It's been hectic. There's been no dance practice for me, I can assure you that. We've had seven practices, the kids are really working extremely hard … there are some similarities, but I'd say there's much more of a change for them, more than even I expected in the style of play and what we're trying to do. So far, knock on wood, everybody is healthy. Well, there are two guys – Jackie Manuel missed two practices and maybe part of a third with a concussion and Rashad [McCants] missed a practice with a hip problem. Other than that basically everybody has been at practice, except Damion Grant has only practiced 30 minutes the first four practices and none the last three. So I guess it doesn't sound as good when I start listing everybody as it did when I first said it.
You said it's been more of a change than even you expected. What kind of changes?
Just style of play. We're going to try to play at a much faster tempo than they've played in the past. We haven't said anything about a zone defense yet and they played a great deal of that. Again the basic principles and foundation are the same, but we're going to play differently and it takes a while to get there.
Do you think you have the type of players that will fit that style well?
I think so. Right now we're throwing so many things at them and hoping they'll catch a few. They haven't caught as many as I'd like them to catch probably, but I think they are making adjustments. But we're trying to build habits and you don't build habits in one week, you don't build habits in one month and sometimes you don't in a whole season. But that's what we're trying to do and get it to the point that we'll play like that all the time. We made a decision four or five years ago that we were going to speed up things even a little more and I don't think people really recognized it until the last two years. And I think the kids want to do it, so it's not like we need to sell them on the idea. They're accepting that part of it easily.
What type of leadership have you seen thus far from the juniors?
I don't think you really see leadership until the times get tough. Times of adversity is when you see the leadership and we haven't had any of that yet, but I think those three guys – I ask them questions and get some input from them all the time. I trust them.
There's an assumption out there that since you're back, Carolina basketball will be back …
One of the writers said, ‘Do you think that's very fair' and I'd never thought of it in those terms. So after that question I think it's probably not very fair. But there is a perception out there and it has no validity because just a coaching change is not going to make anything happen. I don't think it was only Matt Doherty that was involved with 36 losses. I think there were some other people involved in that and everybody is part of it – everybody is accountable. So it is somewhat intriguing and somewhat mysterious. …
But right now everybody loves me and everybody says ‘Coach, I'm so glad that you're back' and my standard line with everybody is ‘I hope you feel that way two or three years from now' because that's the test. Two years ago today everybody was talking about how it was so nice and refreshing that Matt Doherty was so intense and so emotional. Two years later it was a negative that Matt Doherty was so intense and so emotional. So, I understand that's part of it …
We have to walk a fine line - we have to give [our players] as much confidence as we can and not make it false confidence. The realization is that some teams' expectations may be more realistic, but I want our expectations to be very realistic but be something we really have to shoot for.
You've said that the expectations were unfair, but do you feel blessed with the young talent that you've inherited?
Oh, yeah. We didn't come in with nothing in the cupboard. There are just some shelves that don't have anything on it. Or shelves that have one thing on it and not anything else. If it were absolutely beautiful, I wouldn't be here – Matt would still be here. Let's be honest about that part of it, too. There were some things going wrong or else the change wouldn't have been made. I understand that we've got three or four guys who can really play, but you can't win in college basketball with just three or four guys … and win the way we want to win. …
[I like the personnel that I've got] very much so, except I'd like to have more of them in certain spots. It's a fact that Raymond Felton is the only true point guard in our program. There's nobody else. And it's a fact that Sean May is the only big guy that has proven that he can play at this level. In the middle spots – Rashad McCants, Melvin Scott, Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams, David Noel – that's five guys that can do some things, but still I've never coached a team that just had one point guard. Every team I've ever coached had three. All of our alumni say ‘Gosh, coach, I wish we had another big man' and I tell them ‘I do, too, but I'd rather have another point guard.'
What will you do when Felton isn't in the game?
It depends on why he's not … well, he's going to be in there [laughs]. If Raymond gives the tired signal I'm going to call a timeout. He's got to be in the game a lot and when he's not in the game it appears it's going to be Melvin Scott.
And what do you plan to do to hide the lack of post players?
I think the same way they did last year, is just play people who aren't post players. Jawad Williams is not a post player, but that's where he spent some time. Offensively you can do a lot of things where you don't have to have somebody in there. But you've got to run somebody in there to guard the other team's post player and that's the big concern right there.
What is Damion Grant's status, as he didn't play in the Late Night scrimmage?
He practiced the first four days for 30 minutes and hasn't practiced since. His knee is bothering him a little bit so we're giving him some time.
What did you think of Carolina's players when they beat you last year?
I thought that they were really gifted, but I didn't know how they would be able to handle the tough times. And, last year they had Jon Holmes, but I thought if Raymond [Felton] had some problems that could be a big struggle for them. With Sean, I thought he was really gifted and played really well against us, but if he went down that could present real problems for them and that's what happened. For us we had Wayne Simien go down and he might have been our most productive player. And we were able to overcome that. I worried about that for North Carolina and after he went down I think they were 12-14 or something like that.
You had to be excited for them, right?
I told Matt ‘I'm really excited for you but I was coaching the other team and I'm really pissed off.' I gave Matt my 15 seconds of truth and after that I didn't care about them because I was so ticked off. But I do think the huge difference is we had some tough times … but because of the experience, depth and toughness that we had, it enabled us to win 30 games and play for the national championship.
When you're coaching a young team, how do you alter your approach?
I think the more success they've had, whether they're young or old, has maybe more to do with it than being young or old. I think a young team, or old team, that's been very successful – as long as you're not coming in and going 180 degrees in changing things – you can push them even harder or pull the whip even more. But if it's a team that hasn't had much success and is really young, too, then I think that's a huge difference right there. I think you need to treat them a little bit more with kid gloves. I think you need to be a bit more understanding and still be demanding. I think you need to have expectations but they need to be more realistic. And you've got to pull them along. It's teaching your kid to ride a bike. You're going to run beside him and hold him.
Can you talk about what the last six months have been like for you?
It's been the busiest six months of my life. The least golf I've played in my life. The least relaxed time that I've had. Everything from just getting to know the kids, the administration, the faculty, new policies, buying a house, adding on to a house, moving into a house (right now we're still in boxes). So I guess the easiest way to say it is that it's been the busiest six months of my life.
And looking back on the week that you decided to take the job at North Carolina?
Even looking back now it was very difficult. Draining. I don't want to revisit the same old stories, but it was two different mornings I woke up and I'm throwing up. Emotionally it's very hard to handle, trying to think of two things – what's the right thing and what do I want to do. My problem is I wanted to please people. That was a difficult week then and looking back on it, it was still a difficult week. There's not any part of it that I can belittle and say I shouldn't have been worried about that because I think I was focused on things that were important to me.
Can you look back now and say you made the right decision?
I know I look at it now that I made the right decision. And yet, I'll say this – and people will interpret it different ways – if I had known how difficult it'd be to talk to my team, and the feelings I'd have about myself and if I had known how difficult it was to talk to those four prospects and the feelings I'd had about myself at that time, I don't know if I could have done it. But even saying that, I'm still saying I did the right thing and I'm happy I did it. That was just a time period that was way too difficult to handle. I couldn't do it now. If University X offered me all the money in the world, there's no way I could ever do anything like that ever again.
Can Carolina regain what it had – can the Tar Heels again be a perennial Final Four team or is it a lot tougher in this era of college basketball?
It is a lot tougher, but what I'm hoping is the same dream and goal that I had in Kansas, that every year we can be talked about as one of those teams that has a chance to be there on the last Monday night. And that's my goal. I don't think it's realistic now. We have no backup point guard – period. Sean May is the only big guy that has proved he can play at this level. People can say all they want about how North Carolina was good enough to beat Kansas last year, and they were, but all I know is that at the end of the year we'd won 30 and were still playing on Monday night because we had enough depth to take care of some problems and they didn't have enough depth or experience to take care of some problems.
How much has the league changed since you were at North Carolina …?
I'm not trying to avoid your question but I've spent almost zero time looking at what the rest of the league is like. I've got too many things that I can control or at least that I can influence – and I definitely can't control or influence what's going on at the other schools. When I left the ACC 15 years ago I felt that it was pretty much the consensus that it was the best league in the country. The last few years I don't know that that was the consensus. But I see in place – what little I know – is that I think things are in place for the ACC to be on the rise again. A writer told me that 35 of the top 45 starters are back from last year, or something like that. It was a young league last year and it's a more experienced league this year, so I think that has a lot to do with it, but other than that I don't have too much information on the rest of the league.
What type of relationship do you have with the other coaches in the league?
I think I've got good relationships with coaches in the league. Mike [Krzyzewski] was here when I left. Gary [Williams] and I have competed against each other and I brought my team to Maryland – he's a good friend and we've played some golf together on the Nike trips. Pete [Gillen] and I were in England coaching University Games teams together. Oliver [Purnell] and I spent the whole month of August together [for the USA games this summer]. Leonard [Hamilton] was in the Big 8 when I first got there. So I'm familiar with most those guys. Probably I'd had less dealings with Paul [Hewitt] than anybody else. And I really like him, too.
This being the last year of the round-robin, nine-team conference schedule – do you see the rivalries staying as strong?
I think there will be some slippage – there has to be that because you're not playing everybody in the true round robin like we had, but I can speak from experience that when we [Kansas] went from the Big 8 to the Big 12, we were still extremely important and extremely strong and yet we only play Oklahoma once a year and we only played Texas and Oklahoma State once a year.
The last few years the Maryland-Duke rivalry has received a lot of attention as the conference's premier rivalry. Is it important to regain the status of the UNC-Duke game as the top rivalry?
I think it can and I think it will. But I don't think it has to replace. It's great for the league that Duke-Maryland is a great rivalry and it'll be great for the league if Duke-North Carolina is a great rivalry also. I saw that ESPN picked both, so it's a game that does have attractiveness even though the last couple of years we've struggled. Maybe I'm being hopeful here, but I'm hopeful it can regain that luster. But I'm not wanting to supplant or replace. I think it'd be great if we had four or five great rivalries.
On his thoughts about the Duke program -
I may know more about Duke than anybody because we've competed against them in the recruiting years more than anybody in the ACC. Mike's got some players that I don't know very much about, but I think what he's done in the ACC and college basketball have been fantastic and if anybody tries to make a rivalry out of something and make it not respectful than they're doing the wrong thing because I respect the heck out of everything he's done and admire him.
In light of the last few years and now that you're at North Carolina, what have you been telling recruits to bring them to the program?
North Carolina has been successful for a long, long time. We've had a blip the last two years where it wasn't what the North Carolina fans or what the coaches wanted. Again, my goal is to be one of those teams that can win the tournament every year. I don't know if it's the top 20 in the country, the top 16, or whatever it is, that's what I want our program to get to. Talking to prospects, we tell them our dreams and hope it fits in with their dreams.
On the recent coaches convention -
… The biggest thing after we got there was the idea of more cooperation with the NCAA in trying to be a partner and I personally like the idea of policing ourselves a bit more and having a better idea of what we should do as coaches and making sure we encourage our fellow coaches to do what's right.
Would you turn somebody in if you knew they were cheating?
Have you done it?
Yes, I've done it more than once and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again today.
How many coaches are like you?
There are some. Not as much as I'd like. I was treated very badly because one of them became somewhat public, but I'd do it again today.
[Stanford head coach] Mike Montgomery was quoted as saying the profession is in crisis. Do you agree with that?
I think there is a separate answer to that. I think the easy answer is ‘No,' we're not in any more of a crisis stage than … the New York Stock Exchange or something like that. We have problems just like everybody else has problems, but the fact of the matter is I can't do anything to influence the New York Stock exchange. The statement that was said to me that made the most sense is that we are perceived by how strong the chain is and the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. And so if those weak links are causing problems or having problems, whether it's Baylor, St. Bonaventure or Iowa State – you pick the school you want to – if the links in the chain are weak and making everyone else look weak, then I think we need to try and do something about it. Some people perceive that as sitting on the fence, but we do have some problems.