You remember the classic Kevin Costner movie in which he seemingly had No Way Out of his pickle as a double secret agent?
Carolina avoided that dilemma in the first phase of a path to restore its reputation and integrity. It can also keep its football program on track as a contender in the Coastal Division of the ACC, which could always lead to a conference championship and ultimate BCS game.
With Dick Baddour’s announced resignation, Carolina can begin the search for a new athletic director whose first duty will be to hire the Tar Heels’ next permanent football coach. So the right plan is in place; let’s not screw it up by adhering to Churchill’s old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
In other words, there are times when UNC might be able to promote a young star from within, but not this time, with such a big assignment on top of the in-basket.
Baddour has held the position for 14 years after being promoted from John Swofford’s senior associate in 1997, when Swofford became Commissioner of the ACC. Baddour, who had previously worked for the Dean of Students and the UNC law school, was basically a compliance guy whose job it was to know all the rules and make sure they were followed.
The late Chancellor, Michael Hooker, wanted Matt Kupec to succeed Swofford because Kupec was UNC’s chief development officer and Hooker believed that fund-raising would be the athletic department’s biggest priority moving forward. But legendary basketball coach Dean Smith, who himself would retire two months later, favored Baddour. And in Dean’s prime, he was the most powerful man at the university.
Loyalty was Smith’s greatest strength and also his greatest weakness, so he supported Baddour, the good athletic department soldier for years. And by backing Baddour, Smith knew he could control who coached the basketball team after he retired. That’s the way it played out, with Bill Guthridge taking the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three years before stepping down. But the plan hit a bump in the road when Roy Williams decided to stay at Kansas in 2000, the first time he was offered the job.
Williams eventually answered Carolina’s call to come home three years later after Matt Doherty was terminated. Doherty turned out to be one of four major-sport coaches hired by Baddour and eventually fired. The others were Carl Torbush, John Bunting and now Butch Davis. So, aside from the high marks Baddour has received in other areas, hiring head coaches and properly managing those hires was not his strongest suit.
That he has stepped aside to allow UNC time to hire his successor and, in turn, find the next football coach was admirable and speaks volumes about Baddour’s love for Carolina, where he graduated in 1966 and will have served for 45 years. But it is imperative that Carolina goes away from its popular practice of promoting from within because it’s easy and cheap and familiar. The next athletic director must be experienced in hiring head coaches and bring some new ideas to the department. “The Carolina Way” is not the only way, and UNC has been remiss to look at other schools and borrow ideas and ideologies from the best of them. There is nothing wrong with injecting new blood and vision into the mix.
And, like the buyout Davis will receive, hiring an experienced sitting AD from another school at market value will cost Carolina more money. According to the News and Observer listing of state salaries and rankings among ACC athletic directors, Baddour is the eighth-highest paid A.D. for a program considered the best in the league and among the best in the country. As an example, Duke hired Kevin White from Notre Dame and White earns nearly three times what Baddour makes. Market value for a major athletic program is about a half-million dollars a year.
In short, the hiring of the next football coach cannot be even a minor mistake. It must be a home run, and if a pool of the right candidates is developed that can certainly be accomplished. To his credit, Davis left UNC football with better players and facilities than he inherited, and any forthcoming NCAA sanctions will be attributed to him and likely give the new coach a bit of a honeymoon period in which to get established and put his own mark on the program.
Whoever Chancellor Holden Thorp chooses to find Baddour’s successor, the candidates will likely include former UNC football player and current South Carolina Athletic Director Eric Hyman, whose senior associate is ex-Tar Heel star athlete, Charles Waddell. Hyman reportedly would return to his alma mater. Norwood Teague, a UNC grad and one-time marketing director, has been the A.D. at Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) for five years. Teague hired unknown basketball coach Shaka Smart two years ago, and was able to keep him from taking a bigger job after Smart led the Rams to the 2011 Final Four as the Cinderella team of the season.
With the clock ticking on the Davis controversy, Thorp made the right 11th hour call.
The 2011 football Tar Heels, free from the constant presence of an NCAA investigation under a head coach who would have been besieged all season, can now play football unencumbered, improve as their schedule toughens and produce another winning record and bowl team. The players can certainly retain loyalty and respect for Davis, even play the season in his honor if they want, but the important point is they can now reunite what has been a divided fan base that, whether Butch supporters or critics, loves Carolina above all.
Meanwhile, the plan to find their next permanent head coach can be carried out. Hopefully, UNC is smart enough to bring in the best and most experienced athletic director available. That person will not only have to hire a new football coach but within 10 years may also have to choose the next women’s soccer coach, women’s basketball coach and (gulp) men’s basketball coach.
We need the right hire to make those hires right, too.