Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our long national nightmare is over (I break blog silence)

No, I don't mean the Obama administration, dagnab it. I'm talking about the Butch Davis era at Chapel Hill.

I probably couldn't find the posts now, but on Facebook I was calling for Davis to be fired a year ago, when the sordid mess came to light. And after the initial Marvin Austin tweets came to light, and the NCAA visited Carolina's campus, the situation worsened -- capped off by the academic scandal.

All along, Davis pulled what Triangle Internet Legend BobLee called the "Sgt. Schultz" defense: I know nothing!

BobLee — UNC alum, conservative curmudgeon, and all-around neat guy, has been the best source of info and insight throughout the debacle. He identified John "Black Santa" Blake, Butch's associate head coach and main recruiter (and, literally, former student, as Butch was one of Blake's high school teacher), who was on the payroll of a professional agent while he was recruiting high school kids and preparing them for the Lig. He also introduced us to Bob Winston, until recently the chairman of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, the man who orchestrated Butch's hiring and his strongest defender.

Today's installment covers the Davis resignation and the press conference featuring Chancellor Holden Thorp and soon-to-retire AD Dickie Baddour.

My JLF colleague Jon Sanders offers a nice summary of some of the important questions about Davis that remain unanswered.

But the main one plaguing the program is: Why Now? BobLee has it right in an Occam's Razor-kinda way that the more "reputable" outlets have failed to emphasize: Thorp wanted to get rid of Davis all along but could not do so as long as Winston and his cronies were in charge. When new board members took office and Winston rotated out of the top spot, the new board wanted to put this mess behind them ASAP.

And so, the first day the new board met, Butch was out.

While Butch was at Carolina, he brought in a lot of talent but didn't win much. It seemed as if every year, eight or 10 guys would go to the NFL, but the team would finish around .500 in a mediocre ACC and lose in a bottom-tier bowl game.

Why did UNC choose to fire Davis now, eight days before the opening of practice? And why, when the university could have attempted to fire him for cause, did it choose instead to pay the $2.7 million balance of his contract?

My guess is, the defense Thorp and Baddour made of Davis throughout the scandal (at the previous BOT's insistence, no doubt) painted the university in a corner. If, in the process of firing Davis, Carolina said his actions brought disrepute on the university and damaged its reputation, then why did university officials stand behind him without reservation from the first inkling of trouble ... and do so as recently as this week? And how could Carolina claim that Davis was responsible for this when the NCAA did not mention Davis in the Notice of Allegations it issued this summer?

If Carolina fired Butch, his attorney Joseph Cheshire V (best defense lawyer in the state and a proud Carolina alum) would have sued immediately. And would have had a reasonable chance of prevailing. Plus, the program would have been dragged through the mud even more for months, if not years, as additional allegations (truthful or not) were aired publicly. The $2.7 million Carolina must pay Butch might have been chump change compared to the legal fees and damage in reputation the university and the football program would have suffered.

Again, why now? Why not let him coach the season? Just a hunch. This team may not be as talented as the group he had last year. But the ACC also is worse, and this bunch could win 10 games. Under the circumstances, unless the NCAA handed down the death penalty for the program, if Butch won 10 games and (who knows?) went to a BCS bowl game, you could not fire him. In fact, pressure would be on to give him an extension.

He had to go now.

What's next? I like the choice of DC Everett Withers as interim head coach. He wasn't part of Butch's original staff; I'm not even sure he had any history with Butch before getting the Carolina job three years ago. He's 48, a North Carolina native, very popular with the players, and has been considered a strong candidate for a head coaching job on his own. He may be auditioning for the permanent job.

If Withers isn't the eventual pick, I think it would be a huge mistake to pursue a big name. Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? Rich Rodriguez? Please. If any of these guys would take the job, it likely would be a disaster. Either he would be a placeholder — the first time a "real" job came open, the coach would be gone in a flash. Or he'd be a white elephant, demanding a long-term contract and not producing. Kinda like Butch (ACC record 15-17; record against top rival N.C. State 0-4; 1-3 vs. Virginia Tech and the rather pathetic University of Virginia).

A much better outcome (if Withers isn't the choice) would be to find a young coach who's had success at a mid-major, much as Tennessee did by hiring Derek Dooley and Michigan did with Brady Hoke. Expect to be awful for three or four seasons but emerge from this disaster with an energetic coach who can make the program relevant for another decade.

For now, though, the legacy of Butch Davis is disastrous. Carolina's going to be hammered by the NCAA due to the mismanagement of a coach who didn't win. We got all of the punishment and none of the glory.