Matt Doherty was recruited by Lou Carnesecca in the late 1970s but the hoops star at Holy Trinity High School on Long Island didn’t even visit St. John’s, instead picking the University of North Carolina over not just SJU but Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame.
The decision not to visit the Queens campus might have cost him the Red Storm coaching job in 2004.
“Rumor had it that Lou Carnesecca didn’t want me at St. John’s,” Doherty wrote in “Rebound: From Pain to Passion,” newly released by Sports Publishing Group.
He added, “He didn’t want a Carolina guy coaching his program.”
Carnesecca told Newsday at the time that he wouldn’t discourage the school from hiring Doherty.
“A lot of people didn’t come that I recruited so I’d have to be mad at the whole world,” he said.
Doherty was national coach of the year at North Carolina in 2001 but was let go two seasons later as an unhappy administration and fan base turned its frustrations on him. St. John’s was looking for a coach in 2004 as off-court trouble led to a 6-21 finish and the darkest season in school history.
Doherty, who had already been a head coach in the Big East for a season at Notre Dame and had a top donor supporting him, met with officials. He writes that SJU’s president, the Rev. Donald Harrington, agreed to a seven-year deal. Harrington even told the coach he could tell James Madison University that he wasn’t available for its offer.
But calls to the athletic director in the following days about hiring assistants and other finalities were not being returned.
“I compare it to dating a girl,” Doherty told the Chronicle Monday. “I’m calling and nobody is picking up. I’m thinking, ‘Uh-oh.’”
Days later, Doherty was informed that St. John’s decided to go in a different direction.
“I turned down a good Division I job for St. John’s in front of President Father Harrington and now I don’t have anywhere to coach!” Doherty wrote.
The Red Storm hired Norm Roberts, a respected recruiter at Kansas, Illinois and Tulsa whose only head coaching experience was a 24-84 mark at Queens College in the early 1990s. The Johnnies would go 81-101 in six seasons under Roberts.
“You always like to think that you could have been the difference maker,” Doherty said Monday, adding, “It would have been fun to have been in the Big East and coaching at Madison Square Garden and trying to bring back St. John’s basketball. But we make plans and God laughs.”
The St. John’s disappointment was followed by Doherty watching North Carolina win the 2005 title with players he recruited.
“You try to put a mask on it but that mask can be heavy,” he said, but then put things in perspective. “People lose lives, people lose children. People lose a lot more than what I lost but it was still scarring.”
When Doherty gives talks for Vistage International, a peer mentoring membership organization for CEOs, business owners and executives, he shows a slide with a graph going up to a peak in 2001 before taking a hard drop, similar to a stock market crash.
The next slide is the graph with labels for his jobs and accomplishments before being forced to resign in 2003.
“A lot of people talk about success,” Doherty said. “I take a different angle and talk about my failure.”
The former coach said he enjoys giving the talks.
“Basketball players have a basketball coach,” Doherty said. “Why should an executive not have a leadership coach?”
Doherty coached at Florida Atlantic University and Southern Methodist University before becoming a motivational speaker.
Roberts spent a year with the Florida Gators before returning to Kansas as an assistant, where he has been since 2012.
St. John’s is still looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2000.