Baddour out, Withers in at UNC
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is now looking for a new permanent football coach and athletic director.
A day after the school fired Butch Davis amid an NCAA investigation into his program, Dick Baddour said Thursday he will step down after 14 years running the 28-sport department. In the final year of a three-year contract extension that expires in June, Baddour will stay until the school can hire a replacement because he wants his successor to select the next coach instead of inheriting a hire.
“It is my responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the program, and this is my decision,” Baddour said in a news conference to discuss Davis’ firing.
The school also promoted defensive coordinator Everett Withers to interim head coach later Thursday.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said Baddour will attend the school’s hearing before the NCAA infractions committee in October, then serve out his contract in another position once the school hires a replacement.
Baddour’s departure adds to a bumpy year for North Carolina as the NCAA investigated improper benefits and academic misconduct within a program seemingly positioned to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a BCS bowl.
Fourteen players missed at least one game, and seven were forced to sit the entire season. The NCAA’s notice of allegations outlined nine potential major violations last month, though none tied to Davis.
Thorp said he fired Davis after four seasons because of cumulative damage to the university’s reputation in a year of embarrassing revelations. Some were serious, such as the $31,500 in financial transfers from late NFL agent Gary Wichard to former associate head coach John Blake, though Blake’s attorneys have described them as loans from one friend to another during financial trouble. Other issues appeared more trivial, such as key players racking up thousands of dollars of campus parking tickets over a four-year period.
In the end, however, the reports just kept piling up.
Thorp admitted the firing was “terrible” timing as players open practice next week, but said he had mulled the move for weeks and decided it couldn’t wait any longer. Thorp and Baddour had publicly supported Davis for the past year, so much so that Davis said Monday at the ACC preseason media days in Pinehurst that it was “reassuring” to have their backing.
“We tried to hold things together and restore confidence in the football program, and I felt in order for us to have a fair chance for that, I would have to support coach Davis,” Thorp said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve given that enough time, and now it’s time for us to take the actions that we’re taking.”
Thorp said the university could owe Davis as much as $2.7 million in contractual obligations that run through 2015. That could be voided if the school found he was involved in the violations, though Thorp said he anticipated the school wouldn’t dismiss Davis “for cause.”
Thorp said he didn’t believe Davis knew about potential violations, but would only repeat that statement when pressed on whether Davis should’ve known as head coach.
“We recognize that $2.7 million may be what this ends up costing us,” Thorp said. “I’ve reached the conclusion that … the athletics program will need to pay whatever it is we need to pay to make the separation happen.”
Wade H. Hargrove, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said Thursday the board was “fully supportive” of Thorp’s decision.
“This was not an easy decision for the chancellor, but it was the right decision,” Hargrove said in a statement.
It’s unclear whether Davis now will release personal cell phone records as requested by media outlets covering the investigation. Davis said last week he planned to release records for a long-held account he used for school business in lieu of his university-issued cell phone and office lines, and that the university had reviewed those records in the fall.
School spokeswoman Nancy Davis said in an e-mail that outside legal counsel found “nothing of concern” in the records, but that Davis retained his records and the school doesn’t have copies. Thorp said it was “up to coach Davis” whether to release them.
Thorp has said there were no new developments in the NCAA probe to prompt the dismissal.
In an e-mail, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn declined to comment on whether the NCAA had reviewed Davis’ phone records.
Withers is a Charlotte native who has coordinated the Tar Heels’ defense and coached their secondary since 2008. His contract will be amended to reflect his added responsibilities, and the school says it will begin its search for another assistant to complete the staff.
In a statement issued by the school, Thorp called him “the right person for our football program under these challenging circumstances.”
It was an unceremonious way for Baddour to announce his exit from the school where he started working in 1967 as assistant dean of men. He took over as athletic director in 1997 after John Swofford became ACC commissioner. Baddour successfully lured Roy Williams from Kansas back to Chapel Hill to take over the struggling men’s basketball program in 2003, while the Tar Heels won 13 national championships during his tenure.
“Dick was extremely important in my return to UNC eight years ago,” Williams said in a statement. “I probably would not have come back at that time had he not handled the hiring process the way he did. I will miss working with him a great deal.”
Baddour’s tenure will end in upheaval like it started. Less than four months in, Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith retired as the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history. Two months later, Mack Brown left for Texas after guiding the football program to consecutive top-10 national finishes.
Baddour never stabilized the program after Brown’s departure. Carl Torbush and John Bunting combined to go 43-63 in the next nine seasons, while the once-praised hiring of Davis in 2006 ended even uglier.
Baddour, 66, fought back tears when asked about the difficult past year.
“I don’t know that I have the emotional wherewithal to tell you how hard it is on me, so I would like to reserve that (answer),” he said. “You can obviously tell — extremely difficult for me.”