Emphasis on de-emphasizing
Posted August 2, 2011
Updated August 3, 2011
As the dust continues to settle following Butch Davis's dismissal as football coach at North Carolina, the discussion has begun to shift from what has happened in Chapel Hill to what will happen to the program in the future. Tar Heel supporters have been hungry for a nationally relevant football program since Mack Brown bolted for Texas in 1997. For many of them, Butch Davis represented an opportunity to return to that level, and his termination is viewed by many as a de-emphasis of the program.
They are right...but only to a point.
North Carolina has had good football teams before Butch Davis, and I venture to say that eventually they will have good football teams after him. Whether you thought Davis had direct knowledge of what was going on or not, the fact is that the program was broken under his watch. He either truly had no idea about what was going on, or he knew and simply did nothing about it. So which is better: ignorance or apathy? There is no right answer.
Chancellor Holden Thorp and the Board of Trustees felt that a change was necessary. I do not disagree. While having a successful football program is important, it is not the sole responsibility of the Chancellor and the BOT. Their main interest should be to protect the integrity of the university. Players receiving illegal benefits from agents is one thing. Academic fraud is quite another. Once the integrity of the institution was brought into question, that was the death knell for Butch Davis.
However, the timing of this move could not have been worse. UNC's reputation has already taken the hit. Is it any better now that the coach has been fired just days from the start of practice? The only thing that has been accomplished by making the move now is the on-field prospects of this year's Tar Heel football team have been damaged. Everett Withers is a fine football coach, and he may very well turn out a great head coach one day, but he and his players have been put in an incredibly difficult position. Coaching changes are almost always difficult for players to go through, but they are especially difficult right before the start of the season. Why not let Butch Davis coach this season, and then let him go? No one would have been shocked to see Davis fired, but at least you would have given this year's team their optimum chance at having a successful season. By letting Davis go now, whether intentional or not, Thorp and the BOT de-emphasized the football program...at least in the short-term .
When I say that the program has been "de-emphasized", that does not mean that all hope is lost for ever having "big time" football in Chapel Hill. I'm sure that the administration does want a successful football program. They have certainly spent a great deal of money in facility upgrades, and ultimately they want to see return on that investment. But the program has to be cleaned up. What they had was not working. This is a case of taking a step back in order to ultimately take two steps forward. Will Carolina be able to bring in a big- name coach to take over the program? I doubt it. Just because Butch Davis is gone does not mean this whole thing is over. There will be sanctions, quite possibly severe ones, from the NCAA. I am sure that there will be more thorough monitoring of the football program by the administration as well. That will probably scare some potential coaches off. But that does not mean that North Carolina football will never be able to compete on a national stage. The growth of UNC's program has been stunted, but not stopped all together. UNC football is now in a similar position as NC State basketball. It is not a job that will draw a "name' coach. It is a place where a coach can come in, be successful, and make his name.
It worked for Mack Brown.