Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bad Timing, but the Firing of Butch Davis Is Right


The relationship was just a blemish for one of the up-and-coming football programs in the nation by the time the season ended in shambles at Chapel Hill. A few years ago, when North Carolina hired Butch Davis as their head football coach, the people running the institution witnessed a man with an enthusiasm, a charisma and love for football.

There was a lot of trust in Davis during his arrival in Chapel Hill, with a spotless image after protecting the identity of an elite program when he restored aspiration at a probation-saddled Miami. Not long after Davis walked onto the campus and through the door, he was welcomed in with opened arms by athletic director Dick Baddour, revered anywhere in the building, on the practice field and even on Saturday afternoons when the Tar Heels won multitudes of games.

It is close to the beginning of a fresh season and this is a rarity to fire a well-known coach late in the summer as we are nearing the fall. We knew this was coming, but we never expected Davis to be canned as training camp looms quicker than ever, and seemingly, he endured the most dangerous moments of the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic infractions within a scummy North Carolina program. The timing couldn't be worse, although it was a shrewd decision to rid the controversial coach, for North Carolina to dismiss Davis when it could have happened much earlier.

“I know that the timing is terrible. I have been hopeful for the past year that we could work to make this right and restore confidence to the football program," North Carolina's Holden Thorp said. "Making a change of this magnitude eight days before the start of practice is disruptive, expensive and will be hard on our players. But it is the right decision."

The university, after all, has taken a drastic plunge in being the next excellent program in the Atlantic Coast Conference, stemming from the duplicity of sins with nine alleged violations involving academic fraud and superfluous benefits. The general belief of these allegations, smearing the image of convincing program filled with promise, as if someone accepted the toughest task to turn around the mediocre Tar Heels, is that Davis was aware of the academic improprieties that harmed the school's prevalence.

“This has been weighing on me for the last several weeks. I spent a lot of time consulting with a lot of people," Thorp said. I completed that consultation yesterday when I told the Trustees where I was headed."

North Carolina's chancellor, Holden Thorp, understands Davis was fairly unaware and vetoed in taking the initiative of nurturing or protecting the university's name in its entirety. Yet he earned much support for leading a team battered by sanctions, recruiting elite players, winning eight and a bowl victory, the adoration never lasted too long after the mess surfaced and the investigation became a reality. He needed to be fired for allowing the university to degenerate, but earned eulogy of trustees and the university with certainty that he'd be back for a fifth season.

It was visibly vital to North Carolina, a program with a relieved psyche since the latest dismissal, to restore the smoothest renovation that repairs the disoriented athletic department. Until now, he had seen enough, and because the university is scheduled to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Oct. 28 to address the issue and offer an explanation, Thorp is embarrassed as allegations are brought forth and causes too much damage.

Though he was 28-23 in four seasons in Chapel Hill, perhaps impressive, he was no longer the coach everybody wanted around. Davis succeeded, however, in his tenure that eventually turned into a poisoned assignment with all the infractions destroying his livelihood. His refusal to demand answers for all the allegations giving the school an unbearable name partly cost Davis his job on the fact he was unaware of the pending violations in Chapel Hill and it mostly now formulates a ruckus as training camp begins next week with no long-term coach.

“Let me start off by saying something to our student-athletes on the football team: You have already been through a lot this past year, and I know this is adding to that," Thorp said emotionally. "I want you to know that the university is behind you and we are totally committed to your success and to a successful program. Thank you for putting on a Carolina uniform and representing our university. We’re going to name your interim head coach soon. Dick Baddour and I are meeting with the candidates this afternoon and we will make an announcement in the next few days."

It looked like Thorp waited too late to terminate Davis, and eventually, it may come back and haunt the Tar Heels. And all of the sudden he decided that Davis was the reason of the illicit findings, though none of the allegations sent directly to the school, charting potentially major violations, found him at fault, which means North Carolina could be placed on probation, stripped of scholarships and victories for someone else's actions.

“The last year has been extraordinarily difficult for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, not only for our staff, coaches and student-athletes, but for our alumni and fans as well," Thorp said. "From the beginning, I told you we would take all accusations seriously and that we would face issues head-on. We apologized and have pledged that the athletic department at the university would be stronger as a result of the NCAA investigation."

Perhaps under these circumstances -- such as the fingers pointing of Davis who allowed the program to become a rogue in his presence after turning around the inferior program but finally deteriorated as a man once diligent enough to bring confidence to a university which was on the verge of a spiteful scandal -- he couldn't bring a national championship. He blew it and knows he blew it at North Carolina. And, in all, it was impossible to salvage his job.

Had he retained his coaching gig, it would have been a stunning development basically for being the center of a scandal that seems too overwhelming. Granted, he accepted the job to serve as a cure for a tawdry program of mediocrity -- the man in line who was anticipated to make a huge difference. In the midst of it, Davis accepts full responsibility for what occurred and even pledged to repair the damages. So was the firing premature or ideal timing? To me, it was poor timing, a point in the offseason when the season is almost upon us. This is enough to draw disruptions and cause the Tar Heels to fall out of contention early in the 2011-12 season.

"Look, you can't minimize what happened and I deeply regret that it happened on my watch. I'm the head football coach. I accept responsibility," Davis said. "My job now is to do everything I can to make sure that all of the facts get out. My job is to work with our administration to identify the problems and to make sure nothing like this happens again."

At this point, he tried to present the case to salvage his job, maybe blamed for someone else's wrongdoings. So now, he's without a job for the desecrations of his players who were suspended after violating NCAA rules -- and with the lack of reliability within himself -- ominously he could be a heavy burden if he's ever hired by another university to coach football. Earlier in the week, he had a meeting with Thorp and Baddour.

That being said, it was only a matter of time before he'd be terminated, and by Wednesday, he met with UNC Board of Trustees. The decision for North Carolina, as it seems, was based on Thorp's judgment even if the board advised or took part in the final choice. For the past 12 months, the Tar Heels have suffered from much destruction and the trustees gave Davis the benefit of the doubt, and carefully deliberated his future with the program.

"Our academic integrity is paramount and we must work diligently to protect it," Thorp said in a statement released by the school. "The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change."

It may not matter, but he does have a good side. That was most relevant over the last few seasons. At least it may have mattered when North Carolina simply hired Davis to bring in superb talent, and he has done exactly what he was asked. Did he accomplish it legitimately?? Who knows?

In the grand scheme of things, which of the nine players he groomed, were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. But the wonderful talent he installed within the program was overshadowed by the series of national embarrassments. The more noticeable incident was John Blake, Davis' lead recruiter, charged of luring some of North Carolina's top players to an agent by the name of the late Gary Wichard. It's not the best thing to hire someone you've known for over 30 years sometimes, but Davis hired a longtime friend and it jeopardized his profession.

This was all a real shame for Blake, who had worked for Wichard prior to working under Davis, when he was charged with receiving payments from an agent. No disrespect to what turned into, respectively, one of the most hideous scandals of academia, but Davis had to be fired after learning that Jennifer Wiley, a former tutor, was charged with paying off parking tickets for players and had been accused of academic fraud.

On that, Davis needed to be fired. Then again, maybe he wasn't the problem as his name was not leaked to any of the allegations but still he was the coach. Ninety percent of the time, of course, the coach or quarterback takes much of the blame and Davis certainly has taken much of the abuse in the past 12 months.

All of this is similar to the Ohio State scandal, when Jim Tressel was fired for hiding the truth of violations involving his star quarterback and boldly lying to his bosses. It happened shamefully in the South as well, when ex-Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators about minor infractions. But worst of all is North Carolina, at least for what it seems, a school undermined by all the turmoil that holds the entire university liable.

That's why Thorp wanted a change to abolish the stench.