“In Roy We Trust.” This phrase is coming out of the mouths of Carolina basketball fans all over the country. In only his second season as head coach, Roy Williams has reestablished the University North Carolina Tar Heels back atop their pedestal as one of the nation’s top basketball programs. Why were they off that pedestal? It all goes back to the 1997-1998 season . . .
Head coach Dean Smith decided it was time to retire. The coach that holds the record for most Division 1 wins of all time has accomplished too much to list here. TarHeelBlue.com has accumulated a list of Smith’s accomplishments.
When Smith retired in October of the 1997 season, Bill Guthridge was handed the reigns of the Tar Heel program. Guthridge’s first season as the Tar Heel head coach was outstanding. The Tar Heels finished the season 34-4, won the ACC Championship, finished Number 1 in the Associated Press Poll, won the NCAA East Regional Title, and competed in the Final Four. Carolina also produced the National Player of the Year in Antawn Jamison, and they had two players selected in the top five picks of the NBA Draft for the second time in four years.
Guthridge won almost every coaching award possible that year. The Tar Heels went into the 1998-1999 season with a very inexperienced team. With four starters leaving from the previous year the Heels compiled a record of 24-10 and another berth in the NCAA Tournament. The season was a bust however, as the Tar Heels were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Weber State.
The next season saw the arrival of superstar Joseph Forte. The freshman averaged 16.7 points per game and led the Tar Heels back to the NCAA Tournament. Carolina had impressive wins over Stanford and Tennessee until falling to Florida in the Final Four. Guthridge retired at the end of the season.
UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour went searching for the next coach of the illustrious program. The target: the University of Kansas head coach and former University of North Carolina assistant coach Roy Williams. Williams decided that staying at Kansas for the time being was the best decision for him and his family. The search for the next Tar Heel basketball coach, led Baddour to South Bend, Indiana.
Notre Dame University’s head coach Matt Doherty returned to his alma mater as the new head coach of UNC. Doherty was a member of the Heels 1983 National Championship team. The Tar Heels won 26 games in Doherty’s first year, and he was awarded the National Coach of the Year award. Joseph Forte was awarded Co-ACC Player of the Year, yet the Tar Heels were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Penn State. Doherty and the Heels realized that All-American Brendan Haywood would be graduating, yet they were not prepared for the loss of Joseph Forte.
The glitz and glamour of the NBA drew Forte out of college after only his sophomore year. After only two seasons in the NBA, Joseph ran into trouble with the law, and he was later cut by the Seattle Supersonics. Forte now plays in the NBA’s Developmental League.
The 2001-2002 season was the worst in North Carolina history. The Heels won only eight games that season and accumulated embarrassing losses to Binghamton and Davidson. Throughout the season and off-season, many Tar Heel fans and alumni called for the firing of Doherty, yet Baddour stood by his coach.
The Tar Heels went into the 2002-2003 season with arguably one of the most talented freshmen classes of all time. They opened up the season with big wins over Kansas and Stanford, but they quickly saw their season begin to unravel before them. After many embarrassing losses, Carolina did not live up to the hype. After being snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee, UNC was defeated by Georgetown in the “Final Four” of the NIT Tournament. (Georgetown went on to win the tournament).
Shortly before the end of the NCAA Tournament, the University of North Carolina fired Matt Doherty as the head coach of their basketball program. The season before, sophomores’ Brian Morrison, Adam Boone, and Neil Fingleton transferred out of UNC citing Doherty’s temper. Rumors were spreading that freshman star’s Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May were going to transfer out for the same reason. Things began to look bleak in Tar Heel town, but Matt Doherty was always meant to be a transition coach . . .
Coming Soon: In Roy We Trust: Part II