Art Chansky

Just Win, Baby!

  If Everett Withers keeps it up, he’s going to make it easy on Carolina’s new athletic director.   Withers began his season as UNC’s interim football coach with a slight blip that had some people chortling in their corn flakes – publicizing that the game ball from the opening day win over James Madison would go to his fired predecessor because this is really “Coach Davis’ team” or something like that. An okay gesture in private, but not the separation he needed to show from the beleaguered Butch.   Since then, Withers has been darn near perfect. He...

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Silence Is Golden?

The sudden silence surrounding UNC’s search for a new athletic director is anything but deadly. In fact, it’s a sign that the process has taken a step in the right direction. As a large list of qualified and sitting AD’s from other schools has been narrowed down, the names have, for the most part, remained secret. And that’s the only way Carolina is going to get the so-called best man for the job. When contacted recently, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp could share very few specifics about the search. His main acknowledgment was that the process may have begun like an academic search for a tenured professor or experienced dean, but it has since evolved into a highly confidential quest that will end one day soon when the job is offered and accepted. Thorp said he understood why it had to be that way. Tenured professors exploring opportunities at other schools are protected from losing their present positions, and their inquiries often result in counter-offers to their own benefit. In athletics, sitting athletic directors are not going to risk their jobs by publicly “applying” or “interviewing” at schools that may not offer them a great deal more than they are currently making. If they don’t get hired, or they announce they are withdrawing, it could leave them less secure with alumni and fans of their school. “I am getting advice...

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The Thigpen Connection

By far, the most damaging allegation from the NCAA into the UNC football scandal is on pages 62-63 of the 111-page response by the school, released Monday. It speaks to what, so far, the university has escaped – the dreaded lack of institutional control, or at least Butch Davis’ failure not only to monitor his program but to do something about it when confronted with alleged wrongdoing. It also brings to light a story that has been in the rumor mill for two years involving former linebackers coach and beloved Tar Heel player Tommy Thigpen, who left Carolina to coach the safeties at Auburn, which won the BCS national championship the season after Thigpen arrived on the Plains. The response includes facts that support the story about Thigpen, who supposedly found out that John Blake was acting as a defacto agent for the late Gary Wichard, accepting money Blake said were “personal loans” but steering players inside and outside the UNC program toward Wichard’s agency, Pro Tech Management, before they were drafted by the NFL. Thigpen has not talked publicly while the NCAA probe went on, and continues that stance, largely because he loves his alma mater and despite his success at Auburn wants to return to Chapel Hill some day. But the story goes that Thigpen knew what Blake was up to, confronted Blake and eventually went to...

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Unfulfilled Potential

Saturday’s less-than-satisfying victory over Rutgers could be considered a microcosm of Carolina’s entire football situation. Let’s call it unfulfilled potential. First, the stadium. You would think, after the Tar Heels’ exhilarating opener over James Madison on Labor Day Weekend in a near-sold out Kenan, the second Saturday crowd (listed at a generous estimate of 53,000) would be even better against a tougher opponent on a cooler afternoon. But the turnout was, in a word, disappointing. Notable sections of Kenan were unoccupied especially in the club seats of the Blue Zone, which university officials say are about two-thirds sold out at this point, and they are giving other tickets to prospects they hope will turn into buyers. However, from inside the stadium and on TV, the Blue Zone looks embarrassingly barren as if no one wants to sit there. It supports the age-old notion that the end zone is the cheap seats or student section. No matter how many tickets are sold or have been given away for the first two games, more blue chairs were visible than blue shirts in them. Officially named the Charlie Loudermilk Center for Excellence, for the owner of the Aaron’s empire and a loyal UNC supporter, the Blue Zone is really an ill-conceived compromise to the original Phase II of the Kenan project, which was to have the suites and a club section along...

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The Butch Davis Experiment

For the accomplished chemist, Holden Thorp, the first phase of the “Butch Davis Experiment” went off like another everyday application of E = mc2. With mass, energy and velocity, Carolina sent James Madison hurtling into the September night.   For whatever reasons, some of which we may never know, UNC’s young chancellor jettisoned his four-year head coach a week before practice started and hoped it would result in addition by subtraction. Thorp admittedly knows a lot more chemistry than football, but the experiment worked like magic from the opening kick.   With Davis a guest in one of the...

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New Paradigm Needed

The pressure is immense on Holden Thorp to make the right hire for Carolina’s next Director of Athletics. Thorp remains under heavy criticism for firing Butch Davis a week before football practice began, and that scrutiny comes from wealthy donors who feel they were misled to average Tar Heel fans who want to win and saw Davis as their savior.   Thorp has support from the UNC Boards of Governors and Trustees, plus the faculty and many alumni who are embarrassed by how the football program was run in the Davis regime. This tug-of-war will continue through the 2011 season that begins Saturday, no matter how the Tar Heels of interim coach Everett Withers fare on the field. A forthcoming NCAA probation can only intensify the conflict.   I am wondering whether Thorp thinks his own job is in jeopardy over the football scandal, that he could actually be fired for firing a coach. That sounds absurd at a university priding itself on academic integrity and playing by the rules for a half century. But the news moves so fast, and now so viral, in big-time college athletics that widespread public discourse  has cost college presidents their positions, all the way back to when former UNC Chancellor Paul Hardin was fired trying to clean up the football mess at SMU in the 1970s. I am also wondering if Thorp realizes he...

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Roy's New Digs

Roy Williams’ “lamp story” best illuminates how much in need the UNC basketball offices were of expanding and upgrading.   “When we moved into the Smith Center,” Williams said of his days as an assistant in 1986, “I carried a lamp into Coach Smith’s office and put it on his desk.   “When we moved out to begin the renovations,” said the man who had ascended to the head-coaching job in 2003, “I picked up the same lamp and carried it out of the office.”   Williams and his staff moved to temporary quarters and immersed themselves in turning the inconsistent 2010 NIT finalists into a squad that won the 2011 ACC regular season and reached the East Regional championship game before losing a close one to Kentucky. Williams walked through the construction site one time, saying, “Just tell me when we can move back in.”   They returned to their enlarged and renovated suite a few months ago, and it is difficult to imagine any nicer coaching digs in the country. A majestic outside entrance has replaced non-descript glass doors from the 1980s. A bust of Dean Smith sits outside the luxurious, welcoming main lobby with a large front desk and a giant acrylic interlocking NC behind it, high definition flat screens on the walls to the left.   A 70-inch screen is the center piece of the lobby,...

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"Carolina Firsters"?

This notion of “Football First” or “Basketball First” fans at Carolina amuses me. Having graduated from UNC and been around for four decades, I am hard-pressed to think of a Carolina alumnus or rabid fan who roots passionately for one of the sports and disses the other. If you’re a Tar Heel fan, your pull for the Tar Heels. Period. Now, there are different levels of personal passion, for a number of reasons. You might like unrushed football weekends in Chapel Hill over traffic jams to and from the Dean Dome. Or you might like the sport of basketball (especially Carolina and ACC style) over the longer, weather-affected gridiron game. But I honestly don’t know a single person who wants one of the sports to succeed at the expense of the other. Including me, who has been painted by some as a “basketball-firster.” Indulge me for a moment. I actually like football better than basketball. Having played it from 6th grade through high school, and watched many more college and pro football games, I understand the sport better. Even if you see a football play for the first time, you can clearly watch it evolve from snap to whistle. Aside from the few sets that Carolina basketball has been running for 40 years before it goes freelance, I don’t recognize most of the plays. In basketball, you don’t need...

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Re-Emphasizing Football

  Maybe his timing shocked people and maybe he did not do it with the polish of a senior statesman (inadvertently committing a minor NCAA violation, himself), but it astounds me how Holden Thorp has become the villain in the firing of Butch Davis, who as the facts continue to seep out was, at best, an arrogant, see-no-evil football coach and, at worst, presided over a crooked program.   Those who support “Fire Holden Thorp” websites and actually send in money to erect billboards and hire planes to fly over Kenan Stadium are somehow blind to the fact that UNC is facing major NCAA sanctions after its October 28 hearing that, perhaps, Thorp lessened with his last-minute move. Indications are that Davis did not pay much more than lip service to “take full and complete responsibility” to see this never happens again.   And I contend now and throughout the coming season that the 2011 Tar Heels under interim coach Everett Withers will be better off without the Davis distraction hovering over the team, especially if more bad news keeps emerging. Head coaches are overrated on game-day preparation and sideline significance, anyway. The coordinators prepare the game plan and call the plays, the position coaches get the kids ready, and on Saturday the head coach mostly listens through his head set and occasionally flails at the officials. His weekend job...

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A Way Out

You remember the classic Kevin Costner movie in which he seemingly had No Way Out of his pickle as a double secret agent?   Carolina avoided that dilemma in the first phase of a path to restore its reputation and integrity. It can also keep its football program on track as a contender in the Coastal Division of the ACC, which could always lead to a conference championship and ultimate BCS game.   With Dick Baddour’s announced resignation, Carolina can begin the search for a new athletic director whose first duty will be to hire the Tar Heels’ next permanent football coach. So the right plan is in place; let’s not screw it up by adhering to Churchill’s old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”   In other words, there are times when UNC might be able to promote a young star from within, but not this time, with such a big assignment on top of the in-basket.    Baddour has held the position for 14 years after being promoted from John Swofford’s senior associate in 1997, when Swofford became Commissioner of the ACC. Baddour, who had previously worked for the Dean of Students and the UNC law school, was basically a compliance guy whose job it was to know all the rules and make sure they were followed.   The late Chancellor,...

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