Lampley Said 'See Ya!'
In the early 1970s, I worked for the Atlanta Constitution and heard a sportscaster named Beau Bock do commentaries on the radio and host what might have been the first sports talk show in America.
Bock was very informative and entertaining in his 2-minute daily diatribe and then he actually fielded phone calls and let people give him THEIR opinions on sports stuff. Brilliant, I thought.
A year or so later, I returned to North Carolina as the sports editor of the old Durham Morning Herald. I went to see my old friend Jim Heavner at WCHL, for whom I had been a reporter and correspondent in my days as a UNC student.
“Jim,” I began, “there’s this guy in Atlanta who does sports commentaries and then spends an hour on the air taking phone calls from sports fans who get all over the lousy Atlanta teams. It’s uproarious. You ought to do that on CHL”
Heavner rubbed his chin, as he’s been doing for most of the last 70 years, while in contemplation. Finally, he spoke.
“We’re the flagship station of the Tar Heels and people in Chapel Hill love sports,” he said. “We could do that . . . and I have the perfect person to do it.”
“You do?” I said, beginning to stick out my chest, hoping of course that perfect person was the person who suggested the shows.
“Jim Lampley,” Heavner said.
Lampley was, at the time, a journalism graduate student at Carolina and reporting on games and other sports news for the radio station, then located at the bottom of East Franklin Street across from Eastgate Mall.
“Lamp,” I said, deflated. “Great idea. He would be perfect.”
So, in 19974, Jim Lampley recorded a sports commentary that ran three or four times a day on the station. Being a Univac for sports facts, Lampley’s Sports Notebook was both hilarious and knowledgeable. He also hosted a weekly talk show called Sports Switchboard that was equally successful, with people from all over town calling Lamp to ask him questions and give their own take, mostly on the Tar Heels of Bill Dooley and Dean Smith.
I was busy putting out a daily sports section in Durham when I heard a rumor.
ABC-TV was conducting a national search to hire a couple of college-age sideline reporters to freshen up its football telecasts on Saturday afternoon. Bud Wilkinson, the former Oklahoma Hall of Fame football coach, had been the color commentator for years on ABC and the telecasts had become staid and boring.
Lampley and a young TV reporter from Philadelphia named Don Tollefson beat out hundreds of candidates to win the positions, and the UNC graduate student went from making $80 a week at the local radio station to earning $80,000 a year as ABC’s first sideline reporter. In his debut game , Lampley walked down the docks where the yachts park and party outside of Neyland Stadium in Knoxville before Tennessee games.
The Lampley story went on from there, as Jim called virtually every sporting event for ABC, NBC and CBS in his own hall of fame broadcasting career. He later became the voice of boxing for HBO and now has his own special on the history of the controversial sport. He was one of many national and regional stars (Charles Kuralt, George Hamilton IV, Bob Holiday and Warren Levinson, to name a few) to get their start at the little AM radio station at the bottom of the hill.
Oh, by the way, Heavner called me after Lampley left for ABC job and asked if I wanted to take over Sports Notebook and Sports Switchboard – for I think $10 a week. I said yes, happily, and did both shows through the mid-1980s. In the last two years, I’ve returned to WCHL to resume Sports Notebook.
On my first commentary back in 1975, I ended it with the phrase “See ya.” The station manager at the time complimented me on the Sports Notebook but told me to lose the “See ya”. After my second commentary without the sign-off, Heavner said, “What happened to the “See ya”. I told him what had happened.
“It’s great, it will become your trademark, put it back in,” he said. So back it went and, as you know if you listen at 7:30, 8:30 and other times during the day, it is still there as WCHL celebrates its 60th birthday.
“This is Art Chansky . . . see ya!”
The Martin Report
Former Governor Martin’s report on his independent investigation into academic fraud at UNC is due Thursday, and my educated guess is that it will confirm what we already know and reveal little that we don’t.
That’s the outcome UNC must have to finally put this scandal to rest and move on, and any new revelations would be even more damaging than the massive hit the university’s reputation has already taken. Any such new allegations would be a bombshell that could reverberate through the athletic department, past and present and future.
Martin’s report is sure to say that, yes, there were too many independent study courses offered in the Department of Afro and African-American Studies and, yes, there were too many athletes clustered in some of those courses. We already know that and the university has pledged to fix the problem that apparently created a climate conducive to cheating.
Fewer independent study courses will be offered and the students taking them will have to be fully qualified, which is the point of independent studies in the first place. Athletes liked them because they had no classes and helped balance the time burden of playing a varsity sport.
And while we may suspect that more cheating occurred than has already been exposed, some of it claimed by former athletic support employee Mary Willingham, hard proof will have been difficult to find by Martin and the Baker Tilly consulting firm that has helped conduct the investigation.
Heretofore, as far as we know, no tutors or teachers have come forward to admit they illegally helped write term papers for athletes. And the only paper found to be plagiarized belonged to former football player Michael McAdoo who after being suspended from the team went in the supplemental NFL draft to the Baltimore Ravens, where he is still on their practice squad.
By UNC policy, term papers do not have to be kept on file for more than a year, so Martin’s committee may have class rolls and transcripts but will likely uncover no evidence that any students (athletes or not) received improper help in writing the papers that determined their grades in independent study courses.
At least I hope not.
Let’s theorize what would happen if Martin found several papers by former prominent athletes at UNC that his investigation suspects were written with impermissible help from tutors or illegally plagiarized. The ramifications could be sweeping, far beyond the possible vacating of victories and championships. It would mean further investigation and more public records requests from the media, which already seems never ending.
Say those athletes were now members of professional sports teams. Just as Julius Peppers was unduly embarrassed by the publishing of his first-semester transcript, dragging any more of UNC’s famous athletic alumni into the scandal would tarnish the reputation of the pro athletes who have been such great ambassadors for the university and substantiate claims that the cheating was not contained from 2007-2011.
And say those pro stars implicated after the fact were African-Americans, like every student-athlete that was part of both the NCAA investigation and academic fraud that resulted in Carolina’s three-year probation and one-year bowl ban. The widespread unrest among the minority students on campus over the last three years is no secret, with claims that some athletes were not protected enough—in fact suspended and sacrificed too quickly by UNC.
What would this mean to Carolina’s long-standing reputation as one of the most popular schools in the country for minorities? And how much would that affect Larry Fedora’s and Roy Williams’ and all the other UNC coaches in continuing to recruit and sign quality African-American student-athletes? It certainly would not help.
Most damaging, UNC might be permanently branded the same way as other universities that have been associated with repeated academic scandals.
That Carolina has taken its medicine, fired culpable coaches and staff members and already begun fixing what was broken should be enough. It would be different if the athletic department considered getting caught the “cost of doing business” and was only paying lip services to making changes. That goes on at some SEC schools, which have served more probations than any others in the country and continue winning championships.
UNC has never been of that ilk, and what happened over the last five years was clearly an aberration that has embarrassed and hurt thousands of proud alumni. Holden Thorp and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have reset goals for academics and athletics that far exceed any baselines previously used for excellence in the classroom and on the playing fields.
More than 40 years ago, in the stifling summer of 1971, a Tar Heel football player named Billy Arnold suffered a heat stroke during preseason practice and died after several weeks in a coma. An investigation ensued and Coach Bill Dooley and his staff were cleared of any wrong-doing.
But what resulted spoke far more loudly than the internal probe. The football coach at Carolina no longer determined the length and nature of practices once the temperature and humidity reached a certain level, and mandatory water and rest breaks were dictated by the medical staff on hand. From an environment where the coach and team doctor controlled practice came the formation of UNC’s Sports Medicine Department, now considered one of the finest in the country.
Billy Arnold’s parents could have sued the university, but chose not to. Dooley and his staff could have been fired or reprimanded for negligence, but were not (at least publicly). Dooley remained coach of the Tar Heels for seven more seasons.
The unthinkable had happened. After grieving for Arnold, the university was more focused on making changes to ensure it never happened again than assigning blame. There was no benefit in looking back, only to learning from any mistakes that had been made.
That’s why I hope, and believe, the Martin report will confirm everything we already know, but tell us nothing that we don’t. And UNC can finally, and fully, move forward.
Uniformly Agreed — We Like 'Em!
I was in mid-matriculation when Carolina Football went from white helmets to various PMS-shades of blue helmets. I bet you don’t know the “why” they did. I bet not even Freddie Kiger knows this one!
Bill Dooley replaced Jim Hickey as UNC’s Head Football Coach following the 1966 season. Dooley brought with him a different “attitude” towards college football and it’s overall seriousness in the grand scheme of things. Duh!
For Dooley and his SEC-bred staff it was akin to “war” best waged by socially-dysfunctional individuals of ill-temper. A Bill Dooley quote (with a 58% chance of being apocryphal) went that:
“Good guys wear white hats. Our football team is not going to be ‘good guys’ any longer.” …… Bye bye white helmets – Hello blue helmets. Until this past Saturday.
Aside: I have a theory that all “Coach (fill-in-blank) said” were actually said by Peahead Walker. Walker was a notoriously goofy coach at Wake Forest (in Wake Forest) and other places in the 1940s-50s who supposedly said a number of malapropisms and other non-sequiturs regarding football and Life. There is a companion theory that Peahead Walker himself never existed but is simply a catch-all source of any goofy saying by a football coach. You decide.
Carolina football helmets have been various shades of “Carolina Blue” since 1968. Dean Smith had five different PMS-shades of Carolina Blue he used for various purposes. You really want to argue with Dean Smith? I didn’t think so.
The interlocking NC has been the helmet decal all that time EXCEPT for several years under Dick Crum when he used a staggered UNC decal. Most of the Crum-era has been power-washed from the collective memory of Tar Heels. The staggered UNC was among the first such innovations to be dropped. In Dick’s defense, I always liked his jersey numbering design. Apparently I’m the only one who did.
Sports uniforms in general are not one of my hot-button issues. I do think some of the ones over the past few years have been hideous. I tend to be a traditionalist but you probably guessed that already….. Yankee pinstripes….. Cardinals’ bird-on-the-bat….. a double gambler at The Rat….. etc, etc. Rolls at the Porthole !!
I knew Saturday’s game was going to unveil the old/new white helmets but I hadn’t given it much thought until the team ran out on the field for VaTech. The all-white head-to-toe look was BOFFO. I did not get a tingle down my leg; but I really did like the look A LOT.
My immediate concern was “if we lose today will Coach Fedora forever outlaw the white helmets?” Should we have unveiled them against Idaho-ho-ho to give them a chance as a good-luck charm? The Fighting Fedorians solved the dilemma right where it should be solved – amid the lofty pines of Kenan’s greensward.
While many were marveling at Gio Bernard’s outstanding day, I was not at all surprised. That all-white look from head-to-toe increased Gio’s speed by .262%. Look faster – Be Faster. Go Gio Go!
My advice to Coach Fedora and to Bubba is “blue helmets with blue jerseys” and “white helmets with white jerseys”.
Just so you don’t think I’m the only one; the several hundred former Carolina FB lettermen in the Choo Choo Lounge at halftime Saturday unanimously applauded the “new look”. That included an old friend from Rocky Mount who knows a thing or two about wearing a Carolina white helmet. A fellow by the name of Talbot. Danny LOVED’em too! As did the youngsters like Don McCauley who never knew “the whole story”…… until now.
AND…… so did the Official Mascots of The Choo Choo Lounge – The Fabulous Comparato Twins – Nicole & Paige. They thought they were “really cute”. They know a lot about “cute”.
More BobLee? Boblee@bobleesays.com
Eras of Imperfection
As Bubba Cunningham takes over and goes about the process of producing a winning football program we can all be proud of, it brings to mind past UNC coaching regimes and blips along the way that occurred in all of them.
The post-Choo Choo Justice era has been rife with distractions and interruptions, the largest of course being the sudden death of “Sunny Jim” Tatum in the summer of 1959. Tatum, a Carolina alum, had returned from Maryland after winning the 1953 national championship in College Park and embarked on building a similar power in Chapel Hill.
For those who have questioned football’s place at Carolina, athletic department graybeards remember how Tatum’s arrival created a reorganization of offices in Woollen Gym that resulted in basketball coach Frank McGuire being downsized into a space that was once the ticket booth.
Who knows what would have happened had Tatum not been fatally infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The prospect has caused some remorseful fans to label Carolina’s football woes as “The Curse of the Tick.” But Tatum’s best team did drub Duke 50-0 on Thanksgiving Day 1959 under elevated new head coach Jim Hickey.
Hickey’s high-water mark was the Ken Willard-Chris Hanburger co-ACC champs of 1963 that blanked Air Force in the Gator Bowl 35-0. The post-season bid was secured when Max Chapman booted a clutch late field goal at Duke to pull out the 16-14 victory. But that was Hickey’s last winning team and he was fired following the 1966 season.
Bill Dooley, a 32-year-old coach with SEC roots (played at Mississippi State, worked for brother Vince at Georgia), took over and made spring and summer practices more like boot camps, weeding out those who thought football was supposed to be fun. Dooley gradually recruited his kind of players and began a string of six bowl games in eight years that included three ACC Championships in the pre-Florida State days. Only one subsequent Carolina coach won an ACC title and it was not Mack Brown.
When Dooley could not ascend to the dual role of football coach and athletic director (like bro Vincent in Athens), he left Chapel Hill for Virginia Tech, which was willing to give him both jobs. Neither Georgia nor Virginia Tech had a powerhouse basketball coach and program like Dean Smith’s Tar Heels, and if Smith didn’t want to be the AD (which he turned down), then the football coach wasn’t getting it. For sure.
Dooley’s “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense received regular ridicule, but history has made him Carolina’s most successful football coach in terms of conference titles and 1,000-yard rushers (Don McCauley’s UNC-record 1,720 yards in 1970 tops 20 such seasons from 12 different Carolina running backs). Dooley personifies the old cliché about not knowing what you have lost until you lose it.
Dick Crum came next and his decade on the job produced the other ACC title (1980), six bowl teams and eight of those 1,000-yard seasons. In a curious irony, Crum ran a wider-open offense than Dooley while remaining emotionless on the sideline — his squat body covered up by a baggy jacket or sweatshirt, wide-rimmed glasses and head phones that swallowed his ears . . . Coach R2-D2, the media jokingly called him.
When “the Crummer” stopped going to bowls every year, his professorial personality became more of an issue with fat-cat donors and alumni, and the school bought out his contract after the 1987 season. We needed a coach with more sizzle, a salesman who could recruit great players and help us raise money. Enter Mack Brown from Tulane by way of Appalachian State and Oklahoma (as an assistant).
Although Brown averaged nine wins his last six seasons, all ending with bowl bids, he never fully overcame the 1-10 records his first two UNC teams posted. He even poked fun at himself, repeating jokes he had heard about him and his program. But while he laughed (and sometimes cried) after games, his real mettle was in the sign posted for everyone to see in the football office: “It’s Not a Matter of IF — It’s a Matter of WHEN.”
Brown embraced Carolina’s football history, won over the lettermen and led the charge to build the Kenan Football Center. He nearly left for Oklahoma two years earlier (his wife went as far as house-hunting in Norman), but decided to stay. Since he had yet to move into his fancy new office, with the infamous fish tank, Brown was thought to be staying at least a few more seasons in Chapel Hill.
He was bitterly disappointed when his 1997 Tar Heels washed out 20-3 against Florida State in the game of unbeaten, top-10 teams on an electric Saturday night in Kenan Stadium. And, after posting Carolina’s first win at Clemson in 17 years, Brown was openly agitated when a sparse turnout saw the noon kickoff on Senior Day against Duke. Even after the fired up Tar Heels drilled the Blue Devils 50-14 to finish 10-1, Brown was still carping about the less-than-capacity crowd.
So, after accidentally bumping into Texas coaching legend Daryl Royal at the ACC all-sports banquet in Atlanta that December, Brown was still miffed enough to listen to a preliminary pitch and then stay over to meet with the Texas search committee. Of course, the engaging Brown said all the right things and was offered the job that he did not accept until UNC refused to up his salary to match that of basketball coach Bill Guthridge. Carolina finally did, but by that time Brown was burned up and ready to wear burnt orange. Today, he is among the highest-paid coaches in the history of college sports, his Longhorns upsetting Reggie Bush and USC for one national championship and losing a second BCS title game to Alabama two years ago.
While Dooley, Crum and Brown had their ups-and-downs during their respective 11-, 10- and 10-year stints at UNC, they won 210 games, those four ACC titles and earned 18 bowl bids over 31 years. No Carolina coach since has lasted six full seasons, won more than eight games and earned one (Carl Torbush), two (John Bunting) and three (Butch Davis) bowl bids.
So, regardless of how the NCAA rules, there is a lot of work to do to get back to where Carolina was in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, because clearly the 21st Century has not been nearly as good for the football Tar Heels. And the last two years have set their own unfortunate precedent.
That will be the challenge for the new permanent coach, whoever he turns out to be. Ironically, in terms of personnel and facilities, he will have it far better than any of his predecessors inherited. So the formula is simple if not easy.
Get the right guy in here, survive the NCAA sanctions, and in the long run the sky’s the limit.
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 to watch the game that way. If the possession ends with a hoop, we are happy.
I fell in love with Carolina in the fall before I ever saw a UNC basketball game. It was at Kenan Stadium on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. Against Clemson. Don’t think we won, but it did not matter. As a city kid, I was hooked on the beauty and pageantry and majesty of it all.
A few months later, at the old Carmichael Auditorium, I was mesmerized by Frank McGuire when he strode onto the court with his South Carolina basketball team. I knew he had a history in Chapel Hill and soon learned the whole story. In those years, Dean Smith was a youngster, still earning respect from his players and the fans who idolized what McGuire had done in 1957.
Personal passion aside, there is also personal access in the makeup of Carolina football and basketball fans. Relatively few could cram into Carmichael as the Tar Heels and Smith became national figures in their own right. Students and staff got a few thousand tickets and the rest went to Rams Cub members, who had begun funding athletic scholarships at UNC.
Nothing really changed when the Smith Center opened in 1986, because the fan base had increased more disproportionately than the seating capacity. Let’s run the numbers.
Of the 22,000 seats in the Dean Dome, say roughly 7,000 go to students and 3,000 go to faculty and staff. That leaves 12,000. The Rams Club donors who financed the building got to buy all of those seats, the higher their gift the better the ticket location and number they could buy. Some bought two seats but others bought as many as 12 and still have them. If it’s an average of four, that means only 3,000 Carolina fans (or families) own basketball season tickets.
Carolina tries to sell at least three times that many season tickets at (now) 63,000-seat Kenan Stadium. Plus single-game seats always go on sale, which happens rarely in basketball. So, simply put, more Tar Heel fans can go to football games than basketball games, and that access may increase their personal pride as well as passion in that sport.
Some see the lucky basketball season-ticket holders as elitists because they possess a commodity. But I am guessing the great majority of Dean Domers also spend football weekends in Chapel Hill, and cheer for the football Tar Heels on Saturdays.
Whether losses ruin their weekends like occasional basketball defeats sour their next days is purely a matter of habit. Carolina has won three ACC football championships since 1966, compared to roughly 10 times that many regular-season or tournament titles in basketball. Plus Carolina has won five national championships, while the football Tar Heels haven’t played in what is equivalent to a BCS bowl game today since Choo-Choo Justice ran wild in the late 1940’s. So expectations are lower and losses are easier to get over in football.
But that doesn’t mean Tar Heel fans don’t want to win as much in football, and we have had so-called big-time teams before – from Bill Dooley in the ‘70s, to Dick Crum in the ‘80s and Mack Brown in the ‘90s. The story hasn’t been so pretty since Brown left in 1997, but that’s because we made some god-awful decisions and managed them poorly, sort of like what happened in the ill-fated Matt Doherty years, which were rectified by the return of Roy Williams.
I wasn’t a close friend of Mack Brown’s, but was close enough to have introduced him to his second wife, Sally, then a successful real estate developer in Chapel Hill. I know he did not want to leave UNC when Texas began throwing steer-troughs of money his way. We had just opened the Kenan Football Center and Brown had yet to move into his office. Sally was making a ton developing high-end neighborhoods in Chapel Hill.
Brown said to Athletic Director Dick Baddour, “If you want football to be as big as basketball, I want to make what (basketball coach) Bill Guthridge makes, and I don’t even know what he makes.” According to Brown, Baddour said that was impossible, that it would bankrupt the athletic department and that football will never be as big as basketball at UNC.” Even if you believe that, you don’t say that, especially to a football coach you are trying to keep.
The loss of Brown was the first of about a dozen major personnel blunders committed by Baddour, who eventually at the direction of Chancellor Michael Hooker offered Brown what he wanted. But, by then, Brown had accepted the Texas job, where today he is among the highest paid coaches in the history of college athletics.
Brown left a top-ten program in the hands of career assistant Carl Torbush, followed by loyal UNC alum John Bunting, both of whom for different reasons killed Carolina’s recruiting momentum. Brown’s NFL talent-laden Tar Heels turned into ACC middleweights that earned an occasional minor bowl bid. Even Butch Davis, with all the money and facilities he commanded, could not get to more than the Music City Bowl and left Carolina 0-4 versus N.C. State. Those relative failures make many UNC fans turn to basketball before they really want to.
I sat in Baddour’s office after Davis was hired, supposedly to explain why I had told someone that the Board of Trustees and not the athletic director had found our latest coach. This was after Trustee Paul Fulton was strutting around the Bobcats Arena one night, accepting handshakes and homage like Vito Corleone, saying it was a “team effort” to reel in Davis.
I asked Baddour if he was heartbroken over what had happened to Carolina football since Brown left, as I was, and said I did not care who hired Davis and was just glad he was here. Baddour leaned forward and said, “I hired Butch Davis.”
“Great, congrats, now let’s win some football games,” I responded. We shook hands and parted pleasantly.
But, of course, it did not go as any of us had hoped or, frankly, expected. Davis lost a lot of equity with Carolina fans when his new agent, Jimmy Sexton, wrangled a $291,000 raise and contract extension out of Baddour after going 4-8 his first season. Highly ranked recruiting classes did not produce highly ranked teams, rather disappointing fourth-quarter finishes in too many games and, eventually, the scandal we are all living through today.
There are no Basketball-first fans at Carolina, as far as I can tell. I have written five basketball books because, thankfully, someone wanted to buy them. If there were a market for UNC football books, experts like Lee Pace would have written several by now. Ironically, there finally may be some interest in one, but that’s because people would want to know exactly what has happened over the last 15 years. And it would not be a pleasant story.
Maybe such a book will have a happy ending. All Carolina fans, from what I can tell, would welcome that.
Don’t you agree?
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 is more shaking hands, kissing up to alumni and facing the media, which this fall would have been a constant side show.
Perhaps the most outrageous reaction was the emotional outburst from former player, Charlotte gadfly and Tar Heel Sports Network broadcaster Deems May, who somehow equated the coach’s ouster to a de-emphasis of football at Carolina. Of course, May blew whatever objectivity he appeared to have by referring to Davis as “my good friend” in his open letter to Inside Carolina.com. May used the term “de-emphasizing football” no less than six times and basically called for the resignation of Thorp and the entire Board of Trustees.
Some people have been fired for far less than that.
Rather than de-emphasizing football, which is a ridiculous notion given the millions UNC has pumped into the program in recent years, Thorp is emphasizing competing and winning within the rules and by staying out of the gray area, such as hiring reputed rogue coaches like John Blake. Thorp grew up on Tar Heel sports and wants to win games and championships as much as anyone. He and a silent majority of alumni just want to win them the right way.
By making the move two weeks ago, along with accepting Dick Baddour’s offer to step aside, Thorp has actually put Carolina on the fast track to recovery. NCAA sanctions are still coming, but Carolina certainly did not hurt itself by removing the CEO of the complicit program. Perhaps bowl bans and scholarship reductions will be mitigated by the move.
But, most importantly, Thorp now has a clear path to begin restoring the reputation of both UNC Football and UNC academics. He must make a plan and execute it for Carolina to have a bright future on the field and, perhaps, get out of this with minimum damage. I have to believe that all those carping critics will embrace the next move if it is the correct one.
Finding a strong, experienced athletic director with a track record for good hires, and proper management of those hires, is the first step. Here is a scenario that is making the rounds without any validation or verification to this point.
Eric Hyman is the 60-year-old athletic director at South Carolina. He was an All-ACC lineman here for Bill Dooley in the early 1970s, made the Dean’s List, and has since built a strong and successful resume in athletic administration. During his six years in Columbia, most Gamecock sports programs have flourished, their baseball club has won back-to-back College World Series behind former N.C. State coach Ray Tanner, their men’s basketball is improving under young coach Darrin Horn and Steve Spurrier’s football team is favored to win the SEC East this fall.
Despite a recent raise that puts Hyman’s salary just under $500,000, he has been non-committal about his future at South Carolina. That’s because one of the worst kept secrets in college athletics is that Hyman would love to end his career at his alma mater. His wife is from North Carolina and also a UNC grad. And, supposedly, Hyman could come right away.
The most interesting extrapolation of such a scenario is that, after the 2011 season, Hyman would hire TCU’s Gary Patterson, who has become one of the most successful coaches in the country with a .778 winning percentage (98-28). His 2010 team went 13-0, defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 2 in the country; the previous year, TCU played in the Fiesta Bowl. Patterson has coached TCU to nine bowl games in his 10 seasons.
Not only has TCU been to BCS bowls twice from a non-BCS conference (Mountain West), the Horned Frogs were best among the 2010 preseason Top 25 on the Sports Illustrated list for having no players on their team with criminal records (UNC was tied for 15th with five players).
Hyman was the athletic director at TCU and hired Patterson, now 51, as head football coach in 2000. They remain friends, and in a misguided attempt to play for an automatic BCS berth, TCU will join the Big East Conference next year.
The Horned Frogs from Forth Worth in the Big East? Sounds like a perfect time for Patterson to go elsewhere.
Now, the Hyman-Patterson scenario may not unfold. But it is the kind of bold move that UNC needs to follow Thorp’s firing of Davis. By doing so, even Deems May would have to say that Carolina was re-emphasizing football the right way.
Would you agree?
Eric Hyman Gary Patterson