Chansky: The Fed-Up Factor

Frankly, who could blame Roy Williams if he got so fed up that he quit after the season?

Fans who are quick to criticize Ol’ Roy and those inside the university who have made his job harder and his life miserable ought to think about that.

royWhere would UNC be if another casualty of the three-year scandal was losing its Hall of Fame coach who is as sensitive as he is hard-nosed? He has enough problems with a 10-6 basketball team whose talent level is lower than in any other of his previous 10 seasons at Carolina, with no apparent pros on the roster.

It is conjecture, but how the P.J. Hairston story unraveled sure looks like Williams took one for the team in the decision to bounce his leading scorer for good. Both Williams and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham had said publicly that they expected Hairston back sometime this season, but they could no longer fight the mounting evidence.

After the announcement that UNC would not apply for Hairston’s reinstatement, Roy said he could understand the various points of view. And P.J.’s family expressed displeasure with the university’s decision. Both of those reactions would support the theory that it was not merely the NCAA’s call.

A more plausible explanation is that Hairston was heading for a substantial suspension until more damning evidence came to light while the UNC Board of Governors kept pushing for a stronger stand to demonstrate it was getting tough on athletics. So it looked like a Carolina basketball player was thrown out of the program for the first time in more than 50 years.

Then, of course, came the regrettable hyperbole by UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham that one of Williams’ players could not read or write. While most Tar Heel athletes are not Rhodes Scholar candidates, one of them being completely illiterate seems patently impossible. UNC admissions director Steve Farmer said as much.

On most campuses, there is a segment of the faculty that is either over-protective of the academic mission or anti-athletics, or both. At UNC, that segment has a louder voice than at many schools playing Division I sports, perhaps because former Athletic Director Dick Baddour came from the faculty side and did not do much to control the volume.

A constant push-pull between admissions and athletics does little to underscore the fact that big-time college sports is really a self-sustaining corporation that, in UNC’s case, balances a $75 million budget without financial help from the university. In fact, athletics often sends money across the street to South Building.

In its worst iteration, such an ongoing conflict can chase coaches away. That is NOT what UNC wants to do with Williams and Larry Fedora, whose high-profile programs are seen as the front porch of the university that help fund-raising, the applicant pool and branding through national exposure to the largest subculture in America.

When Willingham and faculty members like Jay Smith, who apparently have been concerned for years, take their cases to the regional and national media instead of trying to affect change from within, the question of motive arises.

Willingham supposedly gets off on being “ranked” on several whistle-blower websites. And Smith seems to like the role as ad-hoc spokesman for the faculty, appearing on sports talk shows and as one of the first sources the media contacts. Now he says he’s writing a book.

At the heart of this matter is the small percentage of “less prepared” athletes who are mostly black male football and basketball players. All schools who want to compete at the highest level in those sports must take some of these special admits.

And it seems logical they would be drawn to African-American history, like Jewish students take courses at the Center for Jewish Studies, musicians major in music, burgeoning actors take drama classes. It is their heritage, so why not study it?

What is wrong with admitting these kids, most of whom are being given the chance of a lifetime and come from communities that help them become great athletes but do not prepare them for college? Where would they go if they never received college scholarships? Probably nowhere.

There are likely as many 4.0 students who don’t graduate as these less-prepared kids who might have undiscovered learning disabilities or who just test poorly. With the proper help, they can improve their lives dramatically by getting athletic scholarships. A few will become pro athletes, but others will benefit from the socialization they receive on campus and make alumni contacts that could lead to good jobs when they get out of school. Some may even go back to their communities and help the next generation of kids get better prepared for college.

Isn’t that a mission of a state university?

So what do we have here? Some academic procedures and principles that were violated and have since been corrected. And a continuing controversy that the national press has jumped all over to report on issues they really know very little about. Mostly, a prevailing feeling that the story will never end and keep hurting our reputation and attempts to move beyond it.

Photo by Todd Melet

Photo by Todd Melet

About this time in Roy Williams’ 15-year tenure at Kansas, he had some problems with an administration that had turned over. It led him to break his pledge to remain at KU and eventually come back to UNC, where he has had even more success as a coach than he did in Lawrence.

At 63, he is unlikely to go to another school or an NBA team. But with grandchildren he adores, more money saved up than he could ever spend and on-again, off-again health issues, Williams could reach the point where he feels under-appreciated and decides to walk away.

A long shot, probably, but a scenario worth thinking about for some people who are letting ego, grandstanding or their prejudices toward athletics and athletes dictate some destructive actions.

School of Rock


“Big-time basketball” made another stop in Chapel Hill Saturday, and though it isn’t always this way the shaking Smith Center gave nothing up to crazy Cameron, maniacal Maryland and the Wild West venues of the Big 12 that Roy Williams occasionally pines for.

From the moment you saw far more fetching fingers in the air than tickets for sale in the afternoon mist outside, you knew this was going to be some scene inside. If only the game would live up to the hype between these old foes that seem to have a hoops rivalry again after years of domination by UNC, which came      in with a 9-0 home record against N.C. State in the Williams era and won 13 of the last 14, 19 of the last 21 and 36 of the last 45 games against the  revived   Wolfpack.

Far from the half-empty upper decks that drive Williams nuts for lesser games, this resembled Duke’s annual visit in that the seats were filled to the top rows of the biggest on-campus basketball arena in the country. With every tough ticket being had, this crowd was ready to go long before the 4 p.m. tip.

And, as well as the atmosphere, the game between more bitter enemies than respectful foes did not disappoint. For more than two hours on a second straight bad-weather Saturday on the Hill, Carolina was the School of Rock. Even more  so than last week’s great win over Virginia, the old girl with the Teflon top that   is  now 27 years young     never shut up.

Sure, it helped  that the opponent wore the red-trimmed black unies of a State College that has continually inserted itself into the recent troubles at UNC by hacking into websites, making the message boards buzz with obnoxious opinions and absurd accusations and playing freelance researchers for the local newspaper.

So the early video of Gio Bernard’s touché touchdown return that stunned State last October did not seem like just another football promo to launch 2013 ticket sales. It was far more an up-yours reminder, much like Duke kept showing the Austin Rivers’ dagger for weeks after it cut out Carolina’s heart last season.

The Smith Center itself is having a welcome metamorphosis. Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham found $800,000 to install the electronic ribbon board all the way around the upper deck fascia, where the graphics are pretty cool if not the most creative. And PA announcer Tony Gilliam has finally given UNC that deep, dramatic voice of intonation during introductions and scoring calls that has long been needed and really revs the crowd.

There is no question that, with one lineup change, Williams has made this a much more lovable Tar Heel team. It’s no coincidence that catalyst P.J. Hairston gets the loudest roar during starting lineups, and the fans are both hyped and hopeful that the four-guard alignment so contradictory to Carolina basketball will still produce the expected result come March.

After all, here is a double-post program that did not shoot a free throw for the first 30 minutes and four seconds of the game but had opportunities, albeit missed, to blow State out in both halves of what turned out to be a taught, tense, back-and-forth game. Williams has disdained trying to pound the ball inside to big guys who cannot score from the blocks consistently in favor of a West Coast style of offense that spreads the field, er, the floor.

Alignments aside, ol’ Roy’s young pups are definitely getting better and with three straight victories  find themselves one  from the magical 20 mark and  i     n third place (9-5) of the ACC race. This so-called quality win, 76-65, will go a long way toward assuring another NCAA tournament berth for the Tar Heels. Running the table would leave them 13-5 and with a possible top four seed.

They are still not beyond silly mistakes that stop runs and send Williams into sideline gyrations. But the plays they do make are both gutty and great-looking. Like tipping out missed free throws, a lost art with most teams invented by Dean Smith that provide precious extra possessions. And the sneaky overplaying defense that resulted in consecutive steals and snowbirds that opened up a seven-point lead in the first half.

When Carolina widened a six-point advantage to 10 with the first four points of the second half — but missed a chance to make it 16 by blowing two chippies and throwing it away with numbers on the break — Williams unnerved the crowd by using it as a teaching moment. Though he is essentially down to a six-man rotation, he answered the careless stretch by a bizarre bench-clearing with so little firepower that State astutely went to a zone and dared Carolina to shoot.

Marcus Paige, the only starter left on the court who had a stellar day with 8 assists and no turnovers after playing like a true freshman in the first game  in Raleigh,   answered with one of his two three-pointers. But before Williams could get the regulars back in the game the lead had become a four-point deficit to the extremely talented Wolfpack. The main men had gotten the message, though.

They  regained  the lead for good on Paige’s second three-pointer  and  took control of the  game with the help of their first trips to the foul line and more  big baskets by  Paige and Reggie Bullock, who continues his vastly underrated season and looks more like a potential pro every game. The 6-7 Bullock’s 13 rebounds and 3 assists to go with his 5 three’s and 22 points made him the player of this game.

Sir Reginald had eight points in the 18-4 run that settled it, a stretch during which State and particularly C.J. or Calvin or Fester Lester (6 points, 4 rebounds in 30 minutes, for which Hairston’s defense has to get much of the credit) played like a true pack of dogs. Their  real  star, senior center Richard Howell, and freshman T.J. Warren combined for 23 points and 27 rebounds, and sharpshooter Scott Wood  had  drained both wide-open and contested treys, but  State basically threw in the towel by not pressuring or fouling when the outcome was still in doubt.

By now, the home crowd was roaring its approval for the team with more heart than height and an alternative style of play that would make a retired coach and mathematician proud.

It was also time for the way-cool video that begins with former UNC stars ticking off the number of ACC titles, Final Fours, national championships, etc., and ends with them repeating “THIS. . . , THIS . . ., THIS . . .” and Smith himself completing the phrase:

“THIS is Carolina Basketball.”

On a beautiful, if not sunny, Beat-State Saturday, it certainly was.

image by todd melet

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.

"In Larry I Trust"

With the 2012 season in the books and the Heels finishing out 8-4 and Coastal Division champs, I would say that there is a lot to be proud of in Chapel Hill and at the Kenan Stadium Football Center!!  Here are just some quick observations/reasons about why I and so many others are “all in” with Fedora and this staff and are thrilled with what the future holds.   

1.       No excuses!!  Coach Fedora came into an absolute mess with NCAA sanctions and with it, the opportunity for upper classmen to hit the road and transfer.  Additionally, there was a wavering fan base that was upset with any number of matters – some fans were upset with the way Butch Davis was treated and how he was shown the door; the Ivory Tower academia group was upset with the “over emphasis” that is put on college athletics and have strayed away from academics; some fans just wanted to move on and forget the entire nightmare of the past two years.  And then, in rides Coach Fedora and the first thing he does is install an up-tempo spread style offense that requires pro style players and a 4-2-5 defense even though he inherited basic 4-3 personnel.  Again, there were no excuses, but more of a challenge to the fan base to bond together to support these players on those magical seven Saturdays every Fall in Kenan Stadium.  The rallying cry was be loud in the Tar Pit, be obnoxious and come early/stay late!  From all accounts I’m seeing and hearing in the community, Coach Fedora as well as Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have made huge strides with all fan groups and that’s what leaders do.



2.       He’s not a politician and does not deflect blame.  The common thread in college football and the NFL is that when a new coach comes in and there are bumps in the road the immediate response or tilt of the coach is that “these are not my players” or “once we get my kind of kids/players in here, the results and style of play will elevate.”  Coach Fedora came in with the immediate attitude of winning NOW and winning every game. Again, against all odds of the no postseason carrot and the opportunity to technically be the conference champion, Fedora found a way for the players to buy in.  To me that is truly deserving of ACC Coach of the Year status even ousting the miraculous doings of what David Cutcliffe orchestrated over in Wallace Wade this year. 

***I cannot continue without stating many thanks to Coach Davis and John Shoop, who did a fantastic job of leaving the shelves pretty well stocked in the transition year….Thank you coach!



3.       Momentum.  These assistant coaches and Fedora have so many great selling tools going into this recruiting cycle and offseason.  An 8-4 record and being Coastal Division champs (technically), the gaudy and X-BOX type numbers you can help generate in this offense which is recognized on a national level (RUN GIO RUN), a team that produced 10 All-ACC players this past season and lastly, against all odds, the Heels could well be Coastal division pre-season favorites with the way the division is trending and shaking out.  These are all points that will be made in living rooms across the country as Coach Fedora brings in top level talent to run his Nascar-style offense and attacking defense. 



4.       Culture change.  Southern Miss, do you guys wish you tried a little harder to keep him as your head man?  For those of you who do not know, Southern Miss was 12-2 in 2011 and were Conference USA Champions under Coach Fedora.  A year later, not so much.  The Golden Eagles went 0-12 after Coach Fedora settled down in Chapel Hill.  My memory of college football may be limited to the last 30 years but I can’t remember (and didn’t find online), a team that swooned so fast.  This might be a first in college football.  Is this all representative of only the head coach?  No. But he is a pretty big piece of the puzzle and I guarantee if you ask those returning players at Southern Miss, they would be dying to have had Coach Fedora back.  At UNC, a big culture change was the uniforms, swag, colors, threads, gear or whatever you want to refer to it as, but that not only rejuvenated the players but it fired up the fans including this one especially when we saw the fighting Fedoras come out of the tunnel rocking the Chrome Foot helmets against the Wolfpack.  If you don’t think that had a huge impact on that game just take a look at this all-access video and see the reaction from the players.  If you think that the uniform combinations have been awesome this year just wait until next year.  Word from a source is that new combinations of colors were ordered recently with Nike and it will put us on track to be the “Oregon” of the Southeast.  I can’t wait to see them – and more importantly neither can the players and the recruits whom we’re pursuing who will be wearing the new threads.   


What does 2013 hold for the Heels?  I know that we will start out of the gate with a daunting task in Columbia, South Carolina against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Ole’ Ball Coach, who will have in his back pocket the preseason lock national player of the year in Jadeveon Clowney.  With that being said folks, the future is extremely bright on the Hill.  We have our leader in place, our fan base is unifying again and the black cloud is leaving beautiful Chapel Hill!!


Smart. Fast. Physical.    2013 Here we come!!

Division 1 Revenue Sports, the Daily Tar Heel, and the Mission of UNC

Kudos to WCHL and Jim Heavner for his thoughtful interview with Bubba Cunningham, the Director of Athletics at UNC.  These athletics scandals have harmed the entire UNC community, so they demand that we ask difficult questions and challenge the often mis-guided assumptions about the role of Division 1 athletics in a great research university. 

Of the many assertions made by Mr. Cunningham, for now I would like to address one, his justifying the limited involvement of revenue sports athletes in the broader life of the university.  He drew an inaccurate analogy between a Daily Tar Heel reporter and an athlete to make his point.  Mr. Cunningham’s error stems from a mis-reading or mis-understanding of the mission of UNC, to advance scholarship, research, and creativity and to teach a diverse community of students. 

A legitimate criticism of Division 1 sports, especially the revenue sports of football and basketball, is that the demands of training, practice, and games make it virtually impossible for many, if not most, to engage in the diverse cultural and social life that is central to a college education. 

Indeed, as the scandals have revealed, the demands on these athletes, sadly, too often make it difficult to engage in the core academic activities as well.  How do the demands on athletes in the revenue sports advance the mission of UNC?  I’d like somebody to explain that to me. 

In stark contrast, the Daily Tar Heel reporter is fully immersed in the mission of the university, even if she or he takes classes only in the morning and works for the Tar Heel from noon until midnight.  The mission of the Daily Tar Heel is to pursue all news of the University; to set the standard for the journalism industry; to serve as a learning laboratory for young journalists, etc. 

Those fortunate enough to work for the Tar Heel develop skills that advance scholarship, research, and creativity.  The same could be said for our students in the arts who can be found at all hours on the stage or in their performance studios. 

I encourage Mr. Cunningham to speak with Don Oeler of the Chapel Hill Philarmonia, Emil Kang of Carolina Performing Arts or Joseph Haj of Playmakers about how their programs advance the mission of the university.

To sustain vibrant cultures and nations, universities are too important and too fragile to engage in ventures that are not strongly aligned with their missions.

Thorp's True Legacy

For a change, Holden Thorp made a decision that left everyone happy.

His detractors who grew since the firing of Butch Davis 14 months ago are happy, and some may be demented enough to think that score has been settled.
Those who support Thorp and care about what he and his family have gone through the last two years are happy that he will be off the hot seat.
And, deep down inside, Thorp himself is probably happy to be returning to teaching and research and helping the university in less visible ways.
Just as the dumping of Davis was the right move, the Chancellor’s resignation is best for the university’s future. The mild-mannered chemist, who once held the promise of being the most interconnected leader in UNC’s history, instead became a lightning rod. And he came to understand that divisiveness would be the enemy of progress as long as he was in the job.

In less than five years, Thorp did untold good for Carolina in terms of weathering a severe recession and budget cuts, retaining faculty and raising research dollars into the top 10 of American public universities. But, as we know, athletics is the “front porch” of any major college, so let’s set the record straight on a few things there.

When Thorp took office in the summer of 2008, the Carolina Athletic Department was probably last on his long list of concerns. Davis appeared to be taking football in the right direction, Roy Williams would win his second national championship within seven months and the overall athletic program had remained steadily ranked among the top 10 in America.
If Thorp did not know much about college athletics at the time, he appeared to have the luxury of a long learning curve. There was so much more pressing business, the worst being a crashing economy that endangered the university’s plans for growth in so many different ways.
When the football scandal broke in the summer of 2010 and crossed over into academics the following August, Thorp put himself out front against the advice of some people who believe CEOs should never deliver the bad news personally. But he did and pledged to get to the bottom of what was happening while promising to support Davis as long as he remained coach.
That’s when Thorp needed his own helmet to withstand the pressure. Certain Trustees who had commandeered the football program and brought Davis in were lobbying to keep the coach because if he went down they were going with him. The faculty was up in arms over the public humiliation of the university’s first major academic scandal. The Rams Club was afraid that Davis’ demise would leave the half-built, $70 million Blue Zone in financial ruin. And Davis, himself, said he was having a hard time recruiting without the school’s unfailing support.
So as the NCAA and internal probes continued, Thorp appeared to be squarely in the coach’s corner.  He hoped Davis could survive but probably recognized that no UNC coach who takes a program to an NCAA probation can last. None of his options to replace Davis avoided playing one season with an interim coach and also left lame-duck Athletic Director Dick Baddour in no-man’s land. Meanwhile, the attack on UNC’s integrity kept escalating.
The late-July firing of Davis set off a hailstorm, but it turned out to be the right move at the right time. Everett Withers could be the interim coach with minimum disruption to the team. And Baddour could exit with dignity while a new athletic director was hired to find the next football coach. Anyone who still complains about the timing is merely baying at the moon.
While Bubba Cunningham and Larry Fedora took the football program in the new direction it needed, the African Afro-American Studies scandal also fell into Thorp’s lap. Some people wanted to hold him responsible because he was the Dean of Arts and Sciences for one year. No, Thorp did not throw the department open to complete scrutiny – a mistake Baddour made once the NCAA hound dogs arrived on campus – but he did pledge getting to the root of the problem.
Now, some tenured faculty were publicly pushing one of their own for complete transparency, and the media accused Thorp of dragging his feet and hiding the truth.  Any action was going to cause a reaction from somewhere else, but while an unnecessary review of the past 10-20 years is still going on, Thorp and his staff basically found the problem, fixed the problem and promised it would never happen again. That was good enough for the NCAA, which stayed out of it because students as well as student-athletes were involved in what was deemed an institutional issue.
In my opinion, the Matt Kupec scandal proved one too many for the Chancellor, who would not approve an inappropriate hire but did not stop another that just plain looked bad. Whatever Kupec was doing that caused him to resign will come out one day, and Thorp will likely be blamed for lack of oversight there, as well. More damage was done and Thorp realized that, like with the firing of Davis, his own resignation was the best way for UNC to move forward.
But his true legacy will be this indisputable set of facts. Had none of these whistles been blown, Carolina would still have a football program and coach operating on the edge and an academic services program for athletes that was clearly crossing some lines. Because of Holden Thorp, neither of those scenarios will ever exist again at Carolina.

When we look back on this athletics mess, that’s what he should be remembered for.

'Fast' Larry Fedora

Retired Southern Mississippi Athletic Director Richard Giannini knew he would have a hard time retaining his own football coach, Larry Fedora, late in his breakthrough season with the Golden Eagles. So when they talked about where the multi-million-dollar offers might come from, they discussed the UNC job. A former assistant A.D. at Duke, Giannini thought Fedora would be a great choice for the Tar Heels.

“Larry’s going to win 11 or 12 games with us this season,” Giannini said at the time, “and we’ll never be able to keep him. If he leaves, I’d love to see him in Chapel Hill.”

Bubba Cunningham, who came from Tulsa, and Giannini both worked in Conference USA. Bubba liked Fedora all along but knew Texas A&M, where Fedora grew up and his father and brothers still lived, was also courting him.

Fortunately, outgoing Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne could only interview Fedora and give his name to the school’s president, who would then offer one of the recommended candidates the job. Carolina was much farther down the road.

Fedora accepted a seven-year contract at UNC after Southern Miss won the Conference USA championship but before the Golden Eagles played in the Hawaii Bowl on December 24. He was introduced as Carolina’s new coach on December 9.

“Don’t miss the press conference!” Giannini said. “You’ve never seen anything like it. The guy’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”  

“Fast” Larry proved his old boss right, warning fans watching live over the Internet not to leave their seats when Carolina has the ball lest they miss a touchdown.  And he continued to do it through his first spring practice, his first summer training camp and his first game on the home sideline at Kenan Stadium.

Forward to the season opener against Elon, when Fedora’s fast break attack scored 62 points and ran up nearly 600 yards of total offense while breaking a school and ACC record for return yards (260).

As advertised by Giannini, the hyper Fedora has taken Tar Heel Nation by storm with his non-stop work ethic, his willingness to talk to alumni, fans, students and faculty wherever and whenever, and his commitment to not only play smart, play fast and play physical, but also to demand dedication and accountability from his players. Bet the  guy doesn’t sleep four hours a night, fueled by Red Bull all day long.  

He’s refreshingly candid, sharing more in media sessions and on his weekly radio  and TV shows than any Carolina coach in recent memory. And when he doesn’t want  to talk about something, such as an injury report or the weather, he’ll just say so. No coach speak. Just the plain old truth.

Catch his press conferences on and listen to his Tuesday night weekly radio show on 97.9FM from Top of the Hill. He’s funny, a bit flippant and very fair in his assessment of everything to do with his new program.

For example, he wants to run as many as 100 offensive plays a game, and the Tar Heels might have done it had Fedora not called off the dogs late with 18 minutes left  vs. Elon. He will also use versatile Gio Bernard as a runner, pass catcher and punt returner without fear of overworking, of injuring, the sensational sophomore.

“In whose hands would you like to see the ball more?” he asked quizzically.

But despite Bernard’s star-studded performance, center Russell Bodine was the offensive player of the game because he had 19 “knockdowns”. A knockdown is a block that puts an opposing defender on the ground, where he can’t make a tackle.

Accountability is as much a part of his Tar Heel program as the Xs and Os. Each player has his own level of commitment written on his locker. A number of players have already earned the highest level — “Compelled”.  According to the coach, accountability is not only taking care of yourself but watching out that your teammates are not making bad decisions. One of Fedora’s pledges  upon taking over was that “we will win with good kids on and off the field.”

Fedora’s charisma is infectious and the Southern Miss secret will soon be out in the open at Carolina and around the ACC. The clouds that linger over the UNC football program and athletic department fall into Fedora’s philosophy, like the weather on game day: Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

He’s confident without seeming cocky, that he can turn the Tar Heels into a title-contender worthy of a giant ticket scrum before every home game. He praised the estimated 50,500 fans who showed up for the opener on Labor Day weekend in 90-plus degree heat and wasn’t fazed by a near-empty house at game’s end. He figures an exciting, winning team will fill the stadium early and keep it full.

When Fedora met with certain players who were eligible to transfer to other schools without sitting out a year due to the NCAA probation, they one by one decided to stay because they sensed something special was about to happen here. Citing Fedora’s intensity, they have all bought in early.

Ironically, the talent he came into from Butch Davis’ program and the bowl ban he also inherited have put his first team in the position to play all 12 of its games with great intensity and without much pressure. The Tar Heels will take them one at a time, try to win them all and be happy with the mythical “state championship” if they can defeat all five opponents on their schedule from North Carolina.

Next up is Wake Forest, Fedora’s first ACC road game. Fedora has admired Deacons’ coach Jim Grobe for years and respects how they have overachieved in his 12 seasons at WFU. Thus, he expects a well-coached and hungry Wake team that barely beat better-than-Elon Liberty University in its opening game.

With one day to put in the game plan (Tuesday), one day to take out what won’t work on such short notice (Wednesday) and one day to polish what’s left (Thursday), Fedora and the Tar Heels will go to war in Winston-Salem, combining a level of talent and tenacity that has rarely been seen here.

The Larry Fedora love affair at Carolina is catching on. Fast.

The 'New Way'

While other athletic departments put Band-Aids on the ills of big-time college sports and some coaches and administrators may be sitting on secrets in the wake of the Penn State scandal, UNC finds itself with a golden opportunity. 

No one wanted it to happen this way, but Carolina now has the chance for the Square One start a lot of schools with baggage would like to have. As the athletic-academic scandal drones on, with the media hound dogs sniffing at our Heels, UNC now has leadership with the wisdom and toughness to start anew and, truly, become the model athletic department we have only claimed to be for years.
Bubba Cunningham carries none of that baggage, beholden to no one, and with the smarts and class to evaluate before he excavates. We must trust the method to his madness of the recent athletic department restructuring, that it will be a self-weeding-out process resulting in a combination of retrained Carolina Way clones, old-schoolers that go their own way, and new blood that Bubba brings in to restore UNC’s image off the playing fields while maintaining excellence on them.
The cloud of controversy will still be there, hovering somewhere west of the Bell Tower, but the football playing field has been greened up with new coaches that have boosted the energy level and committed themselves to winning with what Larry Fedora characterizes as “good players on the field, good kids off.” The one-year bowl ban aside, the schedule is conducive to a quick start, and 2012 really could be called a season of keeping score while the Tar Heels learn the fast break offense and fly-around defense Fedora favors.
Meanwhile, in more important venues, the Loudermilk Center will be converted from an “oh, yes, and” part of the Blue Zone to a revamped student-athlete academic center, where all the systems that were allowed to slip or maneuvered by past coaches, counselors and tutors will be rebuilt to enhance rather than diminish the athletes’ classroom experience. I would not be surprised if a new curriculum — or at least new classes — were pondered that will better prepare athletes for what they want to do after school is over.
Eight or ten athletes in the same class would not be so eye-opening if that course taught the economics of college athletics or the laws and policies regulating professional sports agents. Such teachings would be more useful to athletes than systematized Swahili classes many of them just don’t want to take. Sure, thousands of students all over campus will still be seeking out the easiest classes and professors, but why not challenge athletes in a realistic way? More of them may actually take school seriously.
Clearly, the relationship between faculty and athletics and those conduit areas — such as athlete student services — need dire repair, and recent revelations in the News & Observer that someone was steering athletes somewhere will eventually end an employment or two. Two new staff members have already been brought in to help with academics and compliance. More are sure to arrive over the next year, including perhaps a new CFO to make a business assessment of a $75 million athletic budget.
Cunningham has called the “Carolina Way” a two-edged sword, one side representing a system that worked well for many years, but the other side an excuse for people who just don’t want to change anything. Unfortunately, that phrase has gone from the bedrock of Dean Smith’s basketball program and the title of a best-selling business book to an embarrassment within the university and a joke in the eyes of outsiders and scoffing rivals. To many, the Carolina Way validates the arrogance UNC has been accused of for years.
The “new way” does not need a name or a label. It needs a strong vision for the future and people not afraid to make tough decisions. Overworked, underpaid employees who get their jollies from the territorialism they have carved out need to get with the new program or get out. Silly marketing policies, often marshaled by one person’s view of how the Carolina “brand” should be protected, need to defer to more experience with how brand management can maximize revenues without defaming names and logos.
The Smith Center, 25 years ago the shining beacon of what private funding can produce, needs more than a face lift. It needs to become a revenue stream beyond 15 or so home basketball games a year and otherwise a large campus building for UNC events. Granted, local arena and amphitheater competition has mushroomed, while the parking and lack of alcohol sales are deterrents, but surely the Dean. E. Smith Center still has the magic to attract concerts, shows and events that produce revenue. Creativity and contacts needed here.
Unlike past athletic regimes, Cunningham will not be hesitant to visit and borrow from other schools that are doing it better — in areas from compliance to competition. His new reporting chain serves, as much as anything, to fix the decentralization of an athletic department housed in more than a dozen different buildings. While additional layers of direct reports, a new chief of staff, and expanded executive and senior staffs may look more like political gridlock, it is obviously geared to improving the communication problems masked by a few departmental meetings and holiday luncheons each year.
The point is: UNC has a chance to wipe the slate clean and rebuild an athletic department with a 21st Century vision. The changes that will bring could be life-altering for some and uncomfortable for others, but it’s an opportunity to create the kind of true transparency that Carolina has claimed all these years while, quite apparently, losing its way.

Shut Up And Teach

A few years ago, Dick Baddour returned from a national faculty meeting where he received widespread praise from other schools for how much the UNC faculty loved the affable Carolina athletic director.
Some of those other professors did not get along so well with their athletic departments. Baddour was held up as a model of how the faculty should have a voice about athletics on campus.  At most other schools, athletic directors don’t come from the faculty and have no problem marching across campus to say “button it up” if someone speaks publicly out of turn.
That’s the problem. At UNC, the faculty has long had too much of a voice on athletics. Although there is always a natural adversarial relationship between those who teach and make six figures and those who coach and make seven figures, the faculty at Carolina (in general) has never really gotten the point.
The athletic department is a self-sustaining business, a private ad-hoc corporation, that generates multi-millions in revenues and disperses pretty much the same amount (with a little held in reserve) to balance the budget that pays coaches and staff, funds scholarships and improves facilities in the so-called arms race.
During the recent and ongoing football scandal, I have been branded as an anti-football faculty apologist who helped get Butch Davis fired. Neither is even close to the truth. I’m not a faculty member or apologist (you should have seen my GPA at UNC!), and nobody got Butch Davis fired but Butch Davis.
I do support Holden Thorp and how he handled a very difficult situation that he had no earthly idea would fall into his lap when Erskine Bowles asked him to be the next Chancellor in 2008. Thorp withstood all kinds of pressure, from within and without, took a crash course in college athletics and made choices that created short-term publicity burn but were best for the long run at UNC.
Now, Thorp would be well-advised to try to put some kind of muzzle on the faculty, although he certainly does it at his own peril. A story on, by celebrated sportswriter Pat Forde, is an example of how Carolina is getting very low grades in damage control and managing its own PR during the football disaster.
Sue Estroff, a 30-year tenured professor who was quoted frequently during her days as the Faculty Chair, and history professor Jay Smith might have been speaking the painful truth in the Yahoo column. But who are they to be spokespersons for UNC during such treacherous times?  Who appointed them faculty mouthpieces to make a bad situation worse? Smith started when the New York Times’ Joe Nocera showed up on campus and his inflammatory email is the centerpiece of the Forde column.
(I quote Smith’s email that was published by Yahoo with the understanding that I, too, may be making a bad situation worse, but nevertheless to prove a point).

“Of course it’s academic fraud,” Smith wrote. “And it’s a form of fraud that was designed (by whom we can’t say yet) to keep athletes eligible, making plausible ‘progress toward the degree.’ I don’t blame the athletes – and that’s important to make clear. Many of us feel this way. It’s not the athletes’ fault that they’re often being shepherded through a bogus course of study, and are also made to pay the piper if they fall short of some measure invented by the NCAA.

“It’s the system that’s corrupt, and it’s the adults who benefit from the system – starting with school administrators and faculty – who have to have the gumption to live up to their moral obligations and say enough is enough.”

“To me the worst damage has come, and continues to come, from the university’s defensive and less-than-forthcoming reaction to the entire story,” Smith wrote in his email. “The university very much looks like it’s trying to hide something. An objective outsider could reach no other conclusion. That does not reflect well on any of us. In fact, it’s embarrassing.”

And then Smith fired the shot that is sure to be sending Tar Heels into rage from the Smith Center to the alumni hinterlands.
“I think it’s high time for all of us to know the full extent of the fraudulent behavior,” Smith wrote. “Were members of the 2009 and 2005 national championship (basketball) teams also beneficiaries of the AFAM/AFRI scam? I for one see no reason to assume that they were not. If the university wants to prove they were not, the whole world is listening.”

Estroff, a professor of social medicine, spoke out like she did in the past on far more benign athletic matters, such as how much money was being spent to send the football team to a bowl game. That was tame compared to this.
“It’s demoralizing,” said Estroff.  “It’s dumbfounding. It’s embarrassing. It’s maddening. What else can I say? It’s not what anybody wanted. It belongs to all of us, and you can’t put it in just one place. It’s impossible to defend, nor should we try.”
Added Estroff: “I would like to have seen a more robust, more forceful response. But there’s a reason I’m not a university president or chancellor. I don’t have that skill set.”
Every scintilla of what Smith and Estroff say may be (and probably is) true. But that’s why we have Nancy Davis, Mike McFarland and Karen Moon in the general administration, and Steve Kirschner in athletics who often makes the right suggestions on what to say but isn’t always heard as much as he should be.
They, together with Thorp and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham, need to be the people who shape the message and decide who delivers it and how. Not when some cagey columnist shows up and hunts down the usual suspects whose job it is to be heard in the classroom. Period.
The faculty should certainly have a say. That’s why they have department meetings and the ear of the Chancellor. But, when it comes to athletic controversy, especially the measure of what we have now, the faculty needs to stay out of the public forum, shut up and teach. Now that we have the right people in place at the athletic department, it’s their job to speak with one voice and help get us out of the mess as best they can.

Unanswered Questions

The NCAA’s 38-page report on the Carolina football sanctions is detailed in its outline of violations by the school and the individuals involved (although no names are mentioned; just Student Athlete 1, Student Athlete 2, former assistant coach, former tutor, etc.). But it, as the entire investigation has over the last 22 months, leaves many questions unanswered. Here are a few:

1) Why has the implicated former tutor, exposed many months ago as 2009 UNC graduate and current Durham elementary school teacher Jennifer Wiley, refused to be interviewed by UNC and/or the NCAA or make any public comment of explanation or in her own defense?

Wiley is widely held responsible for the damning tag of “academic fraud” in the first seven pages of the NCAA report, and anyone in her place should be seething that she was thrown under the bus for every picayune and confusing allegation of student-athlete academic misconduct.

Wiley received a letter of disassociation from the university, yet she continues to be represented by noted Raleigh attorney and UNC graduate Joe Cheshire, who defended one of the wealthiest former Duke lacrosse players falsely charged with rape in 2006.

Cheshire did not return phone calls or emails this week after making a statement to WRAL’s website in which he called the NCAA report “not completely accurate” and categorized Wiley as having a “big heart that caused her so much pain” who now wants to get on with her life. So disgraced by her alma mater, why is Wiley refusing to tell her side of the story? Is there legal action coming from Wiley and her family?

Cheshire also represented fired football coach Butch Davis, who is further tied to Wiley because he and his wife hired her as a private tutor for their teenage son, Drew. Wiley’s only public statements have been of regret over her role in the scandal and support of Davis.

Attempts to reach Wiley at her home, school and via email have been unsuccessful. Her parents must be both heartbroken and furious, yet her father Stewart Wiley of Matthews, N.C., also refused to talk when contacted. He maintained his daughter has nothing more to say.  

Cheshire told the News & Observer Friday that the $1,789 she gave a former UNC player (Greg Little) to pay off his unpaid parking tickets was a loan that was paid back right away, and that every other favor she did for football players was out of friendship to help them fulfill their dream of playing in the NFL someday. 

2) Will John Blake continue to be silent after denying all charges against him (allegations that were not refuted by UNC in their official response to the NCAA) and receiving a three-year “show cause” penalty that will keep him from coaching college football for at least that long?

Blake has told several acquaintances that he was fired as a scapegoat in September of 2010 and a number of former UNC players, coaches and administrators knew of his relationship with deceased agent Gary Wichard, including Davis. Blake appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions at the same hearing where UNC responded to the nine allegations last October.

Blake has also retained counsel who said they are contemplating an appeal. He could also sue both the NCAA and UNC. If he has more damning evidence and UNC truly wants to put the scandal in the background, he could be in a position to get more money from his former employer. Blake was paid a pro-rated 2010 salary of $75,000 when fired.

Former Southern Cal assistant coach Todd McNair filed suit against the NCAA in 2011, claiming libel, slander and misconduct in implicating him in the investigation of USC Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, which landed the Trojans on probation, including a two-year bowl ban. 

3) During Monday’s teleconference, veteran sportswriter and Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs asked how Butch Davis, the man who oversaw the Carolina football program for four and a half years, could escape to Tampa unscathed and, in fact, even wealthier with a $2.7 million contract buyout for being fired without cause?

Adam Gold of 99.9 FM radio pointed out that Davis’ contract states that he could be fired “with cause” if one of his assistant coaches committed an NCAA violation. Davis also used a loophole in his contract to receive his full severance after taking a job as a “special assistant” to new Tampa Bay Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Davis claims he will do no coaching in his new NFL job, but many stories since his hiring by Schiano have referred to Davis as a “defensive coach.”

In response, former Athletic Director Dick Baddour maintained Davis cooperated fully with the NCAA and UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said paying Davis off was “our best option.” Does that mean refusing to pay Davis invites a lawsuit from the deposed coach that would be costly to defend and keep the scandal in the news?

In fact, Davis did not “cooperate fully.” He hid his cell phone use with a personal phone to the total exclusion of the cell phone and land line provided by UNC, then promised his cell phone records to the media, then stonewalled, then when fired went away and never produced anything.

4) What exactly does the vacating of 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons mean, with regard to UNC records, Butch Davis’ coaching record and career statistics of those (ineligible?) players who participated in those games?

Kevin Best, UNC’s Director of Football Communications, says the victories will be erased from those seasons and Carolina’s all-time total, but not converted to losses (such in forfeits). Thus, UNC’s official record for the 2008 and ’09 seasons will be two 0-5s in forthcoming media guides.

Under NCAA guidelines, Davis’ overall record at Carolina will be changed from 28-23 to 12-23, and Davis will not be allowed to claim those vacated victories on personal resumes, interviews and applications or in media guides of teams and schools he works for in the future.

Best said that he is clarifying how the individual statistics of players who were in those vacated wins will be handled in the official UNC records and media guides moving forward. Carolina has 45 days to submit a compliance report on all of these changes to the NCAA.

5) In light of the decision to not let former linebacker Ebele Okakpu, who was dismissed from the football team last season for a series of program violations, participate in UNC’s pro timing day in front of NFL scouts, why were Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn allowed to audition for the NFL after being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA?

New Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham and new coach Larry Fedora have denied Okakpu’s request to appear at the timing day. Cunningham said they are trying to set a new standard of accountability for the football program, obviously wanting to distance the new coaching staff from anything related to the Davis regime.

Certainly understandable, but it raises the question of why the other three former players were allowed such access. Okakpu’s agent Lance Courtney has said “the entire situation is very strange to me and it appears to be strange to every NFL person I speak with regarding Ebele.”

Was UNC afraid that Austin, Little and Quinn had more information about NCAA violations that they threatened to expose if not permitted at the pro timing day? Austin implied as much after former teammate Michael McAdoo’s lawsuit was dismissed, saying he was ready to “spill the beans.”

6) Are there any other skeletons in the Carolina closet that will come out in the weeks and months to come, regarding Davis, Blake and the last football regime?

At one time, apparently, a half dozen former players were considering legal action against the university for lost playing time during the 2010 season that could have affected their chances to play professional football. Devon Ramsay won such a suit after missing nine games in 2010, had his eligibility restored for 2011 and received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing an ACL in the season opener against James Madison. Ramsay, apparently, had six commas changed or added to a paper by Wiley or another tutor.

McAdoo, a defensive end, sued the NCAA and UNC for losing his eligibility, forced a telephone hearing with the NCAA and when his eligibility was not restored saw his lawsuit dismissed in North Carolina Superior Court. McAdoo, who entered the NFL supplementary draft and subsequently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, is appealing the dismissal because his family says it wants to keep public attention on the procedures and policies of the NCAA.

7) What additional questions do you have? Log in as a Chapelboro insider and post your questions at the bottom of this column.