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