DURHAM — There Butch Davis stood, his back literally against the wall, pinned there by a gaggle of cameras, microphones and notepads. It was an uncomfortable place to be, but no more uncomfortable than the rest of the past week has been for the North Carolina football coach.
For the first time since news broke last Thursday that the NCAA was investigating North Carolina's football program, someone from the university actually addressed the allegations.
Davis wouldn't or couldn't say much, and he wasn't willing to address the specifics of the investigation in any way. But by acknowledging the probe and pledging continued cooperation, he helped North Carolina take a step toward reclaiming control of the dialogue surrounding a scandal that continues to expand.
"I know that there are a lot of people sitting here today that would like to have a lot of answers," Davis said in his opening remarks at Thursday's Pigskin Preview luncheon. "As we go through this review, there's things the NCAA has asked us not to talk about. One thing that I can tell you and share with you is that at the University of North Carolina, we are doing absolutely everything from a cooperating standpoint.
"The NCAA has assured us they will make this as quick and as soon as possible they will expediate it. One of the things obviously you can see is that there's a lot of other institutions throughout the country going through this currently, and there probably will be some more in the very near future."
Afterward, Davis was ushered into a conference room to meet with the media, where he elaborated on some aspects of the investigation - declaring complete confidence in his coaching staff's ability to recruit "ethically and honestly" and advocating for changes in the timeframe when agents are allowed to approach players - while refusing to discuss others.
The cone of silence that has encircled the North Carolina football program over the past week has allowed others to set the tone.
Now, even though Davis, as expected, wouldn't address the meat of the allegations against the football program, the Tar Heels have a public voice of their own.
And at what cost? The sky did not fall. Plainclothes NCAA agents failed to storm the Washington Duke Inn.
Davis didn't say much, but what he did say was long overdue. It would have been easy for Davis to "no comment" his way through the day. Instead, he was willing to at least take a swing or two where he felt he could.
North Carolina's travails cast a rather large shadow over Thursday's event, normally a festival of feel-good, back-slapping sentiment.
During the luncheon portion of the afternoon, after new East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill described his first few months as "a whirlwind," Davis opened his comments with, "Think Ruffin would like to trade whirlwinds?"
Later, when Davis equivocated about the starting status of quarterback T.J. Yates, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien jumped in with a precision strike worthy of a former Marine: "You got more announcements here, Butch?"
And then there was moderator Don Shea's closing question for all the coaches: "What's the best thing you've ever gotten that was free?" Under different circumstances, that's a chance to pass along a life lesson. Under these circumstances, it was a bit cringe-worthy.
Davis' answer was open to interpretation, given the situation the North Carolina football program is facing: "I think I would say there's probably nothing free in life."