The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 10, 2020 1:00 am

Ex-Irish, Tar Heels coach talks leadership

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Energy. Execution. Being honest. Praising actions you want repeated.

Those were some of the keys to success shared by Matt Doherty, the former Notre Dame and North Carolina basketball coach, with more than 60 viewers during a webinar this week set up by the Mad Ants for their season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors.

“I was the head coach of the worst team in North Carolina history. We were 8-20,” Doherty said. “I know we're all in a results business, and we need to win, but there are processes and there will be setbacks, whether it's dealing with the coronavirus or dealing with an 8-20 season. You still have to lead. And sometimes I think tough times reveal character and reveal leadership. It's easy to lead when you're winning. But when you're faced with adversity, that's when true leadership comes to the forefront.”

Doherty, a professional growth coach and motivational speaker, also reached the NCAA Tournament and was named the Associated Press' Coach of the Year during his three seasons (2000-03) with the Tar Heels. He was Notre Dame's coach for the 1999-2000 season, reaching the finals of the NIT and going 22-15.

Doherty spoke about energy breeding success, relaying a story about how Donnie Walsh, while running the Indiana Pacers, seemed to value that more than analytics when evaluating players as Doherty scouted for the team. When Doherty coached at SMU (2006-2012), he noted the energy NBA stars LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul had when they practiced on campus.

And Doherty, who played for North Carolina, spoke about college teammate Michael Jordan.

“I remember we lost an Elite Eight game in 1983 to Georgia,” Doherty said. “We landed on a Sunday in Chapel Hill. On Monday, he's in (the gym) playing pickup basketball. You hear these legendary stories about Michael Jordan when he's playing the Knicks in the playoffs and going to Atlantic City until 4 in the morning, then dropping 50 points on the Knicks the next day. His energy was at an all-time high level.”

Almost as important as having energy is not surrounding oneself with lethargic people, Doherty said.

“A friend of mine, Kevin Stallings, who used to coach at Vanderbilt, he and I were assistants at Kansas, and he said there are two types of players: energy givers and energy suckers,” Doherty said. “You don't want energy suckers on the team. You don't want moody players on your team. That's where the total, the sum, is bigger than the individual parts. ... When people suck the life out of your organization, that's not good to have.”

Whether in sports or business, it's important to follow through, said Doherty, adding he has sales experience.

“Are you a fundraiser? Do you just like to have fun, to talk to people and get to know them? Or, can you ask for the order? That's the execution,” he said. “On the basketball court, can you execute at a tough time when the game is on the line? Can you focus and execute? If that means running through somebody, sometimes you have to run through somebody. If that means hitting somebody with an elbow, sometimes you have to hit somebody with an elbow.”

Doherty said coaches and bosses who aren't upfront, or truthful, with those below them are setting themselves up for failure, noting they should: “Be real. Be factual. Don't try to BS them. Once you do that, you lose trust.”

As longtime North Carolina coach Dean Smith told him, Doherty said, it's easy to home in on someone else's negatives, but it's important to reinforce positive actions.

“I was a find-a-flaw kind of coach,” Doherty said. “I figured if you were doing something right, I didn't need to address it and it would be a waste of time. But if you're doing something wrong, let's fix that so we can become perfect. But by the way, nobody's perfect.”

Doherty has been a TV analyst and an associate commissioner in the Atlantic 10 conference. He was frank about his time in the coaching ranks, namely his transition from Notre Dame to North Carolina, and admitted he lacked the wisdom he has now. Despite being hired, in part, because he had been a Tar Heels player, he diverged from the norm on staffing and coaching methods.

He believes it's important to make changes when they need to be made, but they need to be done in ways appropriate to the situation.

“A lot of people don't like change. Especially when there's been success,” Doherty said. “Managing change is an art form. When I took over at Notre Dame, they wanted to change. When I took over at North Carolina, they didn't want change because they'd been successful for 35 years. However, they needed change. That constant act, that dance, needed to be delicate. And it wasn't delicate on my part. I came in with the same force and energy that we did when we took over at Notre Dame.”

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