Guthridge retired in 2000 and North Carolina turned to Matt Doherty, the head coach at Notre Dame and a player on the 1982 championship team, to lead the Tar Heels. Doherty had little success while at North Carolina. In his first season, the Heels were ranked #1 in the polls in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule and finished with a 26–7 record. The bottom fell out the following year, as the Tar Heels finished the season with a record of 8–20, the worst season in school history. They missed postseason play entirely for the first time since the 1965–66 season (including a record 27 straight NCAA Tournament appearances) and finished with a losing record for the first time since 1962 (Dean Smith's first year as coach). They also finished 4–12 in the ACC—only the program's second losing ACC record ever. The 12 losses were six more than the Tar Heels had ever suffered in a single season of ACC play, and placed them in a tie for 7th place—the program's first finish below fourth place ever. The season also saw the end of UNC's run of 31 straight 20-win seasons and 35 straight seasons of finishing third or higher in the ACC.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo singles out safety Juan Thornhill and lineman Khalen Saunders, the Chiefs' two top defensive draft picks, as players he was particularly eager to see play in Saturday night's preseason opener against the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. "I'm really looking more for how cohesive a unit we can be," Spagnuolo said. "To me, communication and working together as a unit . . . That's as important as anything. If we don't get that squared away in the first game, it's going to be a long season."
In the 2008–09 season, the Tar Heels won their fifth NCAA title by defeating Michigan State in the championship of the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The Tar Heels won all six of that year's tournament games by at least 12 points, for an average victory margin of 20.2 points, and only trailed for a total of 10 minutes out of 240 through the entire tournament. Wayne Ellington was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, the fourth Tar Heel so honored.
Greg Brown: "My top five schools are Kentucky, Texas, Memphis, Auburn, and North Carolina. I’ve visited all the schools, but Texas was the only official visit so far. I’m planning more officials, but it won’t be until late November. When I was at North Carolina it took me 30 minutes to get out of the there because I was signing autographs and taking pictures." (USA Today)