CHAPEL HILL — On Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina football staff gathered at the Kenan Football Center for a scheduled meeting.
"It was supposed to be a seminar," said Ken Browning, the Tar Heels' running backs coach. "It didn't turn out that way."
Butch Davis soon appeared to confirm he had been fired as head coach. Chancellor Holden Thorp had told him a coaching change would be made immediately, and the school's board of trustees had finalized the dismissal - and a $2.7 million buyout for Davis - in their meeting Wednesday at the Carolina Inn.
The assistant coaches said they had no inkling Davis was about to be fired, even after the NCAA investigation that had lasted a year and left UNC facing nine major allegations of wrongdoing.
"It was shocking. Good gosh. Where did this come from?" said assistant Allen Mogridge, who coaches the tight ends.
Thorp and athletic director Dick Baddour had offered Davis continuous and public support in the last year. Davis had appeared at the annual Pigskin Preview with other area head coaches on July 21 in Durham, then had gone to the ACC's Football Kickoff in Pinehurst last Sunday and Monday.
But in a matter of a few days, Davis was out. While Thorp was holding a news conference Thursday to explain the firing at the Friday Center, Davis was cleaning out his office at the Kenan Center.
"Never think that you've seen it all ... you never have seen it all," Browning said.
During the news conference, Thorp said he and Davis had a "very cordial, very respectful meeting."
In the days leading up to that meeting, there were no obvious clues that Davis was about to be dismissed. The decision barely a week before the beginning of preseason football practice, was awkward - as Thorp conceded, the timing was "terrible."
Thorp on Thursday talked about the "cumulative effect" in arriving at the decision to dismiss Davis, whom he had publicly supported multiple times in the previous 10 months. Davis was unavailable for comment for this story.
Notice of Allegations
The latest blows to the university had come with the release of the NCAA's Notice of Allegations on June 21 and revelations of plagiarism by one of Davis' players.
The academic fraud charges, perhaps even more than the thousands of dollars of improper benefits accepted by seven players and the allegation that former associate head coach John Blake operated as an agent's runner, had continued to chip away at the sterling reputation of the university.
Three major violations were tied to former university tutor Jennifer Wiley, whom Davis employed as a tutor for his son, Drew, after she was let go by the university for being "too close" to some of the players.
After the Notice of Allegations was released, another public embarrassment came in the form of a lawsuit in a Durham County court by former player Michael McAdoo.
McAdoo's legal efforts to get back on the field exposed a failure of the university's system of checks and balances. The school's honor court had missed a blatant case of plagiarism by McAdoo, which left Thorp to not only defend the framework of the school's honor system but also the school's priorities and reputation.
Back in public
Davis had been out of the public eye this summer until the Pigskin Preview at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham. Dressed in a cream-colored suit with light-blue tie, he appeared to enjoy himself on the dais, seated between Duke coach David Cutcliffe and East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill.
"He seemed like the same old Butch Davis," said Don Shea, the emcee for the event. "He was supposed to have been in Florida but opted to come again, and I didn't sense anything different in him."
Afterward, Davis met with the media in a hallway. During this exchange, he said he would release a redacted version of his personal cellphone records - the news of the day.
Davis next headed to Pinehurst for the ACC Football Kickoff. On Sunday, he played Pinehurst's famed No. 2 course and attended the dinner reception with the other coaches, league officials and media members.
"There was nothing I could say about him that seemed out of the ordinary," ACC associate commissioner Mike Finn said of Davis' Pinehurst appearance.
Davis mostly kept to himself Sunday night during the dinner. He sat at a table in the far left corner of the ballroom with Baddour, two UNC public relations assistants and the two UNC football players who attended the event.
On Monday, Davis skipped the golf outing with the media and bowl officials, later joining the league's other coaches for a photo session with ACC commissioner John Swofford.
Davis spoke for 55 minutes with the print media that day.
Unlike the often contentious media sessions during the 2010 season, when Davis could be curt with reporters when asked about the NCAA investigation, Davis patiently answered the repetitive questions about the probe and said he took "full responsibility" for the problems in his football program.
Davis moved from the print media session to radio row. During a 12-minute interview with Adam Gold and Joe Ovies of 99.9 The Fan, he answered several questions about Blake and Wiley - two topics he had largely avoided in public since last August.
"He was completely accommodating," Ovies said. "He never sounded like a guy that was about to lose his job two days later."
During the interview, Davis talked about the program's future and the need to learn from its mistakes.
"Obviously, you'd do anything if you could go back in time and change some of the things," Davis said during the interview, which started at 5 p.m.
But things were about to change. When Davis returned to Chapel Hill, he was told by Baddour that a meeting with Thorp would be held prior to the trustees meeting.
Davis consulted with Raleigh attorney Joseph Cheshire before seeing Thorp. Cheshire, contacted Friday, has been critical of the firing but offered no further comment.
The news from Thorp was devastating - Davis was being fired, immediately. Despite other college offers earlier in his UNC tenure, Davis had told friends he had planned on retiring in Chapel Hill. Now, just days before the start of his fifth season, he was out.
In the meeting with his staff, Davis was in disbelief that after successfully laboring through a trying 2010 season, he was no longer the coach.
"It was emotional," Browning said. "You're shocked. And then the emotion. He had done a lot for a lot of people on our staff, me included."
Thursday night, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Everett Withers was promoted to interim head coach. On Friday, he appeared before the media in a news conference at the Kenan Center, noting a "sense of sadness" in the building with Davis no longer there.
"Coach Davis is going to be fine," Withers said. "He's a people person. He gave us the opportunity to coach, to work and to enjoy coming in this building every day, and I just want to build on that."
Withers said he had not spoken to Davis but that Davis did text him after the interim announcement. His message?
"Be yourself," Withers said.
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