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By Art Chansky Art Chansky's commentary on WCHL, Sports Notebook, airs Monday-Friday. He is also the author of 6 books on Tar Heel basketball; the latest -- The Blue Divide -- is currently in bookstores nationwide.

Chansky: What Were They Thinking?

By Art Chansky Posted December 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Surely, the terms of paying off fired football coach Butch Davis include that he cannot disparage his former employer. If so, Davis may have just flushed the two remaining payments of nearly $600,000 each (due in January of 2014 and 2015) down the toilet with comments he made in the recent cbssports.com article.

Reading that will cause local jaws to drop.

Davis, who can’t seem to find another coaching job, tells the story of his firing from UNC in exhaustive detail, basically claiming he had no prior knowledge of the impermissible benefits and that the seeds of the academic scandal preceded him by more than 10 years. He also trashes Holden Thorp, saying the former chancellor fired him to save his own job.

We’ve heard it all before, perhaps in not such gory detail. The most damaging parts of the article are comments from former Chancellor James Moeser and ex-athletic director Dick Baddour, who attempt to legitimize Davis’ claims. They are retired and should retire from interfering in a controversy that their school wants to let die; Moeser and Baddour also throw Thorp under the bus, which does not serve the university they both claim to love.

Moeser says in the article that, if he were still chancellor at the time, he would not have fired Davis. And Baddour reveals that it was not his recommendation to release the embattled coach in July of 2011. In an era when UNC has been pedestrian, at best, in controlling the message and speaking with one voice, it’s reprehensible that Moeser and Baddour not only took the call from CBSsports.com but provided a story in itself by fanning that flame.

Baddour says in the article written by Bruce Feldman that firing Davis “. . . was not a conclusion that I had come to. I wanted Butch to continue to be our coach and Holden knew that. [Firing him] was not my recommendation.”

Moeser, who history will judge poorly for his bad athletic hires, wrote in a reference letter that “the ultimate outcome of the UNC process has been most unfair to Butch Davis. His only transgression was excessive trust in one individual [John Blake] and a lack of internal monitoring and administrative control within the program . . . I would not have fired him.”

That probably was a kiss of death for anyone reading the Moeser recommendation. Besides Davis hiring a rogue assistant head coach, “Lack of internal monitoring and administrative control” are in the NCAA’s own words among the more severe transgressions a school can commit.” And Moeser says Davis was guilty of both.

As Chancellor Carol Folt, Vice Chancellor Joel Curran and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham build a new agenda and try to move beyond an old controversy, why are Moeser and Baddour commenting publicly now?

Maybe it’s guilt. Moeser and Baddour are responsible for three of UNC’s sorriest athletic hires – Matt Doherty, John Bunting and Davis. And Baddour, of course, elevated Carl Torbush after Mack Brown left for Texas and watched the football program drop like a lead balloon out of the top ten, beginning a decade of football futility followed by a three-year NCAA probation and Davis’ firing.

Moeser saying “I would not have fired him” shows how out of touch he remains with UNC traditions and history. After Frank McGuire left the basketball team with a one-year probation in 1961, Chancellor Bill Aycock appointed Dean Smith as head coach and together they created a new paradigm for Carolina athletics.

Yes, UNC should try to win as many games and championships as possible but, more importantly, educate and graduate athletes and run a clean program that does not embarrass the university. It became the guideline of every other Tar Heel athletic team for 50 years until the NCAA showed up on campus in the summer of 2010.

Smith became the all-powerful Hall of Fame coach with total autonomy over his basketball program, which also served as a model for other teams and coaches in what grew into a 28-sport athletic department. However, such autonomy created weak leadership at the top and a misplaced mantra called the “Carolina Way.” At its worst permutation, it meant that whoever held the jobs would succeed if they did them the same “Carolina Way” they had been done in the past.

Over a three-year period between 1997 and 2000, Athletic Director John Swofford went on to be Commissioner of the ACC and was replaced by long-time UNC employee Baddour; when Brown left, dozens of sitting head coaches would have been interested in the job, but Baddour, in an apparent panic, promoted career assistant Torbush; and one of Moeser’s first decisions as Chancellor was to reject Smith’s recommendation to hire alum and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown and instead approve the immature and volatile Doherty to lead the top college basketball program in America.

Yep, the people would succeed if they just kept doing it the “Carolina Way.”

Torbush lasted three turbulent seasons and was followed by Bunting, who had an inadequate background and knowledge of recruiting; another bad hire that was mismanaged by Moeser and Baddour. Doherty had to be dismissed from the job of a lifetime because he received little guidance from a miffed Smith and ineffectual Baddour. Despite repeated attempts by Trustees and prominent alumni to supplant Baddour with someone who actually had prior success as an athletic director, Moeser kept him in place.

Together, in 2006, they allowed a fed-up Board of Trustees to commandeer the football program, fire Bunting after seven games and hire Davis without properly vetting him. Then, there was inadequate vetting of the first assistant coach Davis hired, John Blake. A program that looked like it was blasting off for the moon was instead heading for disaster.

The “Carolina Way” – actually a label Smith used to describe how his teams “played hard, played smart, played together and had fun” – became a laughing stock locally, regionally and nationally. Now, UNC has replaced pretty much everyone at the top and is trying to move forward with the new agenda and rarely is the “Carolina Way” mentioned.

They can’t do much about Davis, except refuse to pay him the $1 million-plus and maybe sue him to get back the $1.6 he’s already been paid. But a former chancellor and athletic director who are still visible and claim they love the university should be told that any criticisms about past, present or future matters at UNC make it harder for Carol Folt and Bubba Cunningham to put this past history in the past.

Listen to Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook on this subject.

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