Thus far our lessons have included football coach hate, football team hate, football recruit hate, and football alumnus hate. Sounds like the basketball teams needs a little love, no? Enter Coach Matt Doherty.
When Doherty was hired, it was a pretty big deal for SMUs basketball program. Despite his short comings as head coach at North Carolina – and oh, the comings were definitely short – the fact remained: the man had coached at North Carolina, which for years had been one of if not THE premier programs in the country. In fact, when he was hired, I remember the consensus in Fort Worth was that we hired the wrong Daugherty – play on words LOLZ!! – although it doesn’t look like we hired the right Christian either. Unfortunately, Jesus is unavailable, and I’m not sure turning water into wine can even be remotely compared to turning TCU into a respectable basketball program.
However, nearly four years and a 47-63 record later, it doesn’t look like Doherty has much of a knack for coaching, even in a league like Conference USA where for the past few years, once you got pummeled twice by Memphis, second place was wide open. It’s not ironic then that Doherty’s potential un-doing would come at the hands of said Tigers.
Even before coming to campus, Doherty had a bit of a reputation as a hot head. In fact, during a 2003 Duke/UNC game when Doherty was still Head Coach of the Heels, he got into a fight on the sidelines during the game with a Duke assistant. Now, if you’re going to punch out Coach K that’s one thing and that probably would’ve been pretty awesome, but an assistant? Come on Coach, only Mike Locksley can get away with doing that while losing AND save his job. You coach at a powerhouse. You should be better than that.
Although this wasn’t officially Doherty’s un-doing at UNC, it’s probably not a coincidence that he was fired at the end of that season after three years in which he missed the post season once and only made the NIT in another. And it’s not like UNC fans weren’t pulling for the guy – he was a native son, having played for the school when legendary coach Dean Smith was still on the bench. And it’s not like he didn’t have a squad to work with – the year before Doherty took over, the team had advanced to the Final Four and while he did well during his first season at the helm, during his second season North Carolina had their worst performance EVER, winning only 8 games. And by ever, I do mean ever - most losses of all time and worst ACC finish for a UNC team in their history. A by their standards meager 19-16 record the next season would’ve sealed the deal anyway, but outbursts such as the one against Duke probably didn’t help his case either, despite being “in the family.” Also, despite early goodwill, Doherty had become extremely cross with the administration, and had completely divided his locker room, with him being on one side and the team being on the other. Red flag much?
So after a few years in exile, including a stint at Florida Atlantic, Doherty came to SMU, which is what brings us to today’s lesson. So, I’ve established that Doherty is a bit of a hot head and less of a coach, although there is a difference between being a hot head at North Carolina and being a hot head at SMU. Earlier this season, SMU beat Memphis in Dallas for the first time in 50 years – a big accomplishment, yes, but with former Memphis Head Coach John Calipari ditching the school in the post season, gutting its recruiting class, and then leaving it in the wake of an NCAA investigation, that’d be kind of like the Nets beating the Lakers while Kobe Bryant is in the middle of a rape investigation and only plays for 5 minutes. Or Alabama winning a National Championship with Colt McCoy crying in the locker room. In other words – good job and the end result is the same, but couldn’t it have been a whole lot juicier?
Apparently the Ponies were none-too-modest about the victory either, with the arena announcer REALLY rubbing it in, but don’t be mistaken, it wasn’t like SMU snuck by the Tigers – they blasted them by over 20 points. So you could say there may have been a little bit of bad blood when SMU headed up to face the Tigers on their home floor a couple of weeks ago. And after Memphis pulled out a 13 point victory, the fiery, asshole Doherty of old emerged from hiding.
This take from College Hoops Journal does a pretty solid job of breaking down what went on that night, and even has a bit of video of the aftermath between Doherty and Memphis Coach John Pastner. But, it sounds like the sparks really flew between Doherty and the Memphis fans.
Now, we all know that there are fans out there that care a lot less about the game than about riling up the opposing team and anyone associated. That’s just part of it. We’ve all been there – in fact, I’m pretty sure Bob Huggins left Cincinnati in part due to the self-esteem beat down me and some others gave him one year from directly behind the Bearcats bench, only stopping when his wife, who was unknowingly sitting close by, gave us a stern talking to. But, there’s a reason we do this as fans. One is, of course, alcohol, but two is the fact that, unless the person is an unstable maniac like Ron Artest, the most they’re going to do is give you a cursory glance or wave of the hand in rebuke. Rarely do they respond, and NEVER does a coach respond. It’s called “professionalism” and ignoring poor fan behavior comes with the job.
Unless you’re Matt Doherty.
It seems like young Matthew not only let the fans get in his head, he actually instigated the banter himself. In truth, he got in a pretty good zinger, informing Memphis that, “Hey, at least my players took their SATs” – an extremely valid point – but then he took it a step further, telling Memphis fans that they needed to remove all of their banners because they’re not a “real” school and that he went to a “real” school so he’s… schooled on such matters. Their response? “Yeah, and that real school fired you.” Nice. Very Nice. I mean that. He also referred to the school as “Memphis Tech,” which, given my completely uninformed knowledge of Memphis’ academic standards, is probably an insult to technical schools everywhere, including Texas.
This then led to the post game altercation between Doherty and Pastner as well as several incidents between players from the two teams. Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps Doherty should keep his mouth shut re: schools with a checkered recruiting past when he’s a representative of the school that wrote the book on such matters? Just a suggestion.
The point I’m trying to make here is: Would a legitimate coach of a legitimate program ever get involved in fan harassment? Gary Patterson is as fiery as they come and I can’t imagine someone who’s bad side I’d less rather bring out, but could you even begin to imagine him getting into an argument with an unruly SMU fan? The coach is supposed to be a model for his team – he may not always be perfect, but his main function is to develop his players as athletes but also as individuals. The fact that Doherty’s actions not only led to an altercation between himself and Memphis but also between his players and Memphis shows the kind of example Doherty has set for his team. That’s probably why he’s never had a winning season at the school, didn’t get a “signature” win until this season and never had a decent recruiting class despite Dallas being one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation.
But, this isn’t even about his track record at the school in a basketball related sense; I’d be the biggest hypocrite of all time if I criticized another school in the DFW area that can’t recruit or win conference games. Plenty of teams lose more games than they win but there’s a way to lose with class and there’s a way, if you have the fortune of winning a big one every now and again, to do that with class as well. Apparently “Robo-Doh,” as the SMU contingency lovingly refer to him, wasn’t programmed that way. Unfortunately for him, it may cause SMU to disassemble his career.