top of page

The Coach’s Corner with Matt Doherty – A Conversation with the Legendary Bob McKillop

Matt Doherty, Lake Norman Magazine

Mar 1, 2024

Matt Doherty is a longtime Mooresville resident, nationally recognized motivational speaker, executive coach, best-selling author and media personality. He and former Davidson head coach Bob McKillop sat down for a Q&A.

I am with the legendary Coach Bob McKillop. I’ve known him for nearly 50 years and admired him from the first day we met. Bob has played an integral role in my life and remains someone I turn to when seeking sound advice. He is my mentor, my friend, a former coach of mine and was the head coach at Davidson when I was an assistant coach there. It will be two years this June since Bob announced he was retiring as head men’s basketball coach at Davidson College. He led Davidson to 23 conference championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and 634 wins. We caught up recently to talk a little March Madness hoops and discuss what’s in store for him in 2024.

Matt: Great as always to see you, Bob. Congratulations on your upcoming induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. It is truly well deserved. You have earned numerous accolades over the years, including having the hardwood at Davidson’s John M. Belk Arena named “McKillop Court.” Do any stand out above the others?

Bob: What that stands out to me the most is the unwavering loyalty extended to me by my family, by our Davidson players and assistant coaches, by the Davidson College administrators, faculty, staff and the community of alumni, townspeople and fans. It started in 1989 and was a 33-year experience. That loyalty is something I deeply cherish and I will carry with me forever.

Matt: You have had massive success. People looking from the outside can say you lived a charmed life, but like all of us, you had to deal with adversity…failure. What was the biggest challenge in your life and how did you “rebound” from it?

Bob: The greatest failure and adversity that I experienced was being infected with the disease of me. As humans, we all come face to face with this challenge. In my case, I let it ravage me. I was confident but arrogant, committed but consumed; I cared about others but did not often show it. It was all about me, and what’s in it for me as I worked to climb the corporate coaching ladder. It started from the day I first stepped onto the Davidson campus until the day that failure, losing games, and then disappointing and failing those who put their trust in me eventually brought me to my knees. I had to cleanse myself of the pride and arrogance that was a daily partner.

Thankfully, the Davidson College leadership of President John Kuykendall and Athletic Director Terry Holland allowed me to work through my inadequacies. I also had the unwavering support of my family and a long list of Davidson players and assistant coaches. And, most significantly, the grace and mercy of a loving God which brought me to an understanding of what my purpose in life should be. Despite getting knocked to the mat many, many more times, I was given the gift of being able to get back off the mat and into the center of the ring every time failure and adversity sent me to the mat or even to the ropes.

Matt: You recently told me that a key concept you’ve learned throughout life is that we are always on stage. Someone is always watching us. What do you mean by that?

Bob: Trust is one of the foundational bricks upon which to build your life. It is also one of the most elusive virtues in our contemporary culture. Can you be trusted to do your best? Do you trust yourself, your family, your business, your company, your supervisor, your staff? Is trust something that we can count on from politicians, the media, educators, coaches? Years ago, Robert Shapiro, OJ Simpson’s lawyer, was asked on national TV: “What do you think was really the truth about that night”? He replied: “My job is not to deal with the truth.” That says it all. When you “are always on stage,” you imagine that the camera is always on you, the audience is always watching. The camera doesn’t lie. You cannot hide from the truth.

Matt: Who have been the most influential people in your life and why?

Bob: I thoroughly enjoy reading about and even knowing people who have had to fight through adversity and challenges, be it a historical event, a personal obstacle or a competitive athletic experience to be a leader.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to lead the people of England, amidst the nightly horror of the blitzkrieg? There was fear, uncertainty, death and destruction night after night, yet Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the English people hope and courage as the Nazis were poised just across the Channel to invade the British Isles. Despite his many noted inadequacies, Winston Churchill led the English and the Allies through these “darkest hours.” What a model of leadership amidst human frailty.

The lessons of courage from Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership throughout the civil rights movement are also rather extraordinary and another very compelling story.

In 2018, our Davidson team had the life changing experience of being escorted through Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor, one of the Mengele twins and a Holocaust survivor. Together with our team, Eva stood on the “selection platform” just inside the Auschwitz gates where families were torn apart and separated to go to either the gas chambers or become slave laborers. She told our players and coaches that she forgave the Nazis. She said this while standing in the precise spot where her parents and older sisters were ripped away from her and her twin sister, Miriam. Forgiveness! What a powerful impact this had upon all of us.

The world of sport is “Mickey Mouse” compared to these historical events, yet there are so many vital and significant lessons that have also been taught to me by players and coaches. The sport’s world shows us glamor and fame, but there’s a lot of pain deeply embedded in the hearts, minds and souls of so many of these champions. I have always tried to dig deeper than the wins, the awards and the championships and find the challenge conquered, the adversity overcome.

I’m so happy to witness Rick Barnes and his Tennessee team high in the national rankings and knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame despite the heartbreaking challenges he faced in his formative years while growing up in an incredibly adverse and difficult situation in Hickory, North Carolina.

And you, Matt, I’ve known you before you were even a teenager. To see the challenges that you have faced, fought through and experienced, and to witness up close, how you have responded, rebounded and been resilient has been exceptionally inspiring for me.

There is an army of people, some I know, some I never knew, who have their fingerprints all over my life.

Matt: How do you feel watching your son, Matthew, as he leads the Davidson program you led for more than 30 years?

Bob: During my early years as Davidson’s coach, I wish I was the leader that our son Matt is already. He is far more advanced as a leader and a coach than I was. Davidson’s record reflects that as he’s already experienced more victories in a year and a half than I did through my first three years. Additionally, his teams are doing it in a vastly more difficult and competitive conference and significantly more challenging NCAA environment than I faced in the early 90s. Together with his very cohesive staff, he and they teach, encourage and inspire a terrific roster of guys who want to and work to be excellent. I feel his joy in victory and his heartbreak in defeat. I do so with a very special sense of pride knowing he’s fully embraced this challenge, and he’s doing it with honor, dignity and respect.

Matt: As you reflect on your tremendous career, what is the thing of which you are most proud?

Bob: Lefty Driesell, Terry Holland and a host of outstanding players created one of the greatest stories in college basketball history during the 1960s. Davidson College Basketball was a culture. It was like a torch that burned brightly. The lack of coaching continuity in the 1970s and 1980s was an interruption of this culture and almost led to the torch being extinguished. Now, after three decades of continuity, and with the commitment of so very many coaches and players, the torch is once again burning brightly. The trailblazing efforts of the players and coaches from the Davidson basketball’s glory years of the 1960s is now connected to the program today. What a joy that is for me to know that the guys who started it are still part of it, and the guys who’ve inherited it are trying to make every effort to keep that torch burning brightly.

Matt: Thanks so very much for your time. It’s always great to catch up with you, my friend.

bottom of page