Give Me a "C"

Most Tar Heel fans who visited Kenan Stadium in the 40's and 50's heard this beginning of a cheer and knew that other letters would follow until the word "CAROLINA" was spelled out. Well, I'm afraid that another word which begins with a "C" would be more appropriate to describe the ending to this year's basketball season and that word is " COLLAPSE."

I intentionally waited a week after the Penn State loss before writing about the end to the season because I felt the passage of time might enable me to write more objectively but I'll leave that up for you to judge. We never see ourselves as others see us and I was reminded of this last week when I posted on a supposed UNC message board. I reported on a feature article that appeared in U.S.A. Today last Monday on Christian Laettner. In my opinion, the post was harmless and was brought up only because the story had appeared in U.S. Today. The response to my post by several Duke fans on the board was unbelievable. I was called a jerk, classless and a queer. Needless to say, I did not take too kindly to the name calling and responded to the Duke accusations. I was then accused of bringing up Laettner simply because Carolina had been eliminated from the NCAA's and told that I was "bitter". I may write on the Laettner post at a later date but after last week's experience, I'm not sure it would be such a good idea.

O.K. lets talk about the Heels and what happened to cause the C word ( Take your choice between Collapse and Catastrophe). I will never forget the one word headline in the Louisville newspaper after UNC defeated Kentucky in the NCAA's in 1995. In the largest headlines I have ever seen on a sports page, the word "CATASTROPHE was emblazoned across the top of the page. Sometimes, a single word is all that is needed to describe a situation.

No one knows for sure what happened, and the coaches are probably struggling as we are to determine the cause of the decline in performance. But if you start with the premise that something happened internally to cause the nosedive, then I think my theory is as valid as any I have heard. I have bounced it off a former ACC Head Coach and he does not disagree with my speculation as to what happened. I didn't expect any more because he doesn't know what happened either.

First, let me say that I feel that the transition for the players from a Guthridge type culture to Matt Doherty's way of doing things was more traumatic than we knew or for that matter will ever know. Doherty brought a level of discipline and enthusiasm that had been missing for some time. No knock on Gut and the Dean but the players had not appeared to be playing with a great deal of desire for the past few years. Anyone who has ever been involved in a management change in the work place knows how traumatic this can be.

After Curry and Peppers joined the team, things started to come together and a lot of us felt that Doherty's formula had done the trick. We laughed when we heard the story of MD kicking the chair in Charlotte and cheered. One of my old school friends said " Chew arse not ice" and I knew what he meant.

Things looked great up until the 8 day break. The team looked listless in the first half at Clemson and MD did a similar thing to what he had done in Charlotte at halftime. If we can believe some of the reports that have leaked out from that halftime session, he didn't get the same results as before and Forte is reported to have said words to the effect that he was tired of this bill s--- and that he was going to take his game to the league. When I was growing up, this is what we would refer to as "raring up" to the coach. Whether MD and Forte ever resolved their problems, I don't know but Forte's reference to being tired of the bull s---suggested to me that the team was growing weary of Doherty's emotionality.

I think back over my 40 year career and recall some emotional leaders I have seen and the results or lack of results they achieved. Generally speaking, I think emotional leaders get good short term results, but my experience has been that they don't do as well with long term results.

Let me give you an example of a leader I once worked with who was so emotional about a project he was given that he never stopped to think about the effects his emotional behavior was having on his subordinates. They had to process segments of work that required the leader's participation. In other words, the team couldn't perform their function until the leader had performed his part of the process. It went well at the outset but soon the work was overwhelming the subordinates and rather than letting up occasionally, the leader continued to pour on the coal. Eventually, the subordinates became demoralized because they felt that no matter how hard they worked, they were still going to be under unrelenting pressure to perform. As a consequence, they mentally divorced themselves from the project and simply went through the motions. They took no personal pride in what they were doing and even allowed mistakes to go uncorrected. Tension between the employees increased because none of the subordinates were willing to confront the leader with the situation.

This may not be a perfect analogy but it might be better than it seems initially. The players may very well have tired of the Doherty "in your face" style and simply divorced themselves from what was going on. Painful words for me to write and they won't make sense to you unless you buy the proposition that something happened to the team internally. Speaking of pain, I experienced a considerable amount watching us for the latter part of the season. It was obvious to me that the team which lost to Penn State was not the same team which beat Duke at Cameron and swept Maryland.

So there you have it. Am I sure what I have written is what really happened? Certainly not, but it's my theory and I'm sticking to it until someone offers me a better explanation.