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There's no place like home

Schooled by some of college basketball's legendary coaches, new top hoop Frog Neil Dougherty is ready to lead his own program.

By Rick Waters '95

Neil Dougherty, you're not in Kansas anymore.

A month into your tenure as TCU's 18th basketball coach, your computer still won't print. Your new assistant coaches are still learning what video equipment is available. The final member of your staff came aboard the last day of the recruiting period.

But you know where the paper clips go. Middle shelf in the supply closet next to the copier.

You know because you knew where your boss at Kansas, Roy Williams, kept his, which is one reason he hired you in 1995. You knew it then because Eddie Fogler kept his paper clips in the same place at Vanderbilt and South Carolina when you worked for him from 1989 to 1995. Fogler and Williams both knew it because their mentor, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, famous for his meticulous organizational structure, stashed them there, too. All of Smith's disciples do.

The point is, you know how successful college basketball programs operate. You've seen how Hall of Fame coaches run practices, analyze opponents on tape and convince great high school players -- and their parents -- that these boys will be better under a coach's care than anyone else's.

And TCU is convinced you've soaked it all up and are ready for your turn as the head man.

"There is no question I'm a product of the environment I've been around," you say, still settling into your barren, wood-paneled office. "I've been fortunate to be around great coaches like Roy Williams and Eddie Fogler and play for a brief time under Coach K [current Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] at West Point. I've been exposed to great systems, great people and great ideas. What I intend to do is bring that with me. I've told people, 'I hope you enjoyed watching the University of Kansas because I intend to bring that here and make it TCU.' "

That's what Horned Frog faithful are counting on -- a sort of KU South, where recruits stay four years and graduate, fans know the players' signature moves and the rest of the country has the TCU game circled on the schedule.

Dougherty knows he has his work cut out for him in some areas. Attendance at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum last season lagged to just over 4,000, smaller than the student section at Allen Field House in Lawrence.

But Dougherty's not worried. He's a master recruiter, having signed eight All-Americans at Kansas -- while entertaining their little brothers and Grandpa at the same time. Dougherty plans to bring some of that magic to Fort Worth. Only here, the "living room" is a 250-acre campus and city of half a million.

"In order to establish a program that is successful over time, ownership has to be widespread," said the 41-year-old coach. "My mission is to get everyone -- the university, TCU fans, Fort Worth and players -- to believe that my program is their program. It's a program that represents the TCU community, not just an implementation of Kansas basketball."

Right now, he's winning over his team.

"As players, they're not renting for two or four years. They're buying. It's a purchase. They get to keep this program, this experience forever," Dougherty explained. "That's how I want them to treat the TCU basketball program, like a first car or first home."

Another staple of the Smith-Williams-Fogler system that Dougherty brought to TCU is player mailboxes set up in the basketball offices -- not as a place to leave memos, but as a system to see his guys every day, even in the off-season. So when parents call, he knows what their sons are up to.

While he was on the road recruiting during his first month on the job, Dougherty let his returning seniors design the team's uniforms. And at the end of the season, they'll get to keep them -- just like they do at Kansas.

In return, they play by his rules.

"They're not to be late for anything. Not to miss class. Not to miss tutor appointments," Dougherty said, ticking each off on a finger. "It's an effort to mold them into my understanding. They're learning reliability, responsibility and accountability and it's building leverage for them. The more they do what I ask, the harder it will be for me to say no to them. I want them to get their coach over a barrel."

That's Dougherty's style because that's his upbringing. The son of an Army officer in Leavenworth, Kan., he learned discipline early.

"There was an understanding of always driving toward a goal. There was an understanding of being realistic but keeping a focus on what you want to do," Dougherty recalled. "Be prepared. Be confident. I don't know if it was my father or the military background, but it put me in position to have a deep sense of pride, to be very competitive, to be a very analytical, thinking person. Those were the traits Dad talked about."

He also learned much from his high school coach, Bob Knoll, who would drive around Leavenworth once or twice a day checking gyms and outdoor courts to see which of his players were working on basketball.

"If he didn't see one of us," Dougherty said, "we knew there was a good chance he would call that evening and say, 'I didn't see you. Are you still serious about playing basketball here?' "

Dougherty never got called.

He was always playing, even slipping out between lifeguard shifts at the city pool to get in a pick-up game. He was afraid of disappointing the coach even more than his parents.

"I didn't want to let him down. I didn't want to be one of the guys he didn't see when driving around," he said. "My friends and I would ask each other, 'Seen Coach yet today?' It was a thought that was always on our minds."

It's a lesson still lodged in Dougherty's memory and one he tells his own children and youths at basketball camps. Finding motivation in playing for someone else -- a parent, a teacher, a high school coach or a wiser, older gentleman from the neighborhood -- is a good substitute when the will is weak.

"When we would play in another team's arena," Dougherty remembered, "Coach had us pick out someone we did not know from the crowd and play as though, by the end of the game, that person would think, 'Wow. That kid gave all he had.' "

Now, TCU players will do the same.

Dougherty admits he has much to do in Fort Worth before fall, but he is pleased to be a Horned Frog. Other universities have tried to woo him in seasons past, but he passed. This time, TCU was a right fit.

"Every time my name would surface for a job, I asked myself if I would want to live there. For TCU, the answer was a big, big yes," Dougherty said. "I looked at the program and saw it going into a new era and I could go in transition with it. Also, TCU as a university really fits me. I really enjoyed Kansas, but 7,000 versus 28,000 is more my personality."

He also knows that by living in basketball-rich Texas, he won't have to travel far to find players or snatch them from "someone else's backyard," as he is known to say. There will be plenty to go around and he will get his share.

"I know I can reach high school coaches and players and let them know something very exciting is happening here," he said. "They don't have to abandon the state any longer to find good basketball."

You said it, Coach. There's no place like home.

Contact Dougherty at