Same Old, Same Old

The 208-page report released by UNC this week pertaining to the football scandal revealed few new facts and fewer names – thanks to heavy redaction in almost every document. What it did underscore was the gross lack of oversight in the entire mess.

From the first $67,000 paid to a Kansas law firm that was hired and still could not prevent loose lips that sunk some scholarships, to the naïve “c’mon in” attitude of the athletic department toward the NCAA, it has mushroomed into an academic scandal whose stench will last long after the three-year probationary period ends. And more legal bills will be coming for sure.

The media is – and continues to be – dogged in seeking the release of every public document pertaining to the scandal. That UNC won’t give up any of the names of players, tutors and others involved, citing FERPA privacy laws, is like dangling raw meat in front of a Tiger. That’s how hungry the so-called traditional media is to prove that it still has a place in the Internet-social media society of today.

Most of the impermissible benefits remain pretty petty. One case involves a couple of players who slept on a former teammate’s couch after a heavy night of partying instead of making it back to the hotel room they had paid for with their own money. Hotel, no violation; buddy’s couch, impermissible bennie. Silly rule.

The worst of it involves Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little, three players who did take what they weren’t supposed to in travel and jewelry. Each committed specific crimes in the eyes of the NCAA as the scandal blew up.

Austin, of course, awoke the college watchdogs by tweeting from that South Beach bistro. Quinn gave up his cell phone that had calls and texts linking him to a Miami jeweler. And Little, who has never been able to keep his trap shut, first mentioned “Miss Wiley” to NCAA investigators, which allowed them to look at Jennifer Wiley’s university email account that contained hundreds to and from football players. That turned an NCAA investigation into an academic fraud case.

Granted, Carolina has had very little experience dealing with the NCAA on this side of the line; it has been 50 years since our last probation. But, until Bubba Cunningham arrived, the athletic department was pathetically myopic in not seeking advice from outside sources and convincing each other the Carolina Way will prevail and the worst is over. The Carolina Way is now a punch line.

One obvious transparency was bringing in the Kansas law firm that still could not prepare the players well enough for their inquisitions. Another is the university telling players NOT to get their own individual attorneys because it will “make you look guilty.” That lit a fire under Devon Ramsay’s mother, who lawyered up on her own and got her son off.

And now it’s clear that Carolina has slipped across the line that separates every major college athletic department from those with a rap sheet. Since the leather helmet days, football players have been taking $5-50 handshakes, free meals here and there, and steered toward courses taught by the “Easy B Nyang’oros.”

The depth of this probe has made it look like a rogue department and a Chair and associate who turned lecture classes into independent study courses (without teachers) in which tutors helped players write papers that would determine their grades. That part of the scandal is still under deep scrutiny and looks like it will have the most damning effect on the rep of a great university.

When 18 football players wind up in a course that was put onto the schedule at virtually the last minute, there had to be a conduit between athletics and academics to help those players needing to stay eligible. There is simply no other explanation, whether it was John Blake, the academic support staff or Butch Davis himself coming up with the solution. Eventually, someone else may pay for that.

Of course, Davis continues to claim he did nothing wrong and knew of nothing wrong.  Truth is, he did know a lot about what was going on at the academic support center, did not like some of it and butted heads trying to change it.

Whatever the well-known football fibber knew or didn’t know, the buck had to stop with the man making $3 million as CEO of the program. All this deny, deny, deny, and I didn’t know on You Tube is enough to make any caring Tar Heel sick to his stomach. Davis did lots of good with UNC football but apparently nothing bad.

And yet, we’re still paying his full severance, even though it’s clear he and his agent are pulling a fast one with the wording of Davis’ new job description in Tampa Bay. PLUS, we invited his kid to join the football team as a walk-on, keeping his dad as part of the UNC Football Family. Not exactly what I’d call a fresh start and moving on.

As my friend BobLee says, “There has to be a better answer than our mess isn’t as bad as Penn State’s.”

If you want to read the acerbic version of the story from BobLee himself, click here. Laughing and crying out loud are both permitted.

Nyang'o-Who U?

Although the deposed Julius Nyang’oro had been teaching at UNC for 20 years, during which time taking Swahili had become somewhat of an inside joke among athletes, the period about to go under the microscope of the SBI is the summer of 2007 through the end of 2009.  

Julius Nyang’oro

Coincidence, or precisely between when Butch Davis began coaching at Carolina and his program fell under investigation by the NCAA? The very first piece of this so-call academia was Marvin Austin’s “B” grade in an upper level course he took the summer before enrolling as a freshman at UNC in 2007.  

Nyang’oro was supposed to have taught that course, but it is still unclear whether it was one of the 45 that the former department chair arbitrarily turned from accelerated summer lectures into, “There will be no classes, just come back at the end of the semester with a paper about a prominent black leader.”  

Or some such non-sense.  

Austin then enrolled as a full-time student. One of his first-semester courses in the fall of 2007 had the adjective “remedial” attached to it. From advanced to remedial in one easy lesson, which is that a number of unqualified “student-athletes” Davis signed should have been at lesser schools or junior college somewhere.  

Austin, of course, was the centerpiece of Davis’ first freshman class, for which fired assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator John Blake took and got most of the credit. Austin had been highly sought around the country after a star high school career in Washington, D.C., but not by Carolina. Yet the smooth-talking Blake waltzed up there and bagged the big guy.  

That turn of phrase reminds me how one former UNC assistant coach under Dick Crum cracked over the summer, “Hell, everyone knew Blake was the bag man.”  

Anyway, enough of that.  

After Blake signed up Austin, you can envision a parallel conversation going on between the Davis camp and Nyang’oro that went something like: “We’ve got this stud defensive tackle coming in and he’s going to play for us right away. We need to kick start his GPA so there is no chance of him being ineligible after his first season.”  

Sounds like a summer school course from “Easy B” Nyang’oro was the answer.  

With so many classes that were supposed to be lectures turning into “come back with a paper” capers, it’s easy to see how tutors like Jennifer Wiley were pressed into overtime duty. Of course, the most publicized of which was Michael McAdoo’s plagiarized piece that got him thrown off the field by the NCAA and kicked out of Superior Court after he filed suit to regain his eligibility.  

The time frame of all this is so curious one has to wonder why the preceding football regimes at UNC only had passing knowledge of Nyang’oro and his department in the first place. One former UNC coach remembers watching a game on TV and seeing a player’s bio come up on the screen with the major “African Afro-American Studies.”  

He said, “What the hell is that?”  

Carolina grad and Orange/Chatham County District Attorney Jim Woodall has called on the SBI to investigate this era of Davis, who by the way UNC still owes $1.8 million in severance pay even though the Butcher has taken another job with the Tampa Bay Bucs. But not to coach, only advise.  

Sure, let’s pay Davis the 1.8 mil and then ask him to cover Carolina’s legal fees in this last episode of the scandal that clearly crossed the line.  

All former football coaches and players know that summer has been the time for getting/keeping kids eligible, all the way back to when I was in school. In my day, it was Portuguese and education classes taught by Dr. Unks and Dr. Lovingood to beef up your GPA. Now, it’s Swahili and a bunch of other “Easy B” courses where athletes seem to migrate.  

But as Roy Williams said snippily a week or so ago, “They went to class and did the work that was assigned to them.” Maybe all the basketball players did, but apparently not all the athletes enrolled in Nyang’oro U.  

African Afro-American Studies is, or was, a legitimate major at UNC in the College of Arts & Sciences. Chancellor Holden Thorp was the Dean of Arts & Sciences for the 2007-08 school year, when the big trouble was just brewing. The notion that Thorp’s job could be in jeopardy is ludicrous, since it was obviously a football-engineered scam that turned the department into a sham over the last four years.  

The most recent annual salary for Nyang’oro, who is being forced into retirement as of July 1, was $159,000 plus a $12,000 stipend for chairing the department. He also made $12,000 a summer for courses he was supposed to be teaching. The News & Observer reported last week that Nyang’oro was paid $120,000 for summer school work during his tenure. Some of which was never actually done. Some of which was taught outside the course description. Some of which resulted in grades that were changed and faculty members’ names forged on the forms.  

All to be untangled by Woodall and the SBI, which can find criminal fraud if any of the cheating was conducted on state property or equipment.  

Let’s hope it happens quickly and the right people are held accountable.

Bubba Breaks In

When Bubba Cunningham was hired as Carolina’s new athletic director last October, his first task was to find a football coach that would separate UNC from the scandal-plagued Butch Davis era.
Cunningham did not act like it was such a daunting task. “Identify great coaches and find out which one is the best fit for your school,” he said.
Sounds simple and, although the process was far more deliberate and detailed, it sure looked that way when a month later he named Larry Fedora of Southern Miss as the Tar Heels’ new coach.
Two days after Cunningham was hired, he assembled his senior staff members at the Williamson Athletic Center and told them he needed their help identifying potential candidates and to guide him toward the best fit. 
They started with about 75 names, and they kept narrowing down the list.  Cunningham put together a thick three-ring binder profiling every coach being considered that included experience, offensive and defensive schemes, recruiting, geography, assistant coaches and what they all made.

“I let my staff use the notebook and talk to people,” Cunningham said. “It turned out to be a limited pool and the more we did that, a couple of guys just bubbled up to the top.”
“I talked to about 10 or 15 head coaches, on the phone or in person,” Cunningham said Thursday in his office. “They’ve all been briefed by someone and say they have their staff lined up, but you wonder. I was concerned a little that if (offensive coordinator) Blake Anderson got the job at Southern Miss, he would have kept a couple of coaches, Larry would have had to hire three and it wouldn’t have been as good. But, other than that, Larry had his staff.”
To make sure UNC was looking at the right fit, since Cunningham was just learning his way around his new job, he engaged five members of that senior staff to help with the interview process: Athletic business manager Martina Ballen, Senior Associate Athletic Director Larry Gallo, Associates Clint Gwaltney and Rick Steinbacher and Rams Club Executive Director John Montgomery.
All but Gallo, who had a conflict, travelled with Cunningham to New York to interview the final five candidates, who besides Fedora included Houston’s Kevin Sumlin (now at Texas A&M) and interim coach Everett Withers. Besides wanting to keep his staff involved in the decision, there were specific reasons why Cunningham included them, mainly because they all touched a different constituent group at UNC.
Former UNC football player Steinbacher, the athletic marketing director, has “relationships with the media, with sponsors and with the lettermen,” Cunningham said, “John Montgomery’s relationship with donors, the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees.
“Martina being our CFO had the ability to figure out how much we could pay. Clint, a dual purpose, he was in touch with season ticket holders and what they were saying and his staff and what they were hearing; and his relationship with Roy (Williams) is outstanding and we needed to be on the same page. Gallo is really good internally. He has the HR function and knows the campus landscape.”
Still, the final recommendation to Chancellor Holden Thorp was Cunningham’s, and he said Fedora slowly distanced himself from all the other candidates. One important call he received came from Mike Holder, athletic director at Oklahoma State, where Fedora had been offensive coordinator and helped install the Cowboys’ high-flying attack.
“Mike said you need to talk to Larry because he really wants your job,” Cunningham said. “And it’s nice when someone at the top of your list really wants to come.”
Up to that point, Cunningham was concerned Fedora might opt for the opening at Texas A&M, where Mike Sherman had just been fired. Fedora grew up in College Station, and his father and three brothers still live there.
“It was okay if Larry said he wanted that job first and if he did not get it he would come,” Cunningham said. “Mainly I was looking for an open dialogue.”
For whatever reason, Carolina was always Fedora’s No. 1 choice even though the prospect of an NCAA probation loomed that led to Fedora’s first contract offer of five years ending up at seven to cover a possible bowl ban that did occur.
His former athletic director at Southern Miss, and the man who hired him there, Richard Giannini, was getting ready to retire and knew that Fedora would receive numerous offers after winning 11 games and the Conference USA championship in 2011. Giannini, a former assistant AD at Duke, told Fedora Chapel Hill was where he needed to be.
Bringing a staff was key because that had not happened in Carolina’s last three football hires: Carl Torbush had to fill in for the assistants who went to Texas with Mack Brown; John Bunting had never worked in Division I and lacked contacts among major college coaches; and, as big of a name Butch Davis was, he had been out of college coaching for six years, and his first hire was the coach who doomed his program, John Blake.
Thus, when Fedora introduced his new coordinators and assistant head coach, there was a consistent message from all the men who spoke: They were going to win with good kids on and off the field, and most of this staff had been together for years, worked with Larry, loved Larry and knew exactly what he wanted. They hit the ground running and started getting in-state commitments for the 2013 and 14 recruiting classes.
So, with the new football hierarchy in place, Cunningham turned his attention to all the other challenges of moving from mid-major Tulsa to one of the premier athletic programs in the country with 28 sports and a $70-plus million budget. He has brought in lawyers and advisers to review everything from the academic support system ministered by the College of Arts and Sciences, to his department’s organizational structure, to strategic planning. In the meantime, he has thought long and hard about what Carolina’s position should be in the ever-changing landscape of college athletes – from alternatives to altering the amateur code to the prospect of a super division in the NCAA with an entire new rule book.
Cunningham says there is a “fair amount of frustration” among his staff that wants to be fulfilled, whether it is seeking growth opportunities here or elsewhere. He also thinks the so-called Carolina Way is a two-edged sword. “One way is it’s the right way and the way we need to do things,” he said, “and other people look at it as a way to do things they don’t want changed. So it’s both.”
The new AD understands he must tread lightly over traditions that have been in place, right or wrong, for a long time. He knew of the incestuous aspect of the “Carolina Way” – taking care of your own and promoting from within and admits he had doubts about getting the job “because I did not go to Carolina.”
From a day-to-day standpoint, Cunningham feels “geographically challenged because as a staff we’re so spread out.”
“So far, I don’t know how to function because I can’t get to where I need to be very efficiently,” he said. “I feel like I’m isolated in this building. That’s probably my biggest challenge so far is setting up a routine where I can effectively interact with people I need to, mostly the coaches. “
Currently, coaches and athletic personnel are housed in 11 separate buildings – the Williamson Center, Koury Natatorium, the Smith Center, the Kenan Football and Loudermilk Academic (Blue Zone) Centers, Carmichael, the soccer, golf, tennis, baseball and softball complexes.
Right now, Fedora and Williams report directly to Cunningham, while the other 18 coaches report to Senior Associate AD Beth Miller. That disconnect has Cunningham thinking about taking an office at Carmichael and spending two mornings a week there, so he is more in the center of campus.
“One consultant came in to examine our operation and evaluate our staff and said this building (Williamson Center) feels more like working in a bank,” Cunningham said. “There are no coaches and no kids.”
And all this without his family, which moves here the first week in June. The Cunninghams have just about settled on a house in The Oaks.
“The house in Tulsa is sold and everything will be in moving trucks and needs to be dropped off somewhere,” he said.
So add unpacking to Bubba’s short list in a few weeks.

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.

Laughable Loophole

Okay, all of those who think it’s okay for Butch Davis to finagle an “administrative” job in the National Football League and keep his full severance from UNC, raise your right hand.

Those of you who think Davis is trying to cheat his cash-strapped former employer out of more money on his way out of town, raise your left hand.

The fired football coach who seemingly wouldn’t move on apparently has taken a job with the Tampa Bay Bucs as a “Special Assistant” and advisor to new head coach Greg Schiano, the former Rutgers coach and Davis’ old D-coordinator at the University of Miami. But Davis, a coach for the last 40 years, will do no coaching. Huh?

Within 24 hours, this has become a national sham story with Yahoo, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and NBCSports.

As usual, Davis has a plausible explanation for taking the Tampa Bay position – that it’s the best opportunity to transition back into football and that he doesn’t want to disrupt the Bucs’ staff if he decides to leave.

Until that happens, it looks to me like Davis and his attorneys are gaming the severance system because his contract at Carolina carries the standard language that if he takes another coaching job his new salary will be deducted from the estimated $2.7 million UNC owes him for being fired without cause.

Who are they kidding with their laughable loophole that he won’t be a coach with the NFL team, more of an advisor and administrative assistant to Schiano? Wonder how Davis’ shorthand is these days. Is game-planning not coaching? How about “advising” on putting together a defense or selecting draft choices?

What a joke.

Davis won’t have any coaching duties with the Bucs like I won’t be rooting for the Panthers to kick their butts twice next season. At least when the Cleveland Browns paid him off (an estimated $12 million) after he was fired during his third season, Davis went to work for the NFL Network. He joined the media until his last check cleared and then went looking for another coaching job, landing at Carolina.

Do the math. It’s like Davis really needs the money, right? Besides the $20-plus million he banked from the Browns, plus the $5 million he earned at Miami, there is the $10 million more he made at UNC. Now he wants his full severance AND what he makes at Tampa Bay.

According to ESPN, Davis has already received $933,500 of his buyout with three $590,000 payments due the next three Januaries to fulfill a UNC contract that ran through 2015. By the time of the last payment, Davis will be 63, but with three seasons under his money belt as an NFL “special assistant.” He will then have made almost as much from not being a head coach as from being one.

I’ll bet you a grilled cheese sandwich at Sutton’s that after one, two or all three of those receivables are safely in his account, Davis will have talked his way back onto the sideline somewhere. They should all be ineligible payments from this point forward because surely his agent Jimmy Sexton has swung a salary of at least $1,770,000 ($590k X 3) as Schiano’s new right hand, front-office man.

What a mench, this guy who supposedly loved UNC so much that he’s put the scandal we are trying to get past right back in the national news after attendiing every home game last season in a booster’s suite, showing up at the dedication of the Charlie Loudermilk Center, aka the Blue Zone and, to everyone’s surprise, going to the dinner honoring outgoing Athletic Director Dick Baddour.

That’s when the eye-rolls, snickers and whispers reached an all-time high and upstaged the host of the evening, Holden Thorp, who so egregiously fired Davis that the Butcher has pretty much thrown his old boss under every available bus, plus trashed him in the strange You Tube video Davis released late last year, the one in which he gives it, but can’t take it, as he blocked the “comments” section.  

In maneuvering himself out of town with bulging pockets to another big payday in Florida, Davis has reinforced the theory that he was a hired gun in the first place brought on board by UNC Trustees who wanted big-time football so badly at Carolina.  It’s the same coach who decided that his initial $1.86 million deal wasn’t good enough and, through the slick Sexton, held the university up for a raise and contract extension after his inglorious 4-8 first season, which was a hooked Duke field goal away from 3-9.

He’s the same coach who is leaving Tar Heel football on NCAA probation, the school’s first brush with the collegiate cops in 50 years. Yes, I know, he was not mentioned in any of the nine major NCAA violations. He just made $3 million his last season here because, as Sgt. Schultz would say, “I know nussing.”  

If you ever see John Blake around town, ask him who knew what.

Whether UNC’s crack legal staff will fight this charade is unknown. It should at least see what the NCAA hands down for its final ruling. Perhaps then they can come up with a “cause” or three. Maybe they can hire a snoop dog to make sure Davis is only picking up Schiano’s dry cleaning for two million bucks a year. Does sitting in on staff meetings constitute coaching? If so, Davis shouldn’t get another red cent from Carolina. Let him sue UNC to get the remaining $1.77 million.

“I am excited to have his extensive football background and knowledge on board,” Schiano said. “He has had success on every level, and I know he will be a huge asset, not only to me, but to the entire Buccaneers organization.”

Enjoy Tampa, Coach Davis.  Welcome back to football.

Just Win, Baby!

If Everett Withers keeps it up, he’s going to make it easy on Carolina’s new athletic director.
Withers began his season as UNC’s interim football coach with a slight blip that had some people chortling in their corn flakes – publicizing that the game ball from the opening day win over James Madison would go to his fired predecessor because this is really “Coach Davis’ team” or something like that. An okay gesture in private, but not the separation he needed to show from the beleaguered Butch.
Since then, Withers has been darn near perfect. He wants the “interim” removed from his title but he’s not campaigning for it. He is saying and doing all the right things, reaching out to the UNC faculty and using buzz words like “accountability” and “responsibility” which apparently Holden Thorp and the Board of Trustees thought was lacking in the last head coach.
Because most assistant coaches (with the exception of John Blake) are seen and not heard, we never knew how engaging, entertaining and enlightening Withers is. You get more direct answers out of one interview with him than in a season of “coach speak” from other head honchos. He startled the radio audience Saturday night in Greenville when his players came out of the locker room for the second half with a comfortable lead and told sideline reporter Lee Pace that they were “going for the jugular.”
His team starts games as if shot from a cannon, outscoring opponents 42-3 in the first quarter. It gave up the ball too often early but four take-aways at East Carolina evened their turnover ratio on the season.  After Bryn Renner threw six picks in the first four games, he was perfect against the Pirates. Withers says it his job to make life easier on his talented rookie quarterback.
His weekly radio show is amazingly informative. Withers explains technical football terms in such a way that you actually learn something. Did you know, for example, that one reason teams like to run plays toward their own sideline is so they can substitute quickly for the next snap before the defense has time to run players on and off across the field? Never thought about that, but it makes perfect sense.
On the field, so far, the Tar Heels play with the same combination of toughness and intelligence. In the red zone, they score touchdowns 83 percent of the time and give them up less than 40 percent, far better than how any of Davis’ four UNC teams began the season. Yes, Withers inherited outstanding interior lines, but offensive boss John Shoop is bringing Renner along beautifully with a balanced attack that does not allow the defense to cheat. If it does, it gets burned by the quick opener on the ground or one-on-one coverage in the secondary.
In short, the 2011 Tar Heels play harder and smarter than any team I can remember dating back to the Mack Brown era. These are kids who look like they care far more about football than who their head coach is, and Withers is ideal for that role. After a quarter century as an assistant, he clearly knows his stuff and articulates it candidly without giving away the ranch. He seems as comfortable as your favorite pair of loafers.
Now the schedule is turning out to be very much in his favor. Undefeated Georgia Tech looked like an “L” on paper and so it was against the favorite to win the Coastal Division of the ACC. But the next five weeks will be telling for the Tar Heels, who should easily get by a young Louisville team that struggles on offense and looks to have too much talent and discipline for Miami the following week, also at home. Even if they lose at Clemson, the ACC’s only other unbeaten, they can come home to whip Wake Forest and do something Davis couldn’t do in four tries, beat N.C. State on November 5 (in Raleigh).
That would leave Carolina 8-2 (and way bowl eligible) going to Blacksburg for the Thursday night
ESPN game on November 17. The Hokies could wake up like they have in other slow-start seasons, but right now they are the most beatable Beamer team in years. Should that be accomplished, followed by the almost annual edging of Duke, ol’ Interim Everett would finish 10-2 in his first fall as a head coach. And no matter who they hired as athletic director, that person could not possibly send Withers packing or back to the coordinator’s office.
Of course, there are some long-range issues to address, such as whether Withers can close on highly regarded recruiting classes like super salesman Davis. And can this career assistant generate enough excitement and unity amidst a traditionally lethargic football fan base, some of which is suddenly spitting mad over how Thorp bounced their man Butch. That is important because a large debt is left to pay on the Blue Zone, and the only way to do that is to sell the sucker out.
Head coaches at Carolina have had a history as scapegoats, dating back to when Jim Hickey took over after “Sunny Jim” Tatum died in the summer of 1959. Bill Dooley won two ACC titles despite his oft-ridiculed three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. Dick Crum went to five straight bowls and won an ACC title without talking very much. Mack Brown went to seven straight bowls and never stopped talking his way out of two 1-10 seasons. Carl Torbush never should have gotten the job, and John Bunting never should have blown the only job he ever wanted. Davis falls somewhere between a scapegoat and scam artist, depending on your point of view.
After all that Carolina football history, unassuming Everett Withers could wind up the ultimate right man, right place, right time. Just win, baby, and he can take the drama out of it.
How many games do you think Withers has to win to keep the job?

Silence Is Golden?

The sudden silence surrounding UNC’s search for a new athletic director is anything but deadly. In fact, it’s a sign that the process has taken a step in the right direction.

As a large list of qualified and sitting AD’s from other schools has been narrowed down, the names have, for the most part, remained secret. And that’s the only way Carolina is going to get the so-called best man for the job.

When contacted recently, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp could share very few specifics about the search. His main acknowledgment was that the process may have begun like an academic search for a tenured professor or experienced dean, but it has since evolved into a highly confidential quest that will end one day soon when the job is offered and accepted.

Thorp said he understood why it had to be that way. Tenured professors exploring opportunities at other schools are protected from losing their present positions, and their inquiries often result in counter-offers to their own benefit. In athletics, sitting athletic directors are not going to risk their jobs by publicly “applying” or “interviewing” at schools that may not offer them a great deal more than they are currently making. If they don’t get hired, or they announce they are withdrawing, it could leave them less secure with alumni and fans of their school.

“I am getting advice from some of the most experienced people in college athletics,” Thorp said. “I can’t say who they are, but our goal is to hire the best person in the country for Carolina.”

The “for Carolina” may be the key phrase to the one comment Thorp would make, because the budget for the new athletic director’s salary is not unlimited and some of the biggest names in the country may already have jobs that are equal or even better than UNC’s, considering the NCAA sanctions and financial challenges ahead.

But sources familiar with the search say there are still a number of candidates with the experience and respected connections to college athletics that remain highly interested in succeeding Dick Baddour. Most of the “finalists” have escaped media speculation and the message boards, and some who have indicated they are not interested could be saying that to continue “playing the game” until they are offered the job.

Thorp has been criticized for firing Butch Davis when he did – a week or so before football practice began – but it has turned out to be the perfect timing, given the interest in directing the Tar Heels athletic program and the highly publicized first task of choosing UNC’s next permanent football coach.

Had Davis been fired when the NCAA scandal and academic fraud were fully exposed in August of 2010, or after the 2010 season, or when the NCAA Notice of Allegations arrived, Carolina would have had to play the following football season with an interim coach, anyway. But choosing the next coach would have been more difficult with a lame-duck athletic director such as Baddour, whose contract ran through June of 2012.

Firing Davis when he did, and having Baddour step aside, allowed Thorp to put the plan into proper sequence – that is hiring a new athletic director who could then hire the new coach. It is a given in college athletics that coaches want to know who they will be working for in the long run, and athletic directors always like to pick their own coaches.

That very reasoning leaves the popular and well-respected David Cutcliffe at Duke in trouble if the Blue Devils have another wash-out season. Kevin White came from Notre Dame after Cutcliffe was on board, and White will go only so long before choosing to bring in his own man. Ditto for Tom O’Brien and Debbie Yow at N.C. State.

The one sad part of the Carolina search, according to sources who know, is that Baddour continues to use political pressure in support of promoting from his current staff. Perhaps it is noble and loyal to want the up-line to continue, but Baddour’s legacy is in such shambles that an internal promotion would be seen as just more of the same old same old.

Baddour stepped aside so the problems with football and the athletic department could be solved. And promoting one of his own lieutenants, whether a career associate or a green assistant, is no recipe for change. It could also be the death knell for Thorp, who remains under heavy pressure to get it right after the controversial firing of Davis.

Baddour needs to complete his compliance responsibility with the NCAA hearing on October 28 and let Thorp and his prominent advisors hire someone who will give UNC the experience of having worked elsewhere, the college athletics clout and a fresh vision for Carolina, where several coaches will be aging out over the next few years and conference realignment seems inevitable.

Those current department employees who aspire to be athletic directors need to go learn on the job at a lower-profile school instead of subjecting the university to more Baddour-like blunders that stretch from letting Mack Brown get away without a fight in 1997 to allowing Davis to hire John Blake nine years later (with the Jim Donnan-Carl Torbush, Roy Williams-Matt Doherty and Frank Beamer-John Bunting fiascos in between).

Key members of the search committee are in Dallas this week for the national athletic directors convention interviewing candidates who can give Carolina athletics the new leadership, new ideas and new morale that are sorely needed, a sentiment that comes from many who work or have worked under Baddour but won’t be quoted for obvious reasons.

So for those who are still sore over the demanding and likely dishonest Davis being fired, remember that you (should) care most about Carolina and get behind a Chancellor who, ironically, has had to learn about college athletics on the job. When Thorp took over, he never thought he would need to devote so much time to a scandal-marred department. But he has, and the proverbial ball has landed in his court.

He needs to get this first hire right. I think he will.

Do you?

The Thigpen Connection

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

Thigpen on UNC Staff

Thigpen was an accomplished recruiter in the Southeast and may have felt like Blake’s reputation in recruiting was trumping the hours and hard work Thigpen was putting in to help UNC land stellar recruiting classes in 2008 and 2009. So, as the story goes, Thigpen told Davis what Blake was doing and said basically, “It’s either him or me.”

Davis reportedly asked Thigpen what he would do if he left UNC, and Thigpen said he had been offered a job by Auburn. Davis asked for how much money. Thigpen said more than he was earning at Carolina. Davis had a chance to jettison Blake and give Thigpen a promotion and raise. There had even been rumors that Davis was already trying to “find another job” for Blake.
You can’t turn that down, Davis told Thigpen, according to sources. Thigpen resigned and moved to Auburn, where he indeed made more money and helped the Tigers beat Oregon to win the BCS championship last season. But friends of Thigpen, who was later interviewed by the NCAA, said that he left reluctantly and would have stayed in Chapel Hill with a different response from Davis.
Paraphrasing pages 62 and 63 of UNC’s response reveals that Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders told the NCAA on January 21, 2011, that two independent sources – Sanders’ agent Shane Meacham and an unidentified high school coach in Los Angeles – informed him that Blake had contacted Nebraska All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after the 2008 season, when Suh was contemplating entering the NFL draft as an underclassman.
The implication was that Blake, who had coached at Nebraska and recruited Suh, may have been doing more than staying in touch with Suh and his family.
Continuing from  pages 62-63, Sanders reported the information to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who instructed Sanders to contact the UNC coaching staff and tell Blake to refrain from calling Suh. Sanders also told the NCAA he had followed up with Thigpen, who Sanders learned had relayed the message to Blake. Phone records that have been published show that Blake had called Suh, Suh’s family and Wichard within the same day in 2009.
This allegation is perhaps the most damning among all nine Carolina received from the NCAA, because if the Thigpen story is true it confirms Davis knew what was going on with Blake and did nothing about it until the scandal erupted in August of 2010 and Blake resigned under pressure following the opening game of the 2010 season against LSU.
Davis’ defense all along was that he knew little or nothing about violations within his program – pertaining to impermissible benefits from agents and the ensuing academic scandal that broke. Despite his coach’s insistence, this could have been the straw that forced Chancellor Holden Thorp to fire Davis because it was an indefensible position for the university.
Put all this together with the previously untold story that Thigpen had left UNC after confronting Davis about Blake, and you can see why this brings into question the honesty and chutzpah of Carolina’s fired head coach. Thigpen is an honored and respected member of the Carolina family, a three-time All-ACC linebacker under Mack Brown and former player for the New York Giants of the NFL.
If Butch Davis knew all this and retained Blake over Thigpen in light of the information he received, then Carolina football was out of control. Davis may not have, and my guess did not, inform UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour, which is why the school may have escaped the lack of institutional control charge.
But it clearly supports why Butch Davis should have been fired. And eventually was.

Do you think Davis should have chosen Thigpen over Blake?

Re-Emphasizing Football

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

Seven Lessons from the Davis Firing

1. The internet and airwaves are filled with sports pundits and fans lambasting UNC for firing Butch Davis on the eve of the football season.   But once it became apparent what key Davis hire John Blake was doing while a Tar Heel coach (essentially acting as an agent’s agent), there was no “wrong time” to terminate Davis if your concern for UNC-Chapel Hill goes beyond wins and losses.  While sooner would have been better, there is absolutely nothing wrong with now if you take the perspective that what’s best for UNC need not have anything to do with what might be good for its football team’s record.

2. Similarly, the success or failure of UNC’s football team should never be a measure of the strength of the university.  The incredible work of Carolina’s scholars and healers and inventors and students is what really matters.  Indeed, the fortunes of the football team shouldn’t even be equated with the strength of Carolina athletics generally.  For example, the greatest college sports dynasty America has ever seen is the UNC women’s soccer team which has won 21 national championships.  If cheering on Tar Heel teams is a key part of your life, as it is for mine, there are numerous supremely talented squads to pull for, none of which play in Kenan Stadium.
3. My godfather Ray Farris quarterbacked Carolina teams in the early 1960’s, and my love for Tar Heel football stretches back to the ’70s.  I was there when “Famous” Amos Lawrence made tacklers miss as if he wore an invisibility cloak, when Kelvin Bryant scorched East Carolina for six touchdowns, when defenders such as Lawrence Taylor and Chapel Hill’s own Bernardo Harris decimated opposing quarterbacks.  But, in light of the compelling evidence of the neurological toll the concussive and subconcussive impacts pervasive in football are taking on players, nothing about Carolina football going forward will give me more satisfaction than knowing that team members graduate with enriched not damaged minds.  UNC appears to be doing more than many schools in protecting its players from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but the issue seems to have been overshadowed on campus (at least publicly) during this past scandal-plagued year.  The Ivy League recently limited its football teams to two full-contact practices a week.  UNC should be urging the ACC to follow suit.
4. Here is another thing that matters more, a lot more, than the football team’s on-field fortunes: the overall fitness and physical health of the entire UNC student body (and faculty and staff).  Could diverting resources (both money and time) from football in favor of expanded campus-wide instruction on lifelong exercise and eating habits make a meaningful difference in thousands of lives?  I think so.
5. Charles T. Clotfelter has great timing.  The Duke professor’s compelling book, “Big-Time Sports in American Universities”, was just published and is a must-read.
6. Listen to what Art Chansky says 1360 WCHL and read everything he writes on  You don’t have to always agree with it but, if you are interested in Carolina sports, you don’t want to miss what’s on his mind.
7. Everett Withers makes a great first impression.  Go Heels!
What lessons did you draw from the Butch Davis saga?