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Adam Gold

Right move at the wrong time

Posted July 28, 2011

Right move, wrong time.

A little more than 13 months since the NCAA knocked on the door at the University of North Carolina, the school decided that the reputation and integrity of the University was more important than the players who represent the school with their blood, sweat and tears. Had this decision been made following the Music City Bowl win over Tennessee I would have applauded the school for their actions. Butch Davis needed to be fired as the head football coach because it was under his watch that the University was exposed to nine major violations ranging from agent activity and impermissible benefits to the embarrassing revelation of a troubling academic scandal.

I don’t buy that the head coach didn’t know of John Blake’s reputation as a recruiter who achieved extraordinary success by playing fast with the NCAA rule book. Both men had been in coaching for far too long for Davis to not know what other coaches publicly said after learning of Blake’s involvement in the scandal. Davis had to know. Just like the – now former – head coach had to know that maintaining a private, professional relationship with a tutor that the University chose to un-hire was a bad idea. The school was uncomfortable with her relationship with the players she was assigned to and opted to not renew her contract. So, for Davis to think it was a good idea to keep her around to tutor his son was reckless.

I’m sure that there were other people capable of tutoring a high school student that weren’t essentially fired by UNC. Just like I’m sure that Butch Davis isn’t the only coach capable of bringing high-caliber football to Chapel Hill within the guidelines of the University’s wishes, so those of you under the impression that this signals a return to Bunting, relax.

For the last 13 months, the University of North Carolina has incredulously stood by Butch Davis. The Chancellor, Holden Thorp, steadfastly praised the manner in which Davis took charge of a difficult situation. Dick Baddour, the Director of Athletics for the last 14 years (who choked back tears as he announced his intent to step down prior to the end of his contract on June 30, 2012), also was loud in his praise and support of his head coach throughout this process, saying recently that Butch was the right man to see the University and the program through this difficult time.

Suddenly, yesterday, something changed in the mind of the Chancellor:

“What started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this University’s reputation,” Thorp said in a statement released by the University and reiterated on Thursday. “I have lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution. Our academic integrity is paramount and we must work diligently to protect it. The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change.”

Wait a minute; the academic scandal broke 11 months ago. Why does the academic reputation and the perception of the school suddenly matter now? Wasn’t that true in December? In January? April? What happened to trigger this decision just a week before the 100-plus players who didn’t do anything wrong are scheduled to begin official preparations for the 2011 season?

Could it have something to do with the recent lawsuit filed by former Tar Heels lineman Michael McAdoo that ultimately revealed his academic transgressions to be far worse than originally presented? That would be a good place to start because it did unveil a level of incompetence that surely surprised many in the University community. But if this was the case, the real issue should be with the professor, or the Chancellor, not the head coach.

Could it be a bone thrown towards the NCAA in advance of their hearing before the Committee on Infractions in October hoping that with this latest sacrifice the governing body might be inclined to let Carolina off easy? Thorp denied the idea at Thursday’s press conference and honestly, only a fool – or a collection of them – would even begin to try and predict what the NCAA is likely to do in cases of rule-breaking.

Or, could it have something to do with the fact that Wednesday was the first meeting of the new Board of Trustees and the new mix wanted to put their stamp on the University? Knowing that Thorp was so publicly supportive of Butch, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his mind changed for him by the new group. That would bring ego into the mix and, in my opinion, would be even more troubling.

Thorp said yesterday that this had nothing to do with additional information that was made available to the school and offered none Thursday morning. It was more of a cumulative effect of the months of allegations and violations uncovered during this investigation. Well, other than the McAdoo hearing, and the element in the Notice of Allegations that “administrators within the football program” were alerted to the agent-benefits issue and failed to adequately follow up on that information, what hadn’t we known about for months?

What’s even more sad, is that at an event that was presumably designed to answer questions, none were given. We still don’t know why Davis was fired at this point apart from possibly the positioning of the sun in the sky. Thorp claims that it wasn’t a human sacrifice for the NCAA, that they’re not interested in firing Davis “with cause”, thus saving the department $2.7 million, which does appear possible with the wording in his contract. Why the heck did they even call a press conference other than to have Dick Baddour announce that he was stepping aside so the next head coach could be hired by the next Athletic Director?

What a circus.

Nothing really makes sense to fire Davis now, with the start of training camp so close and the opening game five weeks from Saturday. The time to fire Davis was following last season – even if they had to dastardly do it after National Signing Day to preserve another strong class of incoming recruits. Once we got deep into the summer, the only fair thing for the current players was to let this season play out, take the medicine the NCAA prescribed and remove Davis at season’s end.

Throughout this entire ordeal, it seems the school has put their own interests, image, reputation, etc., ahead of those of the students who wear the uniforms. Wednesday’s move only reinforces that opinion. Whether it really was the decision of the Chancellor or not will be a topic for debate for some time. But the last 13 months have always seemed to me to be the orchestration of those above the Chancellor’s and Athletic Director’s offices, and the coincidence of a new Board of Trustees only adds to the skepticism.

Firing Butch Davis was the right thing to do, but this was the wrong time to do so.
 

12 Comments

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  • el conquistador Aug 2, 2011

    They should go after the actual perps who will never be punished. Punishing the coaches and the AD will never stop the kids from making bad decisions. I say go after the root of the problem, not the supervisors of the problem kids. The NFL players who lured the college kids into making these bad decisions and the agents that helped themselves to the vulnerable and broke kids are responsible for these annual problems...Until there is some real consequences laid down by the NFL , we will see an unending train of good coaches fall by the wayside and our favorite programs will be in a constant state of rebuilding.

  • becktonjames2 Jul 30, 2011

    $2.7 million.

    Only comes from the Athletic budget.

    Why bother having the ethics clause in a contract if you are never going to enforce it.

    We have 9 major violations under Coach Davis. I am sad to see him go, but as the CEO of the program, he is responsible for what goes on during his watch.

    He does not deserve to be paid a severance package. If the Athletic Department has so much money laying around, maybe they can transfer the $2.7 million to the General Fund for scholarships for the student scholars.

    Guess we saw how Baddour and Chancellor Thorpe operate when they paid Agent Blake $74,000 when he quit.

  • flyfishNC Jul 29, 2011

    Great article......

  • edwardwburt Jul 28, 2011

    Butch had to go. Hopefully, Thorpe will be gone soon as well. As a die hard Tar Heel fan, I an totally embarrassed. For Davis to insist he did nothing wrong is a complete joke. He should he held accountable for the problems that occurred during this last 14 or so months involving the football program. But Thorpe should be held accountable as well. Thorpe insisted that the honor board (AKA an F'ing joke) did its' job in the evaluation of academic problems involving a UNC student-athlete, only to find out the honor court was totally incompetent. Does the fact that football coach act unethically, harm the university's reputation more than having the honor court, the foundation of UNC's ethics, find no problem with a paper that was totally plagiarized? If Davis is responsible for the football team, shouldn't Thorpe accept responsibility for the schools academic honor court?

  • gaines2 Jul 28, 2011

    Adam, I think you mentioned two of the reasons behind this move in your article: 1) the new Carolina Board of Trustees gave Holden Thorp his new marching orders, and they included firing Butch and retiring Dickie Baddour. And, 2) the NCAA's Infractions Committee meeting on October 28. I'm certain it was not lost on either Thorp or the new BOT members that the NCAA went "easier" on Ohio State when OSU fired Jim Tressel. Plus, waiting it out for that meeting and then firing Butch after sanctions had been handed down would have looked for all the world as if Carolina was incapable of taking proper actions on its own, and no doubt the NCAA penalties as a result would have been much more severe, as they typically are in such cases (read Southern Cal). So if you're going to have to do this (and to me that is indeed what happened; Thorp HAD to do it), might as well get it over with, and get someone from the existing staff in place in time for practice to begin.

  • GladUGot2CMe Jul 28, 2011

    I couldn't have said it better! As a true blue tarheel (raised in Cary, NC and and alum 1995) I am so very saddened by this sudden and surprising move by my school. I am so shocked that everyone 'in power' has stood beside Davis, even as late as 6 days ago, then suddenly we have new trustees and our coach must be fired? I am not saying that Butch is completely innocent here. I am simply saying that the timing and the firing after all the "standing beside" him, is a complete shock. It just seems to make no sense and I am just deeply disappointed. I will still rally behind my team. I will rally behind our new interm coach and certainly behind our players. I am just disappointed in how it was handled and the timing has really put a damper on our players futures. :(

  • VT1994Hokie Jul 28, 2011

    I've never been impressed with Baddour, and I'm disappointed in Thorp. He didn't come across a a true leader in this mess since it was discovered, and especially yesterday and today.

  • Dean .776 > K .764 Jul 28, 2011

    But in the long run, the right move is the right move. The issue of timing will become less and less important in the weeks and months to come.

  • GC Jul 28, 2011

    Adam you are right in that the news conference was a circus.
    Both Thorp and Baddour are not leaders in any stretch of the imagination and both looked entirely out of place at the podium poorly and nervously reading their prepared statement.

    As for UNC putting its image and reputation ahead of everything else...you think?
    That's all UNC puts importance on with IMAGE being the most important of any other goal. For decades all the public has heard from UNC and a willing & able media is that UNC has always been above the fray and all other public institutions.
    No one should dare to question their reputation in academics because its the other schools that provide shortcuts for their athletes, not vaunted UNC.

    Well now even the traditionally pro-blue Raleigh News & Observer even had a front page story on faculty members feeling pressure from those in the UNC athletics department to look the other way when grading and evaluating UNC athletes' academic work.

    Which begs the larger question that what other athletics team members at UNC are also getting undeserved help from tutors and pressured faculty members?
    Surely the tutor organization at any school is not separated by sport. Each school would not logically have separate tutors for football, then a different tutor organization for basketball and then a third different for womens field hockey and so forth and so on.

    It is really unreasonable to assume that ONLY UNC football players have attempted to stay eligible for athletics participation to the exclusion of all other sports at UNC.

  • StunGunn Jul 28, 2011

    Well, I'm a Heels fan, and a fan of college sports, and because of that, this is the WRONG time. How about doing the right thing at the right time for the right people - the players who followed the rules, did everything right, and yet once again, are the innocent pawns in a game where selfish kids and egotistical university leaders called the shots.

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