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The Two Reasons Butch Davis Isn’t Going Anywhere

The same two reasons why anything is what it is in this world: money and power.

Part II of the national media reaction to the notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding UNC’s football team is “how can UNC justify having Butch Davis remain as head football coach?” The answer is simple: nowhere in the entire 42-page NOA is Butch Davis’ name mentioned, so other than being at the helm while the Titanic hit the iceberg, he escapes culpability.

That then raises the question of “isn’t that enough”, and from a contractual standpoint, it is probably not. Davis is under contract to be UNC’s football coach through the 2014 season. His contract does provide for termination with cause under the following provisions:

a violation by COACH, or knowing participation in a violation by COACH, or a violation by the assistant coaches under COACH’S supervision of which COACH had reason to know, should have known through the exercise of reasonable diligence in the exercise of his duties under this Agreement, or which COACH condoned, of a major NCAA regulation or bylaw, or of a major ACC regulation or bylaw, or of a policy of or applicable to UNIVERSITY…

a violation by Football Program staff members (other than assistant coaches) or by student-athletes under COACH’S supervision, of which COACH had reason to know or which COACH condoned, of a major NCAA regulation or bylaw, or of a major ACC regulation or bylaw, or of a policy of or applicable to UNIVERSITY…

On the surface, it seems like a slam dunk that UNC would be well within its rights to fire Davis under those clauses. The only problem is that UNC is mounting the “rogue tutor”, “rogue player”, and “rogue coach” defenses to the NCAA, positions supported by the absence of any mention of Davis in the NOA. UNC can’t claim Davis didn’t know anything to the NCAA then turn around and fire him with cause because these things happened on his watch.

That means if UNC wanted to fire Davis just to wash their hands of him, they would have to pay. Davis’ contract calls for a buyout equal to $275K plus the base salary for each season left (4 times $315K) plus deferred and other compensation. That’s $1.5 million base dollars before you start getting into the millions in deferred compensation he would be owed. I’m sure an exit would be negotiated, but the starting point of a buyout would probably be in the $2-2.5 million range. That’s mighty pricey for a program in the middle of a $70 million stadium expansion, even for a school with deep pockets like UNC.

The other factor keeping Butch in place is his support among the powers that be at UNC, and I don’t mean simply Holden Thorp and Dick Baddour. People have wondered how Thorp and Baddour could so openly support Davis, and the answer lies in the fact that much of Davis’ true support lies above their pay grade. UNC insiders have said that the seat of that support is in UNC Board of Trustees chairman Bob Winston, who is rumored to have engineered the selection of Davis as football coach in 2006.

Similarly, despite the NCAA unpleasantness, Davis appears to continue to have the support of big money donors, many of whom would be asked to step up if Davis had to be bought out. This is not to say that there are some big-timers who are disgusted with him and the whole football mess, and some of them have withdrawn their support of the Blue Zone project. But he fact that Davis was not directly implicated in the NCAA allegations does not seem to have moved the needle much in either direction in regards to Butch’s standing with the powers that be. Those who didn’t like him still don’t, and those that support him still do.

(It is important to note here that I am basing the last paragraph on anecdotal evidence and not anything concrete - just a sense of the meeting, as the Quakers say)

So in the absence of any truly actionable offenses by Davis that would trigger his immediate dismissal and any groundswell of dissatisfaction among those who make the decisions and pay the bills, Davis remains almost by default. Even if Holden Thorp and Dick Baddour hate Davis as much as the NCAA hates Chris Hawkins and want to fire him every day, without those two things, there’s not much they can do. And if Davis is going to have to stay, then at least publicly they will offer support.

There is still a long way to go before this thing is finally put to rest, however. The penalty phase is yet to come, and in a sense the allegations remain surreal until there is an actual price to pay. In addition, UNC football will be under intense scrutiny both on and off the field this season, and Davis’ reservoir of good will is long since dried up and his margin of error is nil. If Davis continues to play the role of Captain Hazelwood while the Exxon Valdez runs aground again either on or off the field, this situation could change rapidly.

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11 comments to The Two Reasons Butch Davis Isn’t Going Anywhere

  • JoeOvies

    Like we’ve stated on air the last 2 days, if Davis was going to get fired it would have happened in December. You don’t fire the coach 6 weeks before the start of practice. And as you point out Doc, the penalty phase could change opinions by the end of this season. It’s not done.

    However, I do have an honest question about the defense of Butch Davis. Are you really defending the coach, or are you simply throwing out the contrarian argument for the sake of being contrarian.

    I ask, because as any sports talk show host would tell you, sometimes you take the contrarian view to promote discussion.

    I ask because the simple acceptance of “Well, Butch wasn’t named in the NOA” defense is too…simple. Too simple for for guys like Doc and other smart people to just buy.

    So yeah, he wasn’t named in the document. And? Where’s the accountability for the head coach? 9 major violations occurred while he was in charge. All the violations have some connection to the head coach. John Blake was the associate head coach he hired. Jennifer Wiley was a former tutor that was under his employ. Chris Hawkins was in his building. His star players were out and about getting impermissible benefits.

    As meticulous as coaches are said to be, as controlling as they are about even the smallest things…like the color of blue you want the program to rep…I think it’s kinda funny that there are all these little outs for people to accept.

    That’s why I have a hard time buying an otherwise good author in Doc just rolling with the cheap, simple minded approach here.

  • chaucer1350

    NCAA Compliance is basically an honor system. The rule book’s an honor code. The COI’s the Honor Court. Coaches are supposed to be professors - the front line in monitoring the Honor Code.

    An NCAA investigation usually follows revelations of transgressions in the press, and while finding out who knew what and when plus who did what and when, the essential questions aren’t that complicated:

    1) Did you openly discourage breaking the rules?
    2) Did you make it reasonably difficult to break the rules?

    A professor who jokes about cheating when he or she was in college and who leaves the room during an exam is a different case than a professor who encourages honesty and puts reasonable measures in place during tests to ensure fairness.

    On the flip side, imagine a professor actually running a cheating ring. That doesn’t necessarily mean the department head should be fired — but if the department head hired him knowing that he done this sort of thing in the past, I think we know what that administrator’s fate would be. Throw in a few more instances of academic misconduct and petty misuse of department funds, and the administrator would be gone in a heart-beat.

    I’m always wary of thinking I “know” someone through the press, and I really try to avoid the “like/dislike” game our culture likes to play with people through the press. So this has nothing to do with Butch personally: I think he should be fired the moment the University and the NCAA conclude this matter.

    And if Bob Winston doesn’t like it, he can resign his position in protest. If some big-money donors want to take their money elsewhere, so be it.

  • 850inExile aka UNC RAJ

    Lets set aside the NCAA scandal for a moment and focus on the only thing (presumably) the big money boosters want: wins.

    Now lets compare and contrast:

    Football Team under Butch Davis:

    No top 25 finishes + no ACC conference titles + has never won the coastal division + never gotten a BCS bowl bid + never beaten NC State + only 1-3 in the (third rate) bowls it has gone to = Boosters (and majority of fans) support Butch Davis

    What if, on the other, we had the following analogous record for our basketball team over the last 4 years:

    No top 25 finishes + No ACC tournament or regular season titles + never finished in the top 3 in the ACC + never got past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament (in other words, the Meineke bowl is roughly equivalent to the first or second round of NCAAT) + never beat Duke = How would those same Boosters feel about Roy?

    Even if you remove the NCAA mess the support for Butch Davis still doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Then again, there is Dick Baddours hiring record to consider also (Torbush, Bunting, DOH). Maybe that’s the real reason we are afraid to make a change? Maybe people think that Baddour might just screw things up even worse … again.

  • Joe,

    Our position here has always been let the whole process play out then decide what to do with Davis. Part of the problem is the NCAA timeline does not necessarily flow on the same path as the timeline optimal for replacing a head coach. Of course you could argue if UNC knew all of this in January they should have held him accountable then and moved on but even then there are plenty of real world forces in play, something the national media and ABCers alike refuse to acknowledge. Buyout is an issue. Damage to the program is an issue. It might be hard to believe but mismanaging a coaching transition can do far more long term damage to a football program than whatever the NCAA decides to hand down 6-8 months from now. Heck, UNC fans should know that because they watched it first hand with Torbush and Bunting.

    In short, I think Doc and I agree that accountability should be exercised on Davis but when, how and to what extent that happens is subject to internal politics and the color of money. And the fact Davis is not named in the NOA matters. It is a real defense where the plausible deniability is implausible or not.

  • CarMichael

    I don’t see where Doc is defending BD at all. Doc is explaining why BD hasn’t been fired by UNC.

    I thought Doc’s post above and the one yesterday were very informative, smart, and well-researched. I’m glad to read something that isn’t just opinion.

  • Doc

    Joe and I had this exchange on Twitter this morning, and THF offered clarification above, but let me reiterate for those of you who may not be of the tweeting persuasion:

    This piece is offered as an analysis of why Butch Davis has not already been fired, and the simple reasons are, in the lack of specific action by the NCAA, he must be bought out; and his support is at the highest levels in the University community, even above the chancellor.

    None of this is offered as a defense of Davis, although some have interpreted it that way. It is merely an assessment of the situation and why he hasn’t been summarily dismissed as many fans and talking heads have called for.

    As for my personal opinion, I think the Titanic and Exxon Valdez references should give you some clue, as should calling him the coach by default and noting the conundrum of playing the rogue defense vs. blaming Davis.

    But, as CarMichael points out, this was not meant to be an opinion piece (and thanks for seeing it as it was meant to be).

    Hope that clears up some of the confusion.

  • Dad27514

    Perhaps sports should be run on the honor system, the system in operation when I attended UNC in the late 60′s, early 70′s. We were made aware that it was our education, that the courses were taught for our benefit, not the teacher’s. It was our responsibility to learn the information to help us in the future.
    Every test I took, except foreign language and BA71, the teachers only stayed in the room to answer questions (They were not there to act as proctors and many left the room and returned at the end of the period.) I was allowed to take the tests, including finals, anywhere I wished. I was honor bound not to cheat, and I did not. I even had one take-home, closed book mid-term in Econ 32. To this day, honesty is the most important thing to me.
    Golf is played this way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could reestablish the concept that your word is your bond.
    Why should Butch Davis stay. His integrity is unquestioned by those who know him well, he is extremely capable, he is a winner, and he is creating a championship program in a sport essential to the future of the athletic department. Mistakes were made, but he seems to have followed Dean Smith’s mantra, recognize the mistake, own it, LEARN from it, and forget it. After learning its lessons, we can do nothing about the past, but we can effect the future.

  • nativeheel

    An excellent article, Doc. I did not view it as a defense of Butch Davis or anyone else. There may be ultimate reasons to fire Davis and/or Baddour but it not yet time for that decision to be made. As they say, time (and the NCAA) will tell! I am just anxious for this mess to be in the past with lessons learned for the future that prevents any sports team from bringing dishonor upon the University of North Carolina. We can and must be better than this!

  • yawper

    Steve Spurrier had an agent runner all over his program at Florida for *years*, one who actually succeeded in steering multiple top players to agent Tank Black. Shouldn’t he have known? Oh, the humanity. How can South Carolina trust such a rogue coach with their football program? How can the media hold him up as a college coaching icon? Ovies, your (and other media noisemakers like Mandel) righteous hysteria over the NINE (oh my god, count them nine, including one each for persons no longer connected to UNC not talking to the NCAA) violations is laughable. Beyond the actions of Austin, Little and Quinn, the entire rest of the whole 42 page NOA is a bucket of warm spit. Oh my god, Blake got $31K in loans from old friend/croney Wichard and Wichard signed a grand total of one player, Kentwan Balmer, from UNC. A jock sniffing tutor crossed the line and wrote Works Cited pages, conclusions and helped with research and provided free tutoring after the university dismissed her! Some people slept on couches and got rides from friends who were former teammates! Man, such a hive of corruption and black misdeeds.

  • smallandpettypat

    You made CrackPride, Doc. And some of them are actually giving you credit for your piece. First time for everything.

  • Doc

    Thanks, Pat. I’ll now go hang my head in shame.