UNC-CH fires Butch Davis to restore confidence in university

Months of NCAA investigation forces the move, Chancellor Holden Thorp says.

Staff WriterJuly 28, 2011 

  • NCAA investigators landed in Chapel Hill in July 2010 to interview University of North Carolina athletes about allegations of improper benefits from sports agents.

    In August, university officials announced the investigation had expanded to examine possible academic misconduct involving football players and a former university tutor who also worked for coach Butch Davis.

    Seven Tar Heels football players missed the entire 2010 season as the investigation continued; associate head coach John Blake resigned one day after a season-opening loss to Louisiana State.

    A media victory in a lawsuit gaining the release of players' parking tickets in June showed fewer than 12 players had amassed 395 tickets over 31/2 years, with fines totaling $13,125.

    That same month, the NCAA delivered a Notice of Allegations to UNC detailing nine alleged major violations.

    Earlier this month, after former football player Michael McAdoo filed suit against the NCAA and the university in an attempt to restore his athletic eligibility, a term paper that had earned him a one-semester suspension from the university's honor court was discovered to contain more serious transgressions: numerous plagiarized passages.

    On Wednesday, UNC announced the dismissal of Davis without identifying an interim replacement.

UNC-Chapel Hill announced football coach Butch Davis' firing Wednesday after the damage caused by an NCAA investigation to the school's reputation became too much for 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. today at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The school did not announce who will take over as interim 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 that Davis did not know about violations.

"I was honestly shocked to receive word that I will no longer be the head football coach at the University of North Carolina," Davis said in a statement late Wednesday. "I can honestly say that I leave with full confidence that I have done nothing wrong. I was the head coach and I realize the responsibility that comes with that role. But I was not personally involved in, nor aware of, any actions that prompted the NCAA investigation."

Davis was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

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, 59, had an overall record of 28-23 with three bowl appearances in four seasons, but he 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 given to players and into academic misconduct.

Nine major violations

On June 21, Davis 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.

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 this month when they learned they had failed to discover evidence of plagiarism in a term paper turned in 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. Tar Heels fans hoped Davis would bring big-time football to a floundering program at a school where the highly successful basketball team overshadows the football team.

Davis arrived with two Super Bowl rings as a Dallas Cowboys assistant; NFL head coaching experience with the Cleveland Browns; and experience turning the Miami Hurricanes in the right direction after that school faced NCAA sanctions.

Quick success

Davis immediately brought big-time recruits to UNC, beginning with highly rated prospects Marvin Austin and Greg Little in Davis' first recruiting class.

Under Davis, UNC posted three winning seasons, including a dramatic Music City Bowl victory against Tennessee in December.

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

But for the past 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.

Davis said at the ACC media kickoff Monday in Pinehurst 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 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

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