Davis firing one more misstep
The Carolina football program has been a punching bag for parts of the university community for years, but now so many people have pummeled it that the stuffing is showing.
The greatest blow came when Chancellor Holden Thorp went from claiming to support head coach Butch Davis to firing him just a week before summer practice began.
Thorp could not have found a more ill-suited moment to do it. He ambushed the players on the team and punished all those who have been loyal and followed the rules and regulations of the university and the NCAA.
In the end, he has further divided the university community while satisfying only the sanctimonious desires of those whose only concern is men’s basketball and the faculty who simply detest collegiate sports altogether.
The idea that firing Davis is going to restore academic integrity to the school is preposterous. The school of arts and sciences, which was headed by Thorp before he was promoted to chancellor, oversees the tutoring program. This area is off-limits to the coaches for fear of tampering.
Thorp, meanwhile, took the easy way out – but not the cheap one. Carolina must pay Davis approximately $2.7 million for the time left on his contract because the school cannot fire him for “cause.”
In simple terms, as Thorp conceded, Davis was not found to have committed a violation of ethics or NCAA regulations. His name is not mentioned in the letter containing nine violations that Carolina must answer to in October. Thorp said he fired Davis for appearance’s sake, not for knowingly violating any rules.
“We anticipate we won’t be dismissing coach Davis for cause,” Thorp said. “We will not. I don’t believe he knew about the things that went on.”
Some of the NCAA’s accusations and actions are ridiculous, such as threatening the school because a tutor who no longer works at UNC refused to speak with the NCAA or Carolina officials.
“Unethical conduct for refusing to provide information to the NCAA enforcement staff and to the institution” is one of the major violations listed.
Outside of bullying university officials around the country, the NCAA enforcement staff is powerless. Nonetheless, that group apparently believes its rules are federal law and its power equal to that of the FBI.
The Carolina football program unquestionably committed some egregious mistakes. Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn all accepted large sums of money from outside sources. They were punished with the loss of their collegiate eligibility. A few other players were found guilty of cheating and were punished with suspensions or loss of eligibility.
What is difficult to digest is the unequal treatment by the NCAA to different institutions with similar circumstances. Several years ago, Tennessee’s academic support personnel got caught writing papers for football players. The Volunteers skated.
This past season, it became fairly evident that eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn got paid to play. The question is not whether his dad pocketed the money, but how large the sum was. Yet the NCAA wrapped that case up quickly so that Newton could claim his Heisman and the school could play for the BCS National Championship, which it won.
Carolina, on the other hand, is undergoing execution by butter knife.
Everett Withers, the interim coach and the first black head coach of any sport at UNC, has the challenge of getting this club ready to play by the time UNC opens against James Madison on Sept. 3.
Then in mid-October, the school must sit before the official inquisition at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Withers, who served as defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, will find his task even more difficult if the NCAA then hammers the school.
There is one positive that can be lifted from this train wreck. If there is any team in the nation capable of overcoming all of this and winning games, it’s Carolina. The Tar Heels had all of last season to learn how to do it.
“We’re very much prepared for it,” junior offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “We have integrity now. We have the ability to bounce back, a resiliency, due to the fact of all the stuff we had to put up with last year.
“I feel this is just one more bump in the road, and we’re ready to move forward.”