before he met with Doherty on Monday to discuss Doherty's future.
"You have to have an environment where you can be successful, and I can understand why Matt would feel that the rumors and speculation were making it very difficult," Baddour said. "I admire Matt for valuing the traditions of this program and the needs of this program over his own. That takes a lot of courage."
Doherty's departure came after 2 1/2 weeks of intense speculation about his future, fueled by statements from his own players and their parents, who showed concerns about Doherty's leadership style and his ability to get along with the players.
"Carolina basketball has always had a higher standard than perhaps any other program in the country," Moeser said, "not just for winning, but for the quality and character of the program and the people in it. The issue here is not basketball, not wins and losses, or the players running the program. It's about leadership.
"At Carolina, we talk about student-athletes and teacher-coaches. To be sure, we want good athletes and we want to win, but on this campus coaches are also responsible for creating an environment for learning, for character development, for building a team of good leaders and good citizens. That's the Carolina standard."
It apparently proved too much responsibility for Doherty.
"Our responsibility has been immense given the outstanding history of the University of North Carolina, both academically and athletically," Doherty said in a press release. "I have always recognized and taken very seriously the responsibility. That responsibility extends to our players and our fans. And, ultimately, to the tradition I have personally be a part of since 1980. . . I continue to wish the best for this program and this university."
Discussion already has begun as to who Doherty's successor should be. The names topping the list are Kansas head coach Roy Williams, Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Utah head coach Rick Majerus.
Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, from Pembroke, N.C., also has been mentioned as a candidate.
Williams has turned down the job once before, which paved the way for Doherty to be hired.
Doherty was Williams' assistant at Kansas for seven years, and Williams said Tuesday he was very upset to hear of Doherty's departure. So perhaps, Williams may not want the Carolina job after seeing what happened to a friend and coach he holds dear.
Baddour said he had no specific timetable for hiring a replacement.
"It will be a national search," he said. "It will be open. It will not be limited to members of the Carolina family."
Doherty finished 53-43 in three seasons in Chapel Hill. He leaves with three years left on a six-year contract that paid him $855,000 a season.
He will receive $337,500 from the school, which will include $150,000 from the coming basketball camp, Baddour said.
Doherty was the Associated Press national coach of the year in his first season after leading the Tar Heels to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Tar Heels finished 8-20 overall last season - the worst record in the program's history - and 4-12 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels won the Preseason NIT this past season and jumped to a No. 12 national ranking before center Sean May suffered a broken foot that forced him to miss the entire ACC schedule.
Doherty's resignation came after Baddour held a series of meetings with players and parents, some of whom complained about the coach's intense practices and drastic mood swings. Three players transferred last season, and others talked about it this year.
Baddour said that, out of respect for the players' privacy and because of a promise he made to them, he would not go into the specifics of his conversations with them/ But he added that Doherty's resignation wasn't solely based on those meetings.
"It would be extremely unfair to those players, and it would be an unqualified mistake to say the resignation was a result of only their concerns and questions," he said.
The 41-year-old Doherty was a fixture for the Tar Heels long before he took over the program, having played with Michael Jordan in the early 1980s.
He left his job coaching Notre Dame and returned to North Carolina to succeed Bill Guthridge, and for the first season, things were fine. The Tar Heels went 26-7.
This year, his young team finished 19-16.
There was tension from the start of Doherty's tenure, especially when he didn't retain Phil Ford, Dave Hanners and Pat Sullivan as assistant coaches. Instead, he brought in his own staff from his only season at Notre Dame.
That move disappointed former head coach Dean Smith, Guthridge and others at North Carolina.
Off-court problems surfaced after Doherty's first season, when star sophomore Joseph Forte decided to turn pro, citing his inability to get along with Doherty as one of the reasons for leaving.
Sophomore Jawad Williams defended Doherty and his methods.
"Any coach across America has an anger problem," Williams said. "You have to, dealing with guys coming into such a high-profile program," he said.
After the team's final game last Wednesday night, a 79-74 loss to Georgetown in the NIT quarterfinals, most of the Tar Heels said they would return, and they supported their coach.
The next day, Baddour met with them as a group and then individually.
Now players, like Williams, just wanted to stay out of the fray.
"I'm staying away from all this madness," he said. "It's a tough situation, but something I have to deal with. A lot of players face this. It's not like I wanted him to leave, but it's something I have to deal with."