Davis understands why UNC made him the fall guy
Posted October 8, 2012
Updated October 10, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Former University of North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis was removed from his position just weeks before the start of the 2011 season in the wake of an NCAA investigation into the football program. Despite never being mentioned in the NCAA Notice of Allegations, UNC parted ways with Davis, agreeing to pay as much as $2.7 million in a buyout for severing ties without cause.
The 60-year-old Oklahoma native has split time between the NFL and collegiate levels since 1979 and, as a head coach, took the University of Miami to four bowls in six years. He took UNC to three bowls in four years and, before losing 16 wins to NCAA sanctions, had produced three consecutive eight win seasons.
Now serving as an advisor to Greg Schiano of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Davis is staying close to the game while abiding by his no-coaching stipulation in his buy-out agreement with UNC.
Recently, Davis sat down with WRAL-TV sports anchor Jeff Gravley in an exclusive one-on-one interview to discuss what exactly happened at UNC from the time he was hired to the time he was dismissed, how things transpired with those individuals involved and what the future holds.
Davis worked to put out the fires
The UNC administration said there was no tipping point - it was a compilation of reasons why Davis was fired in 2011 just seven days before the start of football practice. Up until that day, Chancellor Holden Thorp and Director of Athletics Dick Baddour publically offered full support of Davis. So why the sudden change?
“I guess they felt it was in the best interest to make me the person, that if they eliminated me from the scenario, maybe that would justify cleaning it up and changing it or whatever,” Davis said.
Did Davis get offered a reason?
“I think ultimately it boiled down to the academic issues,” Davis said. “I think they felt like they were having to defend the honor court system, they were having to defend the unfortunate issue of Michael McAdoo and the honor court system. And things that were going on with the tutoring program, the academic support program and they felt like that that was all centered, exclusively at that time around the football program.”
But there were plenty of flames all around the football program. An NCAA investigation, players receiving impermissible benefits, unpaid parking tickets by football players, assistant coach John Blake's association with an agent and a tutor who provided extra academic help and financial assistance to football players.
The public outcry was loud, ‘how could a head coach not know what was going on?’
“It's a question that I've asked and thought about a lot over the last several months. What I would tell you is I think that we knew, we worked extraordinarily hard to know a lot of things,” Davis said. “There were things that would happen with athletes that we would find out immediately. (And) yes, take care of it.”
Davis said that the initial problems went well beyond 2008 when the improprieties garnered NCAA attention. Davis inherited problems on the football roster when he first arrived in Chapel Hill in 2006.
“In the first two years, we had to terminate and dismiss from the program 18 players - completely under the radar,” Davis said. “There were things we had to change. We knew about it. Players that had hundred dollar bills laying on their bed and then posting it on Facebook. People talk about how we didn't monitor Facebook, we did. We found things - we immediately acted.”
More action was needed in 2010 when the NCAA began investigating the football program. Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn, players Davis and his staff recruited, were cashing in on their stardom as Carolina football players. Blake allegedly accepted money and was accused of steering players to then agent Gary Wichard.
“The three players that were involved in the extra benefits, all three of them, were terminated and dismissed from the football team,” Davis said. “The coach that was involved was immediately terminated and dismissed. We never not acted immediately on things when it became available.”
The timing of the action may have been immediate, but the bulk of the problems continued to swell to a point in July of 2011 that the university felt it could not continue with Davis as the head coach -- even though there was no tangible evidence that Butch Davis was running a program out of control.
The cost according to Davis, and for many others that were close enough to the situation, was becoming ultimately the collateral damage of a few bad choices by a select few people.
“I feel bad for a lot of very innocent people got hurt in this situation,” Davis said.
When asked if he considers himself one of those innocent people, Davis replied, “I think I am. But there's a lot of other people: the alumni, the fans, the students, the players on the football team that are going through it right now. There's been a ton of people that have been negatively affected by this that had absolutely zero role in it.”
Problems went beyond players
In addition to athletes accepting impermissible benefits, Davis had to answer to two other people whose names appeared in the NCAA investigation. Davis hired Blake as an associate coach and recruiting coordinator and tutor Jennifer Wiley. Why were they selected? Multiple reasons, but in one case, the overwhelming advice came directly from the university.
“We asked the head of the academic support program at UNC, ‘do you have the names of a dozen, 10 people or whatever?’” Davis said. “My wife and I received a letter from them saying we have the perfect person for you. This is the best person in our entire academic. She wants to be a teacher. She has a love and a passion to help students.”
‘She’ was Jennifer Wiley.
“So we interviewed her and my wife hired her and she worked as a tutor for our son,” Davis said. “A couple of years later, the whole thing came out that she was working with players after she left the academic support program. It came completely as a recommendation from them.”
Wiley was listed in the NCAA report as one of the people who provided impermissible benefits to football players – both academically and financially.
Blake was also named in the NCAA report as someone who led a bread trail from UNC athletes to Wichard. Davis coached Blake in high school and the two worked together on the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. In 2006, Davis felt comfortable enough to hire Blake after his background check passed multiple checkpoints at North Carolina and the NCAA.
“He had five institutions in his background when we submitted to our compliance department. No red flags whatsoever,” Davis said. “So here is a guy who has a reputation of being a good coach, who has a clean reputation via the NCAA. So you hire him.”
But Blake’s reputation was far from crystal. He had made some radical charges against Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman while in Dallas and then later at Oklahoma, was rumored to be engaging in less-than-ethical recruiting practices.
“Again you have to stay in constant contact. There was a 12-year period of time and a 13-year period of time that John and I weren't around each other, didn't coach together,” Davis said. “I was in the NFL, he was in college, back-and-forth.”
When allegations against Blake surfaced at UNC in 2010, he was forced to resign after the first game of the season. A month later, Davis said "I'm sorry that I trusted John Blake."
“Can I sit here and tell you that absolutely, every person that any leader of an organization hires, are you going to absolutely going to know everything about that person? That's the hardest thing in the world to know,” Davis said. “I don't know checking accounts, bank accounts. I don't know any of those kinds of things. It's a shame. I feel horribly bad that that was a role that was played in a lot of the scenarios that went on at North Carolina.”
Will there be a return to the sidelines?
There is a fine line between allegations and facts, but the interpretation can be the difference between being hired or not if you are a college football coach.
Despite a tumultuous time at the university as a whole, Davis as an individual was never named in the NCAA Notice of Allegations and was not given a cause for his dismissal. The University of North Carolina was supposed to be a destination job where Davis wanted to anchor his family.
“This was the place that Tammy and I had decided that we were going to come and put our heart and soul into this community and into this program,” Davis said. “I guess they felt it was in the best interest to make me the person, that if they eliminated me from the scenario, maybe that would justify cleaning it up and changing it or whatever.”
Davis is currently in an advisory role in the NFL with the Buccaneers, but that still can’t fill the void from not coaching.
“I think I'm a coach,” Davis said. “I've always been and I hope to get an opportunity to be a head coach again someday.”
Because of the NCAA shadow, there is some repair work that needs to be done if Davis decides to coach in college again.
“I think a lot of the repair work, the NCAA has done for me. A 256-page report that doesn't even list my name,” Davis said. “Cell records that have been released and there's been absolutely not one single thing that has come out of that, that would have been any kind of illegal.”
Like in any profession, timing is everything and to this point, the stars have yet to realign for Davis.
“With the exception of the Tampa Bay opportunity to coach there, not really,” Davis said about any potential jobs that have been made available to him.
“The timing of all the NCAA and all the things with the investigation that has gone on at the University of North Carolina,” Davis said. “I think there would have been some opportunities, but because of the fact that none of that stuff had started to come to any kind of a conclusion until after all those jobs were filled. Waiting until January, February when all the jobs are open in October, November and December made it very, very difficult.”
When that job does open up, Davis insists that college or the NFL, he is just looking for the right fit.
“Either one. I think more than anything else I'm looking for the right opportunity.” Davis said.
Davis thought he found that opportunity at North Carolina, instead his plan ended prematurely and his search continues.
“It's not going to be the end of my career,” he said.