Perhaps predictably, Zeke
Martin has posted the first call for Bill Guthridge to quit.
Zeke, who a while back posted a comment saying that his grandmother taught
him not to say ugly things about people, has nonetheless unloaded on Bill
Guthridge, essentially calling him a doddering old fool who can't coach his way
out of a paper bag. His criticisms center around Gut's reputed inability to
develop a bench, that he is in over his head, and that he lacks passion, and
that as long as he coaches UNC, UNC will never be more than average.
Zeke thus follows in Art Chansky's footsteps as the latest UNC-yncophantic
journalist to become hysterical when things aren't going well. Let's look at
what the man has dealt with, and think about what kind of job he has done.
On his first team he had to deal with a seriously difficult personality in
Makhtar Ndiaye. Even UNC fans admit this guy was the biggest turd to come
through UNC probably ever. But who brought him in? Was it Bill Guthridge?
No. It was Dean Smith, who took a quick fix when the talent thinned out and
accepted Makhtar's transfer from Michigan - purportedly on the recommendation of
Jeff McInnis! In retrospect, that's just laughable. But let's also look at
how McInnis got there: after Dean put together his last truly great team, the 93
championship team, which was built around the lion-hearted George Lynch, he
brought in Jerry Stackhouse, wh\ich was one thing, but then brought in Rasheed
Wallace and McInnis, who later led to Makhtar Ndaiye.
Rasheed of course became a legendary ACC hothead, and one of the more
immature players ACC fans had seen in awhile. McInnis had some fairly
intense problems on and off the court, which we won't get into, but let's just
say they hinted at or directly led to other concerns. You may remember that
McInnis pouted about playing behind the stouthearted Derrick Phelps, and Brian
Reese said his senior year, when Jerry Stackhouse moved into the starting
lineup, that "being a senior used to mean something here."
Two years later, Stackhouse and Wallace were both off for the NBA, and there
were suggestions of discord around Wallace's departure. The year after
that, Jeff McInnis left early, with no strong NBA prospects, with a whiff of
incredulity trailing behind.
Fortunately for UNC, Antwan Jamison was a prodigy, but you'll recall the 0-3
start and you may remember the published account of Serge Zwikker storming into
the locker room and screaming "when are we going to start playing as a
Then after Antwan Jamison and Vince Carter's sophomore years, Dean
decided to retire, and Guthridge was promoted. He took his team to the Final
Four, where they ran up against a brilliant Utah team which had just destroyed
everyone in their path. They were coached with genius and inspiration, and
they played defense like few have before or since. It was a virtuso
performance, and they almost rode it to the National Title.
This was also the Month of Makhtar, when he accused a Utah player of using a
racial slur, then was forced to admit it wasn't true, then forced to apologize,
then said the UNC SID staff wrote the apology and not him, and just seemed to do
everything humanly possible to discredit a program with a sterling reputation.
Earlier in that season, you'll recall Shammond Williams leaving the bench at
Virginia in tears. And you may even recall Michael Wilbon of the
Washington Post who criticized Vince Carter rather sharply for what he called
"egomaniacal" mugging after his aerial assaults on the rim. You may
also recall reports of Makhtar Ndaiye and other teammates allegedly taunting
fans in other arenas.
What we're getting at here is this: we said, in the last days of the Smith
era, that discipline at UNC was breaking down. Zeke is trying to pin that
entirely on Bill Guthridge, but the problems started before he took control.
During his time as head coach, he's had to deal with immature behavior from
Makhtar Ndiaye, Shammond Williams, Brian Bersticker, Vince Carter, Antwan
Jamison from time to time, Ed Cota, Terrence Newby, and Brendan Haywood.
All of these players were brought to UNC by Dean Smith.
Zeke goes on to say that no one else starts five McDonald's All-Americans,
but let's look at what that means. Haywood has come under severe criticism
for not playing hard, but even if he played like Wojo, he is 7-0, and 270 or
whatever, and he's not exactly a gazelle. His options to affect a game are
power, power, and power. Nothing wrong with that, but it's one-dimensional Kris
Lang has battled back, rather heroically, from serious health problems this
season and is starting to play quite well. Jason Capel had back surgery
last year and was forced, by injuries to others, to play out of position for
much of this season. Joseph Forte is a freshman, and skinny like
most freshmen, but coming from DeMatha, he understands the game, and he offers
much-needed offensive assistance. Max Owens is a talented player who hasn't
mastered the fundamentals as well as the freshman Forte. Ed Cota is a superb passer, but he is being asked to do too much and defenses are figuring out how to stop him now. Bersticker is
tall and quick but a sucker for a fake, and he is usually overpowered.
Newby is stopgap, but he's playing because Ron Curry blew out his Achilles
On top of the various injury issues and some limitations by health or
physique, Guthridge also had his season nearly derailed when his lead
assistant, Phil Ford, was arrested a second time for drunk driving, promptly
checking into a rehab center. Journalists like Art Chansky went on to make
allusions about Ford's marriage and his finances. So UNC went through a
very difficult fall with two out of three big men injured, two point guards
arrested and a third crippled, and Jason Capel playing out of position -
after having to play big guard last season he was forced to play power
forward early. And they had to deal with all these problems with a reduced
staff, in the middle of recruiting season.
This after Vasco Evtimov defected back to Romania or wherever to play
Despite losing his lead assistant, despite the bizarre stretches of injuries,
despite relentless criticism, Guthridge nonetheless put out a team which has
been periodically overmatched athletically but has still won 11 games.
Despite Ford's absence, he still managed to put together a top-flight recruiting
class, bringing in a power forward who loves to rebound, a 7-6 center who can
actually move, and two pretty good guards - and he had the nerve to not be
jerked around by a high school hotshot, which is immensely admirable.
All this despite having to work with 1/3 less staff for a big part of the
season and severe injury problems. We have had some fun with UNC's struggles
here, but we do like to keep it in perspective: this has been a tough
year. And when you look at the kids Guthridge has brought in - as opposed
to the Smith leftovers - Lang, Capel, and Forte, and soon Parker, Boone,
Morrison and Fingleton - that's a nucleus you can build around.
Are they poorly coached? Perhaps. Are the coaches overstretched and having to
redefine their jobs on the fly? Definitely.
Is Haywood not getting the job done? Perhaps. But if Lang and
Bersticker were both healthy, with Peppers, it wouldn't be as obvious - or as
Should Owens start over Forte? Perhaps. But who is fundamentally
sounder? What does that usually mean at UNC?
Does the coaching staff get credit for bringing Peppers in so quickly? Of
course not. He's a freak and a marvel, and he picked up a complicated system on
his own. The coaches had nothing to do with that. Julius just
rode in after football season, perused the most complicated system on the East
Coast, and jumped right in.
Clearly there are some problems in Chapel Hill. But a) a lot of them have
their roots in earlier decisions, and b) a lot of them have to do with the twin
stresses of revamping the team on the fly after injuries and health problems and
Ford's unanticipated and very poorly timed absence.
We don't go inside UNC's locker room, and we're not in the huddle or the dorm
rooms, but we can tell you this: no matter what else you can say about UNC, Bill
Guthridge has taken a very difficult situation and done the best he could, and
he hasn't whined or been less than a man at all. He may not be the
greatest coach ever, and following a legend isn't easy, but UNC is
supposed to stand for family and doing things the right way, and pardon two
Dukies for saying so, but knocking off one member of the family so you can bring
in another who might seem like a better bet more resembles the Mafia than the
family Dean Smith talked about for 36 years. A lot of people like to
talk about the UNC family, but real families stick together when times get
tough. Bill Guthridge has spent 30 years at UNC. Whatever happens
after this season, he deserves the support of UNC fans now. Otherwise, all this talk about family is just 38 wasted years of hot air, and you might as well go after Billy Donovan or Rick Pitino or Tark or whoever can win the most games as quickly as possible, because, to some people, that seems to the only value that matters.