Who Was To Blame For the 8-20 Season at UNC?


The 2001-2002 season at UNC was easily the worst in history. So who is to blame for such a horrific year? Keeping It Heel looks bad and remembers that fateful year. 

Eight and Twenty. Two numbers that when put together cause Carolina fans to shut down and scream curses at a man who no longer coaches the game. The 2001-2002 North Carolina Tar Heel season was easily the worse season in the history of the men’s basketball team. Not only did that team have the first losing season since Dean Smith first picked up a UNC clipboard back in 1961, it was also the lowest winning percentage ever in North Carolina’s men’s basketball history.

That team not only opened the season by losing to Hampton and Davidson at home, but needed a miracle put back bucket to beat Binghamton. It was a season that saw the Heels test the faithful and end NCAA records for Tourney Appearances and Top 3 ACC finishes. It was an embarrassment of a season (trust me on this I was a sophomore that year). In fact the only thing that went right was that the Heels beat Clemson at home, proving that they will probably never win at Chapel Hill. So many things went wrong that year, but in looking back who is really to blame for that horrific season? Let’s take the potential culprits one by one:

Joe Forte

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Joe Forte was a 6-3 shooting guard from Georgia who won ACC Rookie of the Year in 2000 and shared ACC Player of the Year with National Player of the Year Shane Battier in 2001. He was also a consensus first team All-American that season and led the Tar Heels to a second round loss to Penn State. Instead of coming back for a potential player of the year run, he took his success and turned it into a non-existent NBA career. His departure, along with Brendan Haywood’s graduation, left 01-02 Heels in a bit of a talent drought particularly without a true guard who could bring the ball up the court. The biggest critique of Forte in the NBA was that he was too small to play the 2 but lacked the skill to play the 1. If he had come back Carolina, he would have had the guard they needed to get their bigs (Capel and Lang) the ball. Forte would have also learned a valuable skill that might have led to a higher draft pick (he went 21st to Boston) and possibly even a more successful NBA career. Of course one of the factors that probably led to Forte leaving after his sophomore year was…

Matt Doherty

What a better place to start than the man who ran the team. Doherty and losing are as similar in the Carolina state of Mind as winning and Dean Smith. Not only did he lose games, but he didn’t handle it very well. His post-game interviews were a nightmare and he even joked about committing suicide. It is one thing to be losing when Dean Smith or Mike Krzyzewski is your coach, at least then you have hope that this is an anomaly, but Doherty gave the student body no such reassurance. Instead his style of coaching led to fan alienation and team mutiny. But then again, the Heels may not have had to deal with any of his antics if he was never tabbed as the next head coach by…

Dick Baddour

Matt Doherty was UNC’s fifth choice for the job and that might be putting it mildly. Doherty’s best and only season before coming to Carolina was a NIT Finals finish with Notre Dame. Before Doherty, Baddour was turned down by more successful alumni Eddie Fogler (who was coaching South Carolina) and NBA head coaches George Karl and Larry Brown, the latter of which apparently was never truly offered the job, if you believe the rumors. All these turn downs left Baddour scrambling and with no other strong candidates in sight, Baddour settled for the only family member available, the young coach who had won a championship with Michael Jordan. Though, Baddour wouldn’t have been in that situation at all if he hadn’t been originally turned down by his clear first choice…

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Williams

Not only was Roy Williams Baddour’s first choice, he was probably his only choice, a truth made clear by the way the search was handled after Roy turned the job down. Despite initial reports that said Roy was coming, Roy was in a really good situation at Kansas and had two young players in Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison who he felt obligated to stay with (both of these reasons changed three years later when he took the job at UNC). Could Roy have won more games that year? Absolutely, but then again he wouldn’t even have been needed if not for the retirement of…

Bill Guthridge

Bill Guthridge’s retirement took place two seasons before this abomination of a season took place. Whereas Doherty could recruit but couldn’t really coach (he was responsible for the assemblage of most of the 2005 National Championship team), Guthridge could coach (two final fours in three years) but just didn’t recruit.

Notice the key word is didn’t, not couldn’t. Guthridge recruited for many years as an assistant for Dean Smith and this three years was truly a reward for all the loyalty he had shown Dean and the University by sticking around despite the many opportunities presented to leave. However, by this point, Bill had gotten up there in age and just didn’t have it in him to do all the work necessary to continually recruit a championship basketball team. There were rumors that he would offer two players a scholarship and whichever player took it first got it, whether he was the better player or not. It’s how the Heels wound up with Adam Boone and Brian Morrison as their starting backcourt in 2001. Of course Bill Guthridge wouldn’t have had to worry about recruiting during that period if the team was being coached by Dean Smith’s preferred candidate for the job, Phil Ford, who was struggling with an alcohol problem. Maybe Ford could have recruited better and coached the team to more wins, but he had more important fish to fry during this time period, like returning from a successful stint of rehab and conquering his addictions.


So who is to blame? In the end, the true answer lies in a combination of factors that all led to that season, a season in which a poor sophomore was left in Carolina Blue face paint watching his Heels get thumped by a defending National Champion Duke team at the Dean Dome. So Carolina Faithful, now that you have the facts, who do you blame for the Season from Heel?