Wednesday, July 27, 2011

End of the winding road for Butch Davis

I actually have three posts in the pipe right now, but this one couldn't wait (which is kind of appropriate given the time-related weirdness of the news):

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."

That would've been thoroughly unsurprising a month ago, when UNC got a book-thick notice of allegations from the NCAA that said "you're screwed," except in a lot more words. But now? All of nine days from the start of fall camp and despite nothing new coming out in the investigation? It's ... ummm ... something other than thoroughly unsurprising.

Davis actually got off pretty easy in that massive NCAA report -- he was just about the only relevant person at North Carolina whose name didn't show up, which seemed like a convenient excuse for UNC to let its best coach since Mack Brown stick around and ride out the inevitable sanctions. Or not.

Even if he didn't do anything specific to get himself into trouble, Davis ran into the same problem Pete Carroll knew was approaching USC at ludicrous speed back in '09: Turning a blind eye equals super happy fun times for everybody but leads to bad things when the NCAA comes calling. Somebody important at UNC apparently saw the ridiculous response to Ohio State's shenanigans and thought, "Hey, if all we have to do is fire our coach to get off easy ..."

Seriously, though, I think this statement pretty much summarizes the whole situation:
Thorp said he "lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution."
I'm not sure firing Davis is anything other than closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, gone on a bunch of free trips, been ruled ineligible and taken their skillz to the NFL, but cleaning house and starting fresh is an understandable big-picture decision given the fact that North Carolina is, like, a respected institution of higher learnin'.

As for Davis, it's a hell of a thud at the end of what should have gone down as an impressive program-resuscitating career (his career might not actually be over, but if he gets a job, it'll be a relatively meaningless "Mike Price at UTEP" sort of thing). He was awesome at Miami and left for the NFL just in time to hand Larry Coker a national championships and 25 straight wins, and he took over for John Bunting at UNC and went 28-23 in four seasons (which doesn't seem that impressive until you consider Bunting's 27-45 mark and UNC's historical irrelevance). It was only 12 freakin' months ago that he had UNC on the brink of a national breakthrough as a top-10 preseason team with an utterly loaded defense and tons of momentum on the East Coast recruiting trail. I'm not sure I can think of another program in recent memory that rose and fell so quickly.

And things won't be getting any better for a while; the big-name coaches aren't exactly gonna be lining up for a job at a basketball-first school facing devastating short-term sanctions. Nobody knows who's next in line, but it seems likely that whoever is named interim coach Thursday will just be keeping the seat warm -- albeit maybe for more than one season -- until the craziness dies down and somebody with a decent track record or a lot of upside (paging Gus Malzahn) is willing to pick up the pieces and see if they can do what Davis appeared to be on the brink of last season.

For now, North Carolina is back to being an ACC also-ran and Davis is out of a job because he ultimately delivered (or at least oversaw) more controversy than meaningful wins.


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