Like many area coaches, North Texas director of basketball operations Jeff Luster could only wonder why.
Luster received a phone call early Friday morning informing him that former TCU men’s basketball coach Neil Dougherty had died. Dougherty had turned 50 in April.
“I was just stunned,” said Luster, who was an assistant under Dougherty at TCU. “Just disbelief. He really was in great shape.”
Dougherty, who coached the Frogs from 2002 until 2008, died while running in Indianapolis. Dougherty had been working as the director of athlete and coach programs for iHoops, a partnership between the NBA and NCAA. He was in Indianapolis for a recruiting event and went missing after leaving for a jog Tuesday.
Dougherty loved basketball, coaching and playing. While at TCU, Luster said Dougherty played many games of pickup basketball. After taking the position with iHoops, Dougherty switched to running.
“He picked up jogging at night and did it religiously,” Luster said. “He was a good person. The only thing he ever did that was bad was eat dessert before the main meal. It’s crazy. He was a good-looking guy who did everything right. I just don’t get it.”
The iHoops’ mission is to coach and educate young basketball players, a goal that fit in perfectly with Dougherty’s passions.
“He could get down to the kids’ level and bring them in and make them understand,” Luster said. “He loved kids and helping them learn the game.”
Dougherty grew up in Leavenworth, Kan., and worked as an assistant coach at Kansas under Roy Williams from 1995-2002. He was also an assistant at Cameron, Drake, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. He played for Mike Krzyzewski for two years at West Point before finishing his playing career with two years at Cameron.
“Wherever he went, and whoever he touched, the sentiment was the same — he was well-liked, and he returned that to everyone,” Luster said. “He treated everyone well, even if he had just met them. What a loss this is for humanity, and that’s not an exaggeration.”
While Dougherty’s record at TCU was 75-108, and he was fired in March 2008 after only one winning season, Luster said Dougherty is the best coach he’s been around.
“He was incredible, not just with Xs and Os, but with communication with young people,” Luster said. “Our win-loss record wasn’t that great, but he and I both felt like we just needed one more year and we would win. But it wasn’t about that for him. It was about the young people. It was about giving those kids an opportunity and something in their lives that wasn’t just basketball.”
Tommy Brakel coached Dougherty’s sons, Neil and Ryan, at North Crowley. Two of Brakel’s players, brothers Keith and Kevin Langford, played for him in college, Keith at Kansas and Kevin at TCU.
“One word that comes to mind is integrity,” he said. “He always did things the right way. Everything about him was classy, well-spoken, sincere, genuine. He was a great guy and a great basketball coach.”
Scott Gray, a former Fort Worth Southwest boys basketball coach, sent two players to play for Dougherty at TCU.
“He was a good person,” Gray said. “He was real honest and straightforward and just a good family man. His wife always sat behind the bench four or five rows up. I’d see his family at their games. He was a good coach. Things didn’t work out at TCU, but he was a good coach and more than that, he was a good person.”
Dougherty was primarily a recruiter while at Kansas, as the Jayhawks averaged 29 wins per season and won four conference titles. He landed eight McDonald’s All-Americans while at KU and was a top coaching prospect when TCU hired him.
“TCU is saddened to learn of the passing of former head basketball coach Neil Dougherty,” the TCU athletic department said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
In a statement, TCU men’s basketball head coach Jim Christian, who replaced Dougherty, said: “Our basketball program is deeply saddened by the loss of Coach Dougherty, whose class and integrity were inspirational to all of us.”
Dougherty’s wife, Patti, still lives in Fort Worth, and his daughter Megan lives in Keller. His son Neil lives in South Carolina; Ryan is a student at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo.
“Neil’s commitment to assuring young people experience the joy and satisfaction of the game as he did will empower our focus going forward,” said Greg Shaheen, NCAA interim executive vice president and chair of the iHoops board of directors, in a statement. “A truly remarkable man, coach, father, grandfather, husband, son, friend and colleague, he will be missed by all and his legacy will impact generations to come.”
The online statement also said the funeral details and arrangements have not been finalized.