Saturday, July 30, 2011

Davis should have stayed

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp dismissed head football coach Butch Davis last week a mere nine days before the first day of practice. Athletic Director Dick Baddour stepped down a day later, ending a long career that would have reached retirement next summer. Hours later they announced that former UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers would be the interim head coach for the 2011 season.

The Davis dismissal surprised almost everyone since Thorp emphasized his support of Davis last fall after news of improper benefits, academic fraud and a relationship between assistant coach John Blake and NFL agent Gary Wichard surfaced. The academic fraud involved a tutor who was under the employ of both UNC and the Davis family. Thorp explained that Davis knew nothing of any of the infractions. Both men pledged to improve the situation.

Thorp said that "what started as a purely athletic issue [had] begun to chip away at this University's reputation." Besides this, he claimed the scandal had no new developments. He also said he still believed that Davis was not involved with the infractions.

Really two significant developments occurred in the last 45 days. The NCAA released its notice of allegations, which condensed the aforementioned infractions into nine major violations. Davis did not appear in any of them. The notice did not provide any new information, but it did put everything together into one document. It was an exclamation point. The NCAA will deliver sanctions in October after UNC formally responds.

The second development was Michael McAdoo's failed lawsuit, which sought to restore his eligibility after the NCAA dismissed him from college athletics for what appeared to be help with citations in a paper. McAdoo released the paper to the public as part of the lawsuit, and a couple N.C. State fans discovered that McAdoo plagiarized his paper from the Web and another source. And this happened after high-ranking UNC officials defended McAdoo's paper as his own work. The scandal had reached beyond the athletic department to tarnish the honor system, the compliance office and others responsible for protecting the University's academic integrity.


Public reaction to the dismissal was varied and strong. Columnists both praised and criticized the decision. Everyone agreed that Thorp's timing was awful, but some said better late than never. WRAL released Thorp's e-mail records, which showed he received support from the faculty and varied reactions from alumni. Some called for Thorp's resignation.

Thorp claimed to reach the decision on his own in recent weeks, but evidence exists to suggest otherwise. The UNC Board of Trustees played an unclear role in the decision. The BOT welcomed two new members and changed its chairman on the day Thorp dismissed Davis. Thorp met with the Board of Trustees behind closed doors before the dismissal.

This change in membership was the only reason I could see for the timing of the decision. Perhaps Thorp wanted Davis out last fall but could not remove him because the old Board would not consent. Perhaps Thorp wanted Davis to stay but could not keep him after the new Board told him he had to go. The Board and Thorp might have an agreement of forced unanimity through Thorp's lips. Thorp did not explain this if either of these theories is correct. Maybe Thorp was in charge all along.

Writers will try to show that fans hate the dismissal and alumni love it. I disagree with the latter. I do hold the academic integrity of UNC in the highest regard, and that is why the McAdoo situation was devastating to me. University officials defended a phony paper for the world to see; it was the only situation of its kind since I came to Carolina in 2003. I know McAdoo stole someone else's work and other football players cheated. This upset me too, but students cheat at every institute of higher education. The best universities have an honor system in place to handle these instances. UNC has one that needs improvement. I give credit to Thorp for recognizing this. I also recognize that educators, including myself, cannot catch every instance of cheating. But they ought to try if the case is nationally prominent and time is relatively unlimited.

This major misstep was not primarily the fault of Davis. I doubt Davis even had access to the paper. You can blame Davis only if you think he alone should have better led his players in matters off the football field. You might say he alone should have taught them about honesty and dignity. But as Everett Withers explained in his press conference, it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a lot more to raise 100 of them. A head football coach cannot give off- and on-field direction to each player. A head football coach has to surround himself and his players with people who can collectively accomplish such a task.

Yes, Davis hired John Blake, a man who knowingly violated NCAA rules. Blake was also known as a player's coach, a man who educated young men while teaching them the game. Nobody thinks about him in this light any more because of what happened. He was perhaps a good man who did not follow the rules. He needed to go.

But Thorp said Davis did not violate any rules. His leadership was a mutually acknowledged work in progress at the end of last season. Firing him Wednesday was not only unfair to the football team; it was unfair to Davis. Whether he deserved another shot last fall is still debatable, but Thorp gave it to him and then took it away this week without evident explanation.

Expressing my opinion on this issue is not my obligation. I am an alumnus first and a fan second. My job is to support the University with my presence and money, and I will continue to do exactly that. Withers handled his press conference like he is ready for the job. I will buy an Everett Withers T-shirt if the bookstore has one to sell.

Let's not forget that September will bring football back to Chapel Hill, and football is fun. Whether you loved or hated Davis, Baddour and Thorp through the scandal's drama, you no doubt had those feelings because you loved UNC.

Get 'em, Everett. Go Heels. Win them all.


  1. I would love to see someone get to the bottom of this. We need to know the names of the two new idiots who came on the board and decided Davis needs to go. Any members who voted for a "no grounds" dismissal according to Davis's contracts hould have to fork out the 2.7 million dollars Butch Davis that UNC will now be responsible for paying. What idiots, anyone knows you can't fire a person these days without grounds. Fans, students and alumni need to demand the immediate resignation of all those who voted to fire Davis, since there was no valid reason, other than hurt feelings on how the NCAA violations made UNC look. I know the paper mentioned a unanimous vote, my question is "was it 100%". I smell something fishy after reading this article. Sounds like some shenanigans might have been pulled to dump Davis. This certainly merits an investigation, since it will cost the school 2.7 million dollar. The firing blunder is a far graver error than the money some of the Football players received. The trustees who voted for this need to banned from the University for life.

  2. I had never seen this website until it was linked on excellent writing. As a fan that is not an alumnus, I wish Davis would have been allowed to stay. Why wait until now anyway

  3. A nice article. I felt all along that firing Davis would be a mistake, and I still feel that way. I will support the Tar heels no matter what. I feel that the team may be really good this year, but I worry that the next coach, whoever he may be, will not be as good as Davis at convincing players to come to our school. I also feel we may have damaged our ability to get a quality coach by our treatment of Davis.

  4. I am heartbroken Davis was fired, period. His reputation of class and integrity has been apparent since the days he cleaned up "The U". Thorpe needs to GO and Fans need to protest to bring Davis "Back"! You do not fire a clean police chief for a rogue cop; typically the cop gets arrested.

  5. What a shame. I didn't attend UNC but feel a strong connection none the less. I wanted Butch Davis to stay...can't say the same for Mr. Baddour. I wanted him gone 10 years ago. I guess I can add Chancellor Thorp and the new BOT to that list of persons I'd like to see gone. They apparently don't know anything about the timing of things. If the academic reputation was the thing that pushed Coach Davis over the top, then he should have been gone last year.

    Anyway, I'll be there to cheer on Coach Withers and the Heels. Hope the Chancellor and Baddour are somewhere else.

  6. Please join me in calling for Holden Thorpe's resignation.

  7. I think we all need to put something in perspective about Chancellor Thorp. While he IS in charge of UNC in its entirety, his main area of expertise was and is studying and teaching chemistry. He knows a lot about academia, but I would guess that the athletic department is outside of his comfort zone. This can probably be said for any other university president or chancellor, too, since they all have PH.D.s in academic arenas. Let's not forget that Chancellor Moeser's degree was in music. These advanced degrees do not prepare them for dealing with athletic scandals. Schools don't hire chancellors to run the athletic department. Having a broad knowledge of athletics and intimate knowledge of how the athletic department should run is what athletic directors are for, and that is most likely why Dick Baddour resigned (or was forced to resign). It was HIS job to run the multi-million-dollar athletic department and pay attention to its effect on the university. He did not do his job, and now, thankfully, he is gone. How would you have fared if the person you trusted to advise you on something of which you do not have a firm grasp didn't do his or her job?

    If they really found something about Coach Davis that is the "smoking gun," then I certainly believe he should have been fired. If he broke the rules, then he broke the rules. He should not get a pass for that just because he is a good recruiter. However, if they're just now getting around to realizing that this whole scandal is negatively impacting the University's reputation, then they fired him about a year too late. It made no sense to do it right before the new season. Perhaps what the University needs is not a new Chancellor but a group of advisors that understands crisis management. UNC obviously does not have that currently.

    Anyway, thanks for the good blog post. Go Heels.