ACC Football: North Carolina fires Davis
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL —North Carolina fired football coach Butch Davis on Wednesday, saying the past year of turmoil amid an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct was doing too much damage to the school’s reputation.
The school issued a statement announcing Davis’ dismissal nine days before the start of preseason practice. Chancellor Holden Thorp said the decision was not prompted by any changes in the ongoing NCAA investigation but said he “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,” Thorp said in a statement. “The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change.”
The school has scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning in Chapel Hill to discuss the change, which followed a closed-door meeting of the school’s board of trustees. Team spokesman Kevin Best said plans for an interim coach would be discussed Thursday. North Carolina’s players report for training camp Aug. 4 and start practice the following day.
The news caught current and former players off guard, including T.J. Yates — the quarterback who served as defacto team spokesman last season during the height of NCAA scrutiny.
“In shock about Coach Davis, that man put Carolina football back on the map,” Yates, a Houston Texans draftee, posted on Twitter. “And to do it right before training camp starts is just wrong.”
Another former Tar Heel now in the NFL, Kansas City offensive lineman Mike Ingersoll, tweeted: “I have always supported my alma mater… but I can’t support this. I support Coach Davis. Thank you for all you did for Carolina football.”
Davis compiled a 28-23 record in four seasons with the Tar Heels after taking over for John Bunting. His program looked ready to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a BCS berth last year before NCAA investigators arrived on campus last July.
In all, 14 players missed at least one game and seven were forced to sit the entire season. Last month, the NCAA sent a notice of allegations to the school outlining numerous potential major violations, though none connected to Davis himself.
That included unethical conduct of former associate head coach John Blake, whom the NCAA accused of trying to steer players to late NFL agent Gary Wichard. The NCAA’s notice reported Blake had received more than $31,000 from Wichard, though Blake’s attorneys had previously described the transactions as loans from one friend to another during financial troubles. Davis had said he knew nothing of the loans and that he was “sorry” he trusted Blake, who resigned in September.
There were also numerous issues connected to tutor Jennifer Wiley, who had tutored Davis’ teenage son, and improper assistance given to players on school work — including some after she had graduated and no longer worked for the school.
But Thorp and athletic director Dick Baddour had remained publicly supportive of Davis over the past year, including at a joint appearance with the school’s trustees in November.
Davis’ dismissal comes just two days after he fielded questions about the aftermath of the investigation from reporters at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason media days in Pinehurst. The coach said he found the university’s public support “reassuring” and said he had never considered quitting. He also talked about how the coaching staff and university had taken steps to correct past mistakes.
While none of the allegations were tied to Davis, he said he “fully and completely” takes responsibility for the events as the head coach.
“Anything we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again, that’s part of my responsibility,” Davis said. “I regret greatly that these things have transpired and these things have happened. I don’t take them lightly. This is a very, very serious issue. It’s caused a tremendous amount of embarrassment and a tremendous amount of hard times for Carolina alums and fans. But we’re going to get through this. And because of it, we’re going to come out of it, and we’re going to be better than we were before.”