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.