UNC fires football coach Butch Davis

STAFF WRITERJuly 27, 2011 

— The University of North Carolina announced football coach Butch Davis’ firing Wednesday after the damage caused by an NCAA investigation to the school’s reputation became too much for UNC chancellor Holden Thorp to bear.

“To restore confidence in the University of North Carolina and our football program, it’s time to make a change,” Thorp said in a statement. “What started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this university’s reputation.”

The school has called a news conference for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. UNC did not announce who will take over as interim head coach in Davis’ absence; the team begins practice Aug. 5.

It’s not clear whether UNC will pay a buyout. Davis’ contract calls for him to be paid $275,000, plus $315,000 for each of the four years remaining in his contract.

His contract also states that he can be terminated without a buyout if his staff members break NCAA rules and he reasonably should have known about it. Davis and Thorp have maintained throughout the 13-month NCAA investigation of the school that Davis did not know about violations.

In a statement released Wednesday night Davis said, "My family and I were surprised and saddened to learn that I have been relieved of my duties as head football coach at Carolina. I am not naïve enough to have ever considered this situation anything less than a serious matter and a significant priority. I have worked as hard as possible to address all aspects of the program that have been questioned. I fully believe we were on our way to getting past these issues and moving ahead in a positive direction."

(Read the full statement from Davis here)

Thorp said the firing doesn’t reflect any new developments in the NCAA investigation but was the result of the cumulative damage to UNC’s reputation over the past year.

Davis, 51, was 28-23 with three bowl appearances in four seasons, but steered UNC into what he said earlier this week was the most serious issue the school has faced in decades. A school with a strong track record of rules compliance saw 14 players miss at least one game and seven sit out the entire 2010 season in connection with the NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct.

NCAA allegations

On June 21, the NCAA sent UNC a letter alleging nine major violations. Three were leveled at John Blake, the associate head coach who was receiving money from a sports agent and had ties to Davis going back 35 years.

The academic misconduct was tied to tutor Jennifer Wiley, who also personally worked for Davis as a tutor for his son. Nonetheless, Davis wasn’t personally cited in the Notice of Allegations, and Thorp continued to express support for him.

But the damage to UNC’s reputation continued into this summer. A media lawsuit forced the school last month to turn over players’ parking tickets; fewer than 12 players amassed 395 tickets and $13,125 in fines.

The Notice of Allegations last month detailed nine major violations, and UNC officials were embarrassed earlier this month when they learned they failed to discover evidence of plagiarism in a term paper by former player Michael McAdoo.

“I have been deliberate in my approach to understanding this situation fully, and I have worked to be fair to everyone involved,” Thorp’s statement said. “However, I have lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution. Our academic integrity is paramount and we must work diligently to protect it. The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change.”

Davis was hired following the 2006 season after John Bunting had been fired for posting a 27-45 record in six seasons. UNC fans hoped Davis would bring big-time football to a floundering program at a school whose highly successful basketball team overshadows the football team.

He came to the Tar Heels with two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys; NFL head coaching experience with the Cleveland Browns; and experience turning the Miami Hurricanes in the right direction after that school faced NCAA sanctions.

Early success

Davis immediately brought big-time recruits to UNC beginning with highly rated prospects Marvin Austin and Greg Little in Davis’ first class. Under Davis, UNC posted three winning seasons, with a dramatic Music City Bowl win over Tennessee.

The momentum the program generated helped finance costly facilities improvements at Kenan Stadium.

But for the last 13 months, the NCAA’s investigation has cast a shadow over the program. Blake, the recruiting coordinator, was accused by the NCAA of acting as an agent in cooperation with sports agent Gary Wichard.

Players including Austin, Little and Robert Quinn were found to have accepted a total of $27,097.38 in impermissible benefits as agents swarmed around Davis’ highly recruited athletes. And the university’s own investigation of agent benefits turned up academic misconduct.

UNC has until Sept. 19 to respond to the NCAA’s notice of allegations and is scheduled to appear before the Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.

“I regret greatly that these things have transpired and these things have happened,” Davis said earlier this week. “And I don’t take them lightly. This is a very, very serious issue.”

Davis said at the ACC media kickoff Monday that he always has been confident in the administration’s backing of him. But the support Thorp showed Davis for months eroded after the bad news continued for UNC into this summer.

Now the Tar Heels move forward without a head coach, with the start of practice little more than a week away.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942, or @kentysiac on Twitter

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