With the season getting underway Thursday, a returning star quarterback, and a new defensive coordinator in town, there’s a lot of excitement about Carolina football in Chapel Hill.
What’s in store for the 2015 Tar Heels?
UNC professor and sports commentator Deb Stroman joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on Monday. (They also discussed oft-injured Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III – and how to resist the temptation to put players in harm’s way when there’s so much money at stake.)http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/stroman-on-sports-the-season-begins/
Two years ago the UNC football team opened its season with a disappointing 27-10 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia. On Thursday, the Tar Heels will get a chance at revenge when they collide with legendary Head Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about the Tar Heels right now, it’s that they have a tremendous amount of respect for Spurrier and his teams.
UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora told reporters on Monday that Spurrier always has his teams prepared. Fedora’s quarterback, senior Marquise Williams, agreed–and has shown great enthusiasm about receiving his first shot at the college football Hall-of-Famer.
“You can always try to say [something] bad about the ‘Ol Ball Coach, but that’s one guy who knows how to win football games,” Williams said on Monday. “I’m excited just to be able to play my first game against Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. And so is the rest of this team. It’s a great opportunity for us to go out and showcase our talent. It’s a showdown with the ACC vs. the SEC.”
Conveniently enough, new Tar Heel defensive coordinator Gene Chizik put together a 3-0 record against Spurrier’s Gamecocks during his time as an SEC head coach at Auburn. Having spent the last two years away from the sidelines, Chizik has had plenty of time to check up on his old rival.
“I think Coach Spurrier’s done a great job of staying true to all the things, philosophically and offensively, that he has always done,” Chizik said. “But I think what he’s done a great job of is really, he’s put some new things in there. He’s kinda evolved with the game a little bit with some new stuff. Back when they had [quarterback] Connor Shaw with the zone read, and the things he implemented that they’re still running now.”
This year’s South Carolina team will feature sophomore quarterback Connor Mitch, a local product out of Wakefield High School in Raleigh. Mitch will be making his first start in a career that has seen him throw just 6 passes to date.
Chizik’s defense will be looking to take advantage of that inexperience, says the Tar Heels’ senior middle linebacker, Jeff Schoettmer.
“We’re looking to get after him,” Schoettmer said. “Any time you’ve got a young quarterback you want to make them throw into tight windows and make plays. Make him beat you. We’re gonna get after him with blitz schemes, and things like that, but it really boils down to how we execute.”
The biggest threat the Tar Heels will face is the Gamecocks’ explosive junior wide receiver Pharoah Cooper. Cooper caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards last season in Spurrier’s offense–on his way to first team All-SEC honors.
“He is obviously one of the best players in that league, for sure,” Chizik said. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve seen on film. That’s why you can expect him to be in so many different places doing so many different things. Whether it’s the wildcat scenario or whether they’re putting him out there and throwing the ball to him when the game is on the line. Coach Spurrier, you can tell, has a lot of confidence in him no matter what role he plays.”
Offensively, UNC brings back ten starters. They are expected to pose a challenge to not only the Gamecocks, but every defense they see this season. If the defense can show improvement, this year’s Tar Heels can compete with anyone.
But any struggles in the opener won’t have their head coach pressing the panic button just yet.
“It’s pretty important the way we come out on Thursday night, and the way we perform,” Fedora said after practice Monday. “But it doesn’t define our season. It gives us an idea of where we’re at. No matter what happens, we’ve still got a long season ahead of us.”
The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast live on WCHL. Kickoff is currently set for 6:01 p.m. Thursday.
In just one week’s time the UNC football team will be in Charlotte for their season opener against South Carolina.
Under the lights at Bank of America Stadium and nationally televised on ESPN, the Tar Heel defense – led by senior linebackers Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad – will have a prime opportunity to let the cameras capture their good side in the first game under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
The complete overhaul of the team’s defense, which has carried on all throughout the offseason, has asked numerous players to take on different roles and positions as they learn Chizik’s new scheme. During that process, Head Coach Larry Fedora showered praise on his senior leaders for their efforts in trying to make the transition a success.
“There’s two guys right now, and that’s Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad,” Fedora said recently at the team’s media day. “I mean, those guys right now, they’re giving everything they’ve got in what [Chizik] expects from them in practice, meetings, their mentalities–everything they’re doing.”
Although Chizik might be new in Chapel Hill, he’s not blind to the fact that there will be growing pains trying to turn around a defense that allowed more points per game than all but nine of the 128 NCAA Division I teams a year ago. Should this group run into struggles this season, he expects Schoettmer and Rashad to work together in order to find the solutions.
“Those guys have to be in a position when things aren’t going good to step up to the plate,” Chizik said after practice on Wednesday. “We’re gonna have some ups and downs in a game—just like we are the whole year. And that’s where they gotta step up to the plate and be the voice on the field.”
Having built a close relationship during their three years on campus together, Schoettmer and Rashad have certainly learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So when it comes to making the type of vocal impact on the team that Chizik is looking for, Schoettmer expects he and his buddy will each contribute in their own way.
“I think I’m more the vocal leader on the field, and he’s more the guy that rallies everyone together off the field,” Schoettmer says. “We kinda complement each other real well, in that sense.
“But he’s not afraid to speak up on the field as well. If he sees something from the sideline, he’s always the first one to come to me and point out ‘Hey Schoett, this is what they’re doing, this is what we need to be doing’, and I’m the guy that relays the message to the rest of the defense.”
As the middle linebacker, Schoettmer is the man who quarterbacks that side of the ball–something that’s always been his job in his time as a Tar Heel.
Rashad, on the other hand, has spent his offseason adjusting to a brand new role playing as a traditional outside linebacker after three years as a hybrid defensive end under the old coaching regime.
“It was a big change for me,” Rashad said. “I had to change my size and I had to change how I think in certain situations.”
After shedding 10 pounds, he and Schoettmer are now each listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 235 pounds–making them just about clones of one another. The only thing Rashad needs to be more like Schoettmer at this point is a long blonde mane atop his head–something that is highly unlikely to ever happen.
But so far he’s done exceptionally well with the position switch, saying that, “It’s been fairly smooth–with the guys like Jeff [Schoettmer] at linebacker helping me out, with our whole coaching staff helping me out, helping me learn it.
“A lot of people had to change positions. A lot of guys are learning new stuff, and everyone’s there to help out with it.”
Since last season concluded with a disappointing 40-21 loss to Rutgers in the bowl game, much of the talk about this football team has centered on its defensive shortcomings—something Schoettmer is itching to silence.
“For the past eight, nine months we’ve been hearing all the negative things about last year, and how bad we were as a defense,” Schoettmer said Wednesday. “So that’s kind of lit a fire underneath us. We understand that we’re a completely new defense.”
Rashad, who wears number 42 and sports the nickname “Shakkie Robinson” to match, is just as excited for this group to get started in its attempt at redemption next week.
“All over the locker room, all over the stadium, people are excited,” Rashad said about next week’s opener. “It’s a big game. We feel like we’ve got a lot to prove, and it’s a great stage to do it on. To come out and just say ‘Hey, North Carolina defense. We’re back.’ “http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/schoettmer-rashad-have-uncs-defense-ready-for-its-close-up/
They haven’t earned any nicknames yet, but if they carry their excellent play from training camp into the regular season, that may change in the very near future.
Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan are expected to give this year’s UNC football team an electric one-two punch at the running back position that could take this year’s offense to new heights.
While some offenses like to slow the tempo and hand the ball off to one running back all game long, UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora needs to constantly rotate in multiple backs due to the breakneck pace his teams play with.
But that’s not all that matters. With these two unique runners, defenses will always get different looks from the Tar Heel backfield.
“Well, there’s a size difference, a strength difference, a running style difference,” Fedora said. “One of ‘ems a big, physical, ‘pound you’ kind of guy, and the other one’s a slashing [back], got great speed—all those kind of things.”
The NFL’s Carolina Panthers, in recent years, have rotated (now-departed) speed back DeAngelo Williams with power back Jonathan Stewart. The two earned the nickname “Thunder and Lightning” as they found great success together for seven years.
Hood, a 6-foot 200 pound sophomore from the Panthers’ backyard in Charlotte, has shown plenty of people this summer which of those roles he’ll be in.
“I definitely can make some plays based off my physicality,” Hood told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “That first run in the scrimmage (an 80 yard touchdown run) was a pretty physical play. That’s how I broke it. Physicality’s definitely our thing this year—from an offensive and defensive standpoint.”
He came to Chapel Hill last year after being ranked number 47 on ESPN’s list of the top 300 high school prospects in the nation—and de-committed from Notre Dame before choosing UNC. However, injuries held Hood to just 67 carries in his debut season—which allowed the 5-foot-10-inch speedster, Logan, to take the reins as the team’s top running back for the second straight year.
With Hood healthy, Logan mentioned a goal they’ve set for themselves this season.
“We talk about getting at least 200 yards a game,” Logan said. “I feel like if we do that, the rest is just gonna come down to us just clicking as an offense, and on defense as well. So 200 yards for us, as a running back group, is where we need to be.”
Although no runner for the Tar Heels (outside of quarterback Marquise Williams) averaged more than 10 carries a game in 2014, Logan said that he hopes to get at least 15 per outing this season. Coach Fedora hasn’t made any promises there, but he has noticed one skill his best running backs have in common that could help them each get the ball a little more.
“It’s nice to have that punch, and that changeup–that not all the backs are exactly the same,” Fedora said. “One good thing is [Hood and Logan] both catch the ball very well. So that’s a big asset for us.”
The possibility of seeing either Logan or Hood get some time as a slot receiver is also something Fedora will not rule out.
“You could see anything,” Fedora said with a slight smirk on his face. “We’re gonna try to always put our good players on the field. We’ve got all kinds of things working, actually, right now.”
One thing is for certain about this year’s running backs. For that area of the offense to really show improvement, the quarterback can’t lead the team in rushing—something that has been the case the past 2 seasons. While Logan has talked about the importance of keeping Williams healthy–Hood is a little more matter of fact with his thoughts on the subject.
“Personally, as a running back I would hate that,” Hood said. “I would not want the quarterback to lead the team in rushing. I definitely think that should be a running back’s duty to lead the team in rushing. That’s why we’re the running backs.”
If everything goes according to plan this season, then all that chatter about the UNC football team playing too cute of a game should all be long gone. At the team’s Media Day on Wednesday, physicality was hailed as the potential savior of all things—from the top down.
As the football landscape, both in college and the professional ranks, gears itself more towards wide-open spread offenses—like UNC’s—hard-hitting smash-mouth defense has largely gone by the wayside.
New Tar Heel defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has come to Chapel Hill on a mission to change that.
“In this day and age, you can’t win games saying that ‘Well we play X amount of spread offenses, so we’re gonna finesse ’em and bring ’em down in space,”‘ Chizik said. “No, that’s part of being physical. That’s part of being in the right spots.
“Everything in this game is about physicality. I have never been around a good defense that’s not physical. Never.”
Many of last season’s woes have been attributed to defensive failures, as the team gave up 39 points per game—good enough to rank a whopping 119th out of 128 eligible Division I schools. It would be wrong, though, to assume that the players aren’t fully aware of that fact heading into this year.
“Nobody liked the results of last year any less than they do,” Chizik said about the group he’s inherited. “Nobody. No coaches, no media, no fans, nobody. They did not like the results either.
“So [the players] care enough to work every day to change them. They gotta play through the good times and the bad–and it always has to be consistent as we move. I think that’s really the message with them.
“We’re not playing any Dr. Phil games,” he added.
For Larry Fedora, the team’s offensive-minded head coach, that same approach can be taken on both sides of the ball even while playing out of the spread. It just has to show itself in a different way.
“When we evaluated what our problems were and all those things, we knew we had to establish ourselves running the football,” Fedora told reporters. “And so that was a point of emphasis, again, going into the part with being physical.”
It was the quarterback, Marquise Williams, who ended up leading the team in rushing a year ago. But in order to keep Williams and his surgically repaired hip healthy, it’ll be important to get a breakout year from sophomore running back Elijah Hood, who had close to 200 rushing yards in Sunday’s team scrimmage.
However, Williams won’t be afraid to repeat last year’s performance, if necessary.
“I mean, there’s still pass progressions. I’m on my ‘1, 2, 3, and down to my checkdown [receivers],” he said. “But if there’s nobody there, I’m still gonna take off. But, with the running backs we have, and the offensive lineman–how confident those guys are this year–we’re gonna move the ball in the running game.”
Ironically enough, if there’s one player who may need to tone his physicality down a little, it’s Williams.
In order for the Tar Heels to be at their strongest from September all the way through December, their signal-caller can’t be taking too many hard hits when he runs the ball.
“There was times [last year] where I could have protected myself, but I just wanted to be that hero,” Williams said, pausing for just a second afterwards. “Sometimes I shouldn’t be that hero. Sometimes I need to lay down.”
He continued on, saying, “I gotta be more smart this year and protect myself, because it’s not about me. It’s about my team–and those guys gonna need me.”
Fresh off its first full-team scrimmage on Sunday, the UNC football team resumed training camp Monday morning with a clearer picture starting to develop of this year’s Tar Heel roster.
And if there’s one thing that can be said for certain about this year’s team just six days into practice–it’s that the deep stable of wide receivers will be making noise in many different ways.
Depth is a key component in UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora’s high-tempo offense, and luckily for the Tar Heels, they have plenty of it flanking quarterback Marquise Williams.
Senior Quinshad Davis, along with juniors Bug Howard and Mack Hollins, give the team three targets outside the numbers standing at least 6-foot-4, with the other main pass-catcher being 5-foot-10 whirling dervish Ryan Switzer out of the slot. That kind of talent leads to some great battles in practice, Davis says.
“Shoot, we all considered number one [receivers],” Davis said after practice Monday. “I wouldn’t say nobody is better than the other. But I mean, we all push each other to the limit, because we all know its competition. We got each other breathing down each other’s back. All that does is make each one of us better.”
Williams, the man who gets to throw to all these freakishly athletic receivers, has noticed the same thing from his spot behind the line of scrimmage.
“Those guys have been running routes tremendously well,” Williams told reporters about the improvements he’s seen in his receivers. “Bug [Howard], Quinshad [Davis], and Mack [Hollins]—those are big receivers. They feel like if you throw the ball in their area, they gonna come down with it. And that’s what I love about them the most. They gonna compete for everything.”
Each of the Tar Heels’ top four receivers (Switzer, Davis, Howard, and Hollins) caught at least 35 passes and gained at least 450 yards last season, which may not seem like much, but it is when you consider that there’s only one ball to spread around.
However, there are other attributes that Coach Fedora appreciates about his experienced receivers.
“Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, I mean all those guys that have experience. They’re very vocal. And they have no problem being vocal—and leading,” Fedora said.
Although it often falls into the lap of the quarterback to talk a lot and keep the team loose, Williams is quick to point out that the receivers have that job locked down on this team.
“Mack, he’s one of the funniest guys,” Williams said. “He’s always gonna run his mouth. But that’s Mack, and we love that. We need that.
“Quinshad and Bug bring the energy,” he added. “Bug’s one of those guys that’s always dancing and thinking everything’s funny. That’s what you need around a team. You can’t have a dull moment. Like I was telling those guys today, ‘Y’all quiet like we at a funeral, man. Let’s have some fun ‘cause you don’t get this opportunity too many times’.”
On top of that, Howard often hosts dance competitions in the locker room to help ease tensions. But it’s not always fun and games. Sometimes, business gets in the way.
When it’s time to buckle down and focus on football, that’s where Davis, the senior, steps in.
“I mean, we joke and laugh around—but [we] know there’s a time to play and a time to be serious. So I just let the guys have fun and enjoy themselves, but I let ‘em know when it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” Davis said.
Asked what the receivers needed to improve on the most for 2015, Howard–definitely not a man lacking confidence–thought to himself for about ten seconds before conceding that he didn’t really know, outside of cleaning up a few simple errors.
Only time will tell if that’s true or not, but right now the Tar Heels’ receiving corps are feeling (really) good about themselves heading into the heart of training camp.
Wednesday is Media Day for the Tar Heels, so WCHL will be out there to cover all of the important (and not-so-important) things that happen out there. Coach Fedora will be holding a press conference during the proceedings.
Since Larry Fedora’s arrival as UNC’s head football coach in 2012, the Tar Heels have never struggled to score points. However, the results on the other side of the ball have been a bit shaky under the offensive guru.
So for 2015 Fedora landed his most talented recruit yet—a defensive coordinator by the name of Gene Chizik.
Just four days into training camp, Chizik has already made his mark on the team.
In 2005, Chizik was a co-defensive coordinator for Mack Brown’s national championship team at Texas. And then in 2010 as the head coach at Auburn, he picked up another national title led by quarterback Cam Newton.
From the first day Chizik stepped on campus, Coach Fedora and his team couldn’t help but show respect for him and his impressive resumé.
“Guys were excited,” Fedora said. “I mean, his reputation precedes him. So everybody, whether they had met him or not, they already knew what he had accomplished. That gave them a sense of confidence, and a swagger about them, from the very get-go. And I think that’s continued through to this point.”
Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who comes into the year as the team’s unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the ball, says Chizik is exactly what the doctor ordered for this particular team.
“His presence is just something that our team needed,” Schoettmer said after practice on Thursday. “The leadership he shows, the background, the experience that he has—it’s great for our team.
“The defense can learn a lot from him, but he helps the offense as well. He was a head coach at one point. He’s coached in national championships. He’s been there, he’s been to the highest level. So that experience and knowledge–and just the swag he brings to our defense–is really what we needed.”
Although he’s seen as the man who is supposed to clean up the mess left behind by last year’s squad, Chizik sees his challenge a little differently—especially with the switch in schemes from former coordinator Vic Koenning’s ‘4-2-5’ to a more conventional ‘4-3’, which uses three linebackers instead of two.
“I don’t think you can look at last year’s [film] and really compare,” Chizik said. “It’s just two different ideas totally. Not that one idea is right and one idea is wrong. They’re just different. So it’s comparing apples and oranges”
Listening to Chizik talk football is something that immediately captured his players’ attention, especially for Schoettmer—the quarterback of the defense.
“He’s very smart,” Schoettmer said. “He’s the most intelligent football mind I’ve been around in my life. In the time he’s been here, I’ve learned more about football—about the game, about what my role and responsibility is, about how to read the offense, how to read the lineman, how to read running backs, how to read routes and stuff. Just listening to him day in and day out, you can pick up something every day.”
But Chizik’s not just doing it with his words out on the practice field. So far during training camp, he’s also made his presence known just as much with his actions.
“He’s going around to each position group and coaching every one of them,” Schoettmer said. “He’s not just, you know, coaching the DB’s, or the linebackers, or the D-line. He’s bouncing around during practice and really coaching everybody. And his knowledge, and the confidence that he has and instills in us—it’s great.”
For all this talk, though, it’s still just the first week of camp.
Chizik has just under a month left to prepare for his debut against one of college football’s great offensive minds—Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks—in Charlotte on September 3rd.
WCHL will be back out at training camp with the Tar Heels next Monday, with a look at how the offense is progressing.
As the UNC football team opened its preseason training camp Monday morning, all eyes were focused on senior quarterback Marquise Williams. Motivated by a disappointing finish to 2014, the dual-threat signal caller is expected to lead the way this year on a Tar Heel roster loaded with experience.
After toying with the idea of a two-quarterback system at times during last season’s 6-7 finish, UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora has given Williams the keys to the offense heading into 2015—noting the tremendous growth in Williams’ leadership ability.
“I didn’t necessarily just see [Williams’ leadership gains] today,” Fedora said. “I mean, that’s been happening all offseason, all summer, everything. He just knows he feels like its his team and he’s stepped up. He’s got more confidence, and when you have more confidence everybody wants to follow a leader that’s confident.”
Despite splitting time with backup Mitch Trubisky to begin last year, Williams finished the season with over 3000 passing yards, while also picking up 788 on the ground—but struggled to find consistency week in and week out.
Entering his final season in Chapel Hill, Williams is hungry to prove that he can take his game to another level while under the spotlight.
“I’m excited,” Williams said, smiling. “This is my last go-round, and I feel like there’s a chip. I still have more to prove to others that believe I can’t do it. And I’m excited to do that.”
Refusing to shy away from his lofty ambitions for this season, Williams has his eyes set on bringing home all kinds of hardware—both individually and with the team.
“The goal for myself is to, you know, be the ACC Player of the Year and make First-Team All-ACC,” the confident Williams said after practice concluded Monday. “But my main goal is to take us to the ACC Championship–something that’s never been done here. And also play for a [National Championship]. This year it’s looking like we’re gonna be down in Charlotte [for the ACC Title Game] come December.”
While it’s quite the stretch to think the Tar Heels have any shot at winning a national title (with conference hopes not much brighter), their success will largely be determined by how well their quarterback can perform. So if Marquise Williams ends up being the ACC Player of the Year, you can also safely assume the team will win its share of games to go along with it.
A Second-Team All-ACC selection a year ago, Williams will spearhead Coach Fedora’s high-flying attack notorious for making scoreboards, and opposing defenses, work up a sweat. He won’t have to do it by himself, however, as the Tar Heels bring back every offensive starter from 2014—something that has not been lost on their quarterback.
“It’s not about me, it’s about those guys surrounding me,” Williams said. “I don’t have to do anything flashy as the quarterback. Just put the ball in Ryan Switzer’s hands, or get it off to T.J. [Logan], or Elijah [Hood], Mack Hollins, or Quinshad Davis. Those the guys right there that’s gonna make this team this year. I just gotta play my part and do my role.”
With all of that experience returning, Williams doesn’t hesitate when pointing out the biggest difference he sees in his teammates so far this offseason.
“I’ve never seen a group of guys excited to get back to training camp,” he said. “In my five years here, guys usually dread training camp–like ‘Man, it’s the hardest thing’, but everybody’s excited, everybody’s ready to learn, and everybody’s ready to come out and compete. And that’s what it is. When we compete against each other, we cannot be stopping.”
Later on this week, we’ll check out the new-look defense led by defensive coordinator Gene Chizik–a controversial hire by the school, but a man that has won a pair of national championships (as the head coach at Auburn in 2010, and as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas in 2005).
Two Tar Heels have been named to the All-ACC preseason football team: guard Landon Turner and return specialist Ryan Switzer.
Members of the media voted on the All-ACC teams at the ACC Football Kickoff this week in Pinehurst; the teams were announced on Thursday. Switzer made the team as a kick returner. Both Switzer and Turner made the All-ACC third team last year.
Preseason favorite Clemson led all schools with five selections to the All-ACC team, followed by Florida State and Virginia Tech with four each.
The Tar Heels kick off their 2015 campaign on Thursday, September 3, in Charlotte against South Carolina.
The complete 2015 All-ACC Preseason Football Team:
WR – Tyler Boyd, Jr., Pitt
WR – Mike Williams, Jr., Clemson
WR – Artavis Scott, So. Clemson
TE – Bucky Hodges, r-So., Virginia Tech
OT – Roderick Johnson, So., Florida State
OT – Adam Bisnowaty, r-Jr., Pitt
OG – Landon Turner, r-Sr., North Carolina
OG – Eric Mac Lain, Gr., Clemson
C – Matt Skura, r-Sr., Duke
QB – Deshaun Watson, So., Clemson
RB – James Conner, Jr., Pitt
RB – Shadrach Thornton, Sr., NC State
DE – Dadi Lhomme Nicolas. r-Sr., Virginia Tech
DE – Shaq Lawson, Jr., Clemson
DE – Sheldon Rankins, Sr., Louisville
DT – Adam Gotsis, Sr., Georgia Tech
DT – Luther Maddy, r-Sr., Virginia Tech
LB – Terrance Smith, r-Sr., Florida State
LB – Brandon Chubb, r-Sr., Wake Forest
LB – James Burgess, Sr., Louisville
CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jr., Florida State
CB – Kendall Fuller, Jr., Virginia Tech
S – Jeremy Cash, r-Sr., Duke
S – Quin Blanding, So., Virginia
PK – Roberto Aguayo, r-Jr., Florida State
P – Alex Kinal, r-Sr., Wake Forest
KR – Ryan Switzer, So., North Carolina
Editor’s note: Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook on July 14th was about UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell. Chansky followed with a longer Art’s Angle on the subject of Coach Hatchell on July 15th. The commentary below is from Mary Willingham and Jay Smith of paperclassinc.com, and was published to their blog on July 16th, but only in response to the July 14th Sports Notebook. On July 20th, Art Chansky shared his answer to their blog post in a Sports Notebook. Mary Willingham’s commentary can be heard on WCHL in an abbreviated version on July 21st. Below is the full version.
In a recent commentary on WCHL, ardent UNC sports fan Art Chansky revealed his strategy for combating the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations [NOA] against the university’s athletic program: Blame it on the women! Complaining of women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s (alleged) behind-the-scenes efforts to lobby for a contract extension comparable to the one recently offered men’s coach Roy Williams, Chansky griped that “an exit strategy should be [Hatchell’s’] play.” After all, Chansky claimed, “Hatchell’s program is in the most serious trouble from the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations,” given the high profile of women’s academic counselor Jan Boxill in the email documentation provided in the NCAA report. The whole NCAA investigation is a “witch hunt” with many victims, Chansky suggested, but the uncomfortable reality for women’s basketball is that “[Roy] Williams’ program was not cited in the NOA and Hatchell’s was.” Hatchell should therefore prepare herself to leave UNC “with grace.”
The propaganda purposes of this particular commentary are obvious even by Chansky’s standards. No team is “cited” in the NOA if by cited one means singled out for likely punishment. As a team and as a program, women’s basketball is cited in the NCAA document no more and no less than any other team or program. (The NCAA’s NOA did note, however, that the “special arrangements” used for eligibility purposes at UNC had particularly benefited “the sports of football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball.”) Chansky, in other words, is only continuing and amplifying the PR drumbeat that Roy Williams, Larry Fedora and others began some weeks ago, presumably at the urging of university lawyers. They have repeatedly announced that the big-time men’s revenue sports would seem to be in the clear and should expect no further punishment from the NCAA. They would have us believe that the NCAA is prepared to give football and men’s basketball a free pass even after the exposure of decades’ worth of fraud that clearly benefited the football and men’s basketball teams. And they are evidently all too happy to point the finger of blame in the direction of a women’s team in order to lower expectations about the sanctions likely to be imposed on the men’s teams.
Leaving aside the gender politics of this shameless PR strategy–will advocates for women’s sports stand by while male coaches, boosters, and UNC insiders labor to persuade the NCAA that the Crowder-Nyang’oro scheme was merely a big plot to help women?–Chansky and company face one very high hurdle in pursuit of their propaganda campaign. A mountain of direct and circumstantial evidence makes clear that UNC’s distinctive pattern of academic fraud was developed specifically to meet the needs of the men’s basketball team, and that the corruption reached its highest levels on Roy Williams’s watch. The first suspect independent study courses offered by Julius Nyang’oro in the late 1980s were offered to men’s basketball players, some of whom had abysmal SAT scores and perilously low GPA’s before they met professor Nyang’oro. Faculty friends in geography, French, and the school of education had been very helpful to the team throughout the 1980s. But when leadership of the AFRI/AFAM department fell into the laps of two allies of men’s basketball around 1990–Nyang’oro and his assistant Debby Crowder, whose close friend Burgess McSwain served as academic counselor for the men in her remote Smith center office–that department quickly became the go-to academic center for struggling (or academically uninterested) men’s basketball players. The fraud would morph into a multi-team and three thousand-student debacle before all was said and done, but men’s basketball was always first in line for favors and fake classes. The needs of men’s basketball always came first in the eyes of Debby Crowder. And the 2005 men’s team, whose roster was stocked with players for whom both McSwain and Crowder felt great sympathy, benefited from unprecedented levels of favoritism. The team as a whole took well over one hundred paper classes; as one would expect, the starters on that team benefited disproportionately from the scam. Star forward Rashad McCants has had the guts to admit this publicly and to show the evidence of the fraud in his own student transcript. His teammates, though quick to denounce him, have kept their transcripts hidden. It is unlikely that anyone else from that team–Sean May, Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, Reyshawn Terry, Jesse Holley, etc.–will ever step forward with transcripts in hand to have a frank conversation about their classroom experiences. But the truth is in those transcripts.
Chansky, Williams, and the friends of men’s basketball would have the world believe that twenty years of bogus class scheduling was done without the knowledge of anyone actually connected to the men’s basketball program. Coaches (who are paid millions to know everything) supposedly knew nothing. The only academic counselor who was knowingly, inexcusably corrupt, they say, was philosophy instructor Jan Boxill, counselor for the women’s basketball team. This “powerful” figure, they say, corrupted women’s basketball of her own volition. Thankfully, all other counselors were innocent–even if it is unfortunate that they failed to detect the shenanigans of Crowder and Boxill.
The layers of absurdity in this line of argument become hard to distinguish. One might start, however, with the simple fact that Jan Boxill, whatever her flaws, was far more vulnerable than powerful. She was an untenured instructor whose employment at UNC was always partially contingent on her services to the athletic program. She was a highly valuable cog in the machine because of her go-between status and her ability to negotiate academic protocols for counselors who were physically segregated from the main arteries of the campus. But her great value also increased her vulnerability. She was pressured constantly by other personnel in the Academic Support Program to call in favors, to make phone calls, to ask for benefits that were “needed” by athletes with low GPA’s, travel commitments, or other handicaps.
Among the people who leaned heavily on Jan Boxill were the counselors for men’s basketball–first McSwain and then Wayne Walden, Roy Williams’s handpicked deputy who followed him to Chapel Hill from Kansas in 2003. When Roy Williams touts Walden’s ethics, he is not just blowing smoke. Walden was a decent guy who worked within a system that had been built long before he arrived. (Where is he now? Why won’t he and the other counselors step forward to tell their stories?) Walden had a conscience, and he was not happy to have to resort to “paper classes” and wink-wink independent studies courses to help keep certain players afloat. But he also knew what had to be done when push came to shove. Mary Willingham and Wayne Walden spent countless hours together in the old east end zone building talking about how difficult it was to keep challenged players eligible, and how much harder it was to navigate the UNC curriculum in comparison to the Kansas curriculum. (Thank the heavens for Debby Crowder and the few friendly faculty out there…) The course selection process they managed was never about offering players a world-class education; Willingham and Walden worked together–quite often with Boxill’s help, even more often with Crowder’s help–to keep basketball players eligible and in school. They were quite good at it, though Walden was constantly worried about getting Jan or Debby in trouble by asking for favors that would raise red flags. (One reason Boxill had so many emails to be plundered by Kenneth Wainstein and the NCAA: she worked in an office in Caldwell Hall, distant from the ASPSA. Deals, trouble-shooting, and schedule-engineering that were done face-to-face in the ASPSA had to be done through email whenever Boxill was involved. Conveniently for certain other key players in the drama, Boxill’s email was on the main UNC server rather than on the athletic server; her emails could not be expunged.)
Roy Williams has tried to take credit for steering players away from AFAM in 2006-7 (even as he disavows any knowledge of funny business in that department.) But the fact is, the transcripts of the 2009 national championship men’s team look different–with some but far fewer paper classes–only because a new fear of getting caught had set in around 2006. Remember the Auburn scandal and the panic it seems to have caused among ASPSA officials, the Faculty Athletics Committee, and Dean Bobbi Owen (who decreed that the numbers of AFAM independent studies had to be sharply reduced)? The upshot of the Auburn scandal, in the UNC men’s basketball program, was a new caution about cheating. The large-scale, team-wide stuff had to end. Paper classes, Walden decided, should be used only for the athletes who desperately needed them – such as the one guy who “couldn’t read very well.” That particular player, whose needs forged a particularly close relationship between Walden and Willingham (a reading specialist), took between ten and twelve paper classes. That figure–compiled in the years after Roy Williams claims that he cleaned up the basketball program–is significantly higher than the number of paper classes ever taken by ANY women’s basketball player. The number of AFAM majors on the men’s basketball team may have dropped off after 2005, but the need for paper classes remained (for both current and former players), and men’s basketball stayed at the front of the line at least through 2008.
Art Chansky and company are desperately trying to persuade the NCAA and the public at large that UNC’s course fraud scam was all about helping the women’s basketball team. Chansky urges Sylvia Hatchell to play sacrificial lamb for a UNC athletic department that benefited broadly and egregiously from academic fraud that unfolded over twenty years. The NCAA has all the emails, with all the unredacted names, and so one can assume that the Committee on Infractions will be able to hold up against the propaganda winds. But regardless of what the NCAA does or does not do, people of good conscience in and around UNC must not allow the dreams of Chansky, Williams, and Fedora to come true. Collective amnesia is not an option in Chapel Hill. Owning the reality of the scandal is important because only after accepting the true dynamic of the academic-athletic scandal–only after Tar Heels have come to terms with the fact that our love of men’s basketball and our passionate commitment to winning fostered an uncontrollably corrupt academic environment here–will the institution be able to move on with open eyes, a clean conscience, and a healthy plan for the future.
Chansky asks Hatchell to leave with “grace.” But grace has never been about willful blindness, nor should it be about taking one for the team. “Was blind but now I see,” goes the beloved lyric. Those touched by grace are not asked to go into exile; they are reconciled to a higher power and beckoned to a welcoming place (“grace will lead me home.”). Asking Sylvia Hatchell to go away is not the answer to UNC’s disgrace. The institution should instead be asking for its own gift of grace—the gift of clear-sighted reconciliation with the sins of its past.http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/earth-to-art-chansky-it-wasnt-about-the-women/