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Firing Butch Davis Was the Right Move, Even Now

There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.

If you are of the opinion that relieving Butch Davis of his duties as UNC’s football coach was the right thing to do, as Chancellor Holden Thorp apparently felt it was, then now is as good a time as any to let Davis go.

Certainly the timing - just over a week before the beginning of fall practice - is horrific and is a public relations nightmare. But if Davis was not going to be the coach beyond this season, and speculation was increasing that he would not be, then there was no reason to retain him for this season.

There is a great debate over why, if Thorp thought Davis needed to go, he did not pull the trigger last fall when the allegations first arose, or at least at the end of last season. Of course that would have been the optimum time to fire Davis, but much of the sordid mess came to light this spring and summer. The past few months have revealed the parking ticket follies, the McAdoo plagiarism mess, and a 9-barreled notice of allegations from the NCAA. While Davis not being named in the NOA probably kept his seat from reaching the full 212°, the depth of the allegations plus the ancillary issues of McAdoo and the parking tickets certainly didn’t help.

The larger issue as it relates to timing, however, is that if UNC didn’t fire Davis during or immediately after last season, then there is no functional difference when they fired him after signing day. Other than the chaos of having to name an interim coach and redefine roles a week before the beginning of practice, it really would not matter for the upcoming season if Davis had been fired when the NOA came out in June, or Memorial Day (when Jim Tressel was sacked), or any other time this spring or summer. The process of moving forward would be the same.

There is a belief among some supporters of the football program and among some pundits that UNC’s season will now go in the tank, certainly for this year, and that the program may be crippled for a number of years beyond because of this decision and its timing. The head coach is the CEO of a football program and his mark and influence are everywhere on that program. But in football, the division of labor and preparation is unlike many other sports. Position coaches and coordinators are so important and do much of the everyday coaching and preparation. Davis was not calling plays on either side of the ball and was not renowned for his game-day prowess in the first place.

It is also important to note this is not an Ohio State-type situation where not only was the head coach lost, but five crucial players. All of Carolina’s players and coaches except Davis will be in place so it will essentially be the same team made of the same players and the same position coaches and coordinators. Again, not to minimize the importance of the head coach, but this is not a Pete Gaudet replaces Coach K scenario because football doesn’t work like that.

In fact, there are a couple of reasons why letting Butch Davis go now might be a good thing:

First, it removes the distraction of what would have become the weekly question of Davis’ job status. Already a key topic, the temperature of his coaching seat would have been measured weekly, not to mention the committee on infractions hearing in October and the penalty phase in December.

Second, it gives UNC a head start in finding a new coach. Depending on who is named interim coach, Carolina could be feeling out coaches the entire fall and be first on the list when the dominoes start falling at the end of the season. Of course the outcome of the COI hearing comes into play, but again the drama of “will UNC fire Butch Davis” is off the table.

Third, this is a bone that UNC can throw to the NCAA by saying the “Tresseled” Butch. By the time UNC has the COI hearing, practically everyone associated with any of the football unpleasantness will have been fired, graduated, disassociated, or otherwise shown the door.

And finally, in a weird way it might actually rally the troops even more and provide greater focus and intensity in how they approach the season. The “us against the world” mentality is an overplayed cliche but if the team comes together through this adversity then they might be better for it.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: at this point, UNC had to either be all-in with Davis as head coach, possibly for years to come, or  they had to make a significant move in another direction. For whatever reason, Holden Thorp decided that, in spite of his earlier statements, Butch Davis was not the person to lead UNC football through this unpleasantness. If he reached that conclusion, then no possible good could come from having Davis serve a season as a lame duck, dead coach walking.What happens from here is what is paramount. If sound, decisive decisions are made going forward, then the damage is minimal and repaired quickly. If not, who knows.

But one thing is for sure - there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.

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37 comments to Firing Butch Davis Was the Right Move, Even Now

  • 52bgJ

    I would have to agree Doc. I for one, am looking forward to the post BD (and hopefully DB) era…as I imagine are many Faculty.

  • drjervin

    I hope Baddour is next. I know some god things have happened with him, but the bad has been really bad. We need a real new direction in the athletics dept.

  • Asheville Heel

    I could not disagree more Doc. There is always a wrong way to do the right thing!

  • TheUNCFan

    This firing makes UNC look like they tried to sweep this under the rug for many, many months, and then fired the coach when it was clear that no amount of cover-up would salvage the situation. Well, there’s no way UNC could look good in a situation like this, but throwing one coach after another under the bus is not exactly going to help UNC’s reputation. If UNC had put Davis under some sort of administrative leave during the investigation, and then fired him when it was clear that he was complicit in the violations, I could go along with that - but to fire the coach suddenly when the season is about to begin? Just making a bad situation worse.

    This is why I am glad the basketball team can keep its skeletons in the closet where they belong!

  • yawper

    Couldn’t disagree more. The program is going to take a huge hit. There was no effort to get buy-in that I can tell from major football supporters/stakeholders. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to know how bad it is at the Ram’s Club right now, though hopefully a lot of people will reconsider when the shock wears off. There was no preparation of the fanbase for this, in fact, exactly the opposite signals were sent. For months it was “Butch Davis is a man of integrity” and “we stand by him 100%”. Even worse, recruits were assured of this by our AD. I guarantee you that the die hard Carolina football fan (odd breed that we are) is as unhappy and frustrated right now as they’ve ever been with UNC leadership and it will show in the stadium and in revenues.

  • VirginiaHeel

    Higher education is a weird beast. Not at all like the private sector, but also very different from the public sector as well. This was a tough decision and a no-win situation for Chancellor Thorp and the new Board. The timing is awful, but in higher education, timing of big decisions is often very strange.

    One thing is true though . . . Butch Davis got a much fairer shake from a “due process” standpoint than Torbush or Bunting ever got. We wanted to play big time football with the big boys, and we weren’t as careful as should have been. So, we start over from scratch (again). I just hope we keep our priorities straight.

    I can be proud of a football team that loses if they safeguard the integrity of the University . . . I can’t be proud of what went on under Butch Davis. Perhaps today will be the day I will purchase some football tickets.

  • LarryP

    As bad as it looks now, what if the administration decided to wait until the end of the season? What if the team wound up winning 10 games? Then how do you fire the coach?
    Just wondering …

  • Bitterness.

    Bunting/Toothbrush: Waiting for the season to start, watching the team give up by the 4th or 5th game.

    Davis: Great expectations of just before the season to start only to be dashed by stupid decisions - 2010 and 2011.

    This is just great. We are done for another 3-5 years. I can almost hear the Carpenters getting cranked up in the background. “The morning after…”

    Just imagine how excited you must be after committing to a nice new suite in the BlueZone. Oh yes, you can imagine those folks are loving this decision.

    Nice post Doc, one day I won’t have read about this, and if I’m lucky I’ll just forget about it.

    Nobody outthinks the BOT, nobody.

  • Asheville Heel

    ^ If the team wins 10 games then you allow the coach to make a graceful exit. Which I suspect would have happened if it had been allowed to play out no matter how many games were won.

  • 52bgJ

    Marty Schottenheimer is over in Lake Lure…just sayin…

  • Asheville Heel

    In order to protect the best interest of the institution we have just become the laughingstock for the rest of the ACC.

    “The timing is awful, but in higher education, timing of big decisions is often very strange.”

    Strange does not even begin to describe this situation.

  • makeitWayne22

    Marty Schottenheimer was 14-2 and lost in the Divisional playoffs and got fired… Butch never even beat state.

    Seriously people in 3 months the media will be gone and no one will care about UNC football again, just ride out the storm like we did during the 09-10 basketball season.

    Feel bad for the players, not for the coach, AD, or university at all thou

  • TarheelCuz

    So in his swan song does DB get to make the next hire?

  • makeitWayne22

    so when does shoop get named the new coach, since that would be fitting

  • chaucer1350

    Doc, I agree with you completely. Once the full measure of the NCAA violations was detailed in the Notice, this became a formality - a formality waiting for Thorpe to discuss his decision with the BoT.

    Addressing some points above:
    1 - “Graceful exit.” Nonsense. What if UNC went 7-6, with another loss to State. Then it would be Carolina firing a coach for losing instead of being the Pilot of an Ethical Titanic. Butch did nothing to deserve a graceful exit. Thorpe has to do what’s in the best LONG-term interests of UNC.
    2 - “Well, everything’s down the toilet now.” For a team picked to finish 3rd in its division? With a new QB? With a head coach prepping for an NCAA grilling in October, pouring over personal hone records, consulting with both his own private attorney and UNC lawyers…. You could make the case our short-term prospects improve with this move as easily as you can make the case that they will wane. Remember Michigan and Steve Fisher?
    3 - Rams Club Big Shots: Sorry, didn’t they basically help create this mess to begin with? The only way forward for UNC Football really requires a leadership at the University and within the program that can hold those sorts of influences at arms length. Alabama hired Saban for the simple reason that he could tell certain people to get the hell out of building and get away with it. And I say that as a Rams Club member. Baddour’s fund-raising efforts give certain people too much sway, and that directly contributed to this catastrophe.

    So, Doc: Amen.

  • Asheville Heel

    There truly is nothing like a “fractured” fan base. For everyone of you who agree with the timing and direction of this decision there is another who marvels at the self-tainting that the university has done to itself. We are united in one sense though: to the rest of the football world we look like fools!

  • coleheels

    Now that this has happened and no matter how much bickering we can’t change it, can we look to the future? Who does everyone think will be or want to be the interim coach? The next long term coach?

  • Asheville Heel

    So Baddour is given the graceful exit… OK, I believe it was his decision… not!

  • coleheels

    ^^ and new AD for that matter

  • scl11

    “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.”

    That is a poor attempt at making an excuse for bad leadership and long term planning.

    Holden, Dickie screwed the pouch from a management and leadership perspective on so many levels that Harvard Business School is probably crafting the case right now, in order to use in this semester’s poor leadership curriculum.

    Either you have the foresight to do the “right thing” in January or you have the stones to stick out your initial decision until next January, anything else is just causing additional damage to a program that will now require even more time to recover to mediocrity.

    Hello Bunting Years, good to see you again!

    Can someone explain why Holden, Dickie still have their jobs?

  • VirginiaHeel

    Chaucer and Asheville:

    Thanks so much for your comments. I too was worried about putting this decision off until the end of the season. That would have been a true no-win situation.

    A winning season would have likely split the fan base even worse . . . fire Davis and the “Win Now Rah-Rah-Rah” crowd would have been really ticked off (plus they would have made the decision to fire him even more difficult that it has been up until now). Keep him and the “Integrity” crowd (and the ABC’ers) would have had all kind of ammunition for bad PR.

    A losing season wouldn’t have helped much either . . . everyone might be united in the desire to fire him, but we’d look like any “football factory” SEC school to do it.

    Doc . . . thanks for this article. Makes a lot of sense.

  • chinasailor

    It is difficult to argue the firing of Coach Davis, but the timing is
    typical of the Athletic Department management under the present regime. If he was to be fired it should have been months ago. And,why
    the hell is Boris Badenov (or should we spell it Baddenov) still
    employed ?

  • yawper

    Bottom line, Thorp lied to our faces for months. He sent Baddour out to lie to recruits about the administration’s support for the coach. I have zero respect for Thorp. He’s been far more dishonest in this entire unfortunate episode than Davis, in my opinion. As for Baddour, I felt for him today.

  • Asheville Heel

    I expect the bickering to be roughly proportional to the amount of ridicule generated.

  • VirginiaHeel

    OK . . . so Baddour is (finally) out now too. This makes yesterday’s decision a little easier to understand and justify. Perhaps, now the healing really can begin.


  • chapelhillfan

    Way off base here doc. This is stupid timing. He should have been fired six months ago if that was the decision. The administration looks incompetent and just adds further embarassment to the many alumni (me included) and fans across the country, not to mention completely cutting the legs out of the current players and staff who did nothing wrong. Dumb dumb dumb.

  • Heel To The End

    seems like Thorp didnt perform well today.

  • makeitWayne22

    ^ agree with you, but what was so Great about the Davis years.. yes the heels put talent in the pros, but couldnt beat Virginia or State, and barely could win 8 games.

  • tarheelbeck

    I happened to catch the entire press conference and Holden Thorp came off about as bad as he possible could have if you ask me. Dodging questions about the timing yet emphatically saying it was his decision. It almost seems as if the new board chair took over and told Thorp to clean house or he would get his pink slip as well. Wonder if we will ever know. I still support our football team and university, but this might be the most shameful day since we first found out about the investigation.

  • ncoutlander

    New Coach, New Athletic Director, why not a new Chancellor and Board of Trustees who also displayed complete ineptitude which has caused an even more embarrassing situation for UNC. I hold the BOT just as much to blame after supporting Davis for all these months and then waiting until the last minute to change their minds. Talking about throwing people(fans, players,students, supporters) under the Bus, they really made UNC look totally stupid. These clowns need to hit the road too. It’s obvious they don’t know what they are doing, making a decision now that should have come months ago or at the end of this season. A good house cleaning now is the only way to right the past mistakes now. The Clowns need to step out of the ring.

  • Stratplans

    I posted in the Train Wreck thread that it is probably best to wipe the slate clean. I just wish it was done with the integrity and class that people used to associate with Carolina.

    Whether BD was aware or not, the misdeeds (alleged and actual) suggest a sense of entitlement among the players. Who knows what that might have become had he stayed. At minimum, the accusations would likely never cease (see UK bball and Coach Cal). There would be a blog post, tweet or phone pic any time a player was thought to be cutting into the line at the movies, letting a parking meter expire or taking an extra packet of ketchup at Chick Fil A. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if there was another violation 6 months or a year from now.

  • JeffS91

    I couldn’t disagree more with those supporting the decision to fire Butch Davis now. If firing Davis was only a formality, it should have happened at the end of last season. It appears the “Carolina Way” means providing incompetent, illogical leadership from the BOTs down.

    Obviously, the players and staff involved in the scandal were wrong and rightfully punished for it. That said, don’t tell me Butch Davis was fired because the “integrity” of the school was at stake. Apparently the definition of integrity using the “Carolina Way” is to tell the fans, media, and most importantly the coach and players that you support them for over a year only to pull the rug out right before the season starts.

    Apparently, the “Carolina Way” is to mislead recruits by waiting until after they’ve committed to reveal the truth that you are firing the head coach.

    I do not condone what happened under Butch Davis’ watch, but where is the logic to keep him until the start of the 2011 season and then decide to fire him? Sorry, but regarding integrity and honesty, McAdoo’s plagiarized paper isn’t much worse than the lies and deception put forth by Thorpe and the BOTs.

    I feel really bad for the players. It is really apparent UNC has no qualms about screwing them over. UNC’s actions this week will be felt for some time to come. Welcome back to Bunting ball. I find it hard to believe Carolina football will be able to attract talented coaching or players after the way this was handled.

    If I was the NCAA, I couldn’t think of a more fitting punishment for UNC than to allow Thorp, Baddour, and the BOTS to continue running the show.

    Ok, I’m done venting….

  • gregrustin

    the NCAA system is {{{{{{{{{BROKEN)))))))))))). you cant have that much money flying around without some of it getting to the players who generate it!!! this is soooooooooo STUPID!!!!!!! change the rules…allow agents to pony up their own money to whoever they want to and take the risk that that player doesnt blow a knee. STOP THE MADNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bad Bad Leroy Brown, please don’t quote the Carpenters, because all I can think of is their song “We’ve Only Just Begun”. LOL!

  • TarheelCuz

    TBH sir- there was a much better time to do the right thing.

    I will cheer for these guys possibly even harder this year- but there is no way to parlay this into the right thing… Even on a blog.

  • atlantatarheel

    Watch what people do, not what they say.
    What they said last fall was “he is our man”
    What they did just now was fired him without any (publicly known) new information except (what they say) “his being here tarnishes our reputation.”
    Without some NEW information, how could they be so right last September AND also so right this July?
    Answer: they can’t.
    How could a board of trustees be UNANIMOUS on this critical decision under these circumstances?
    If it was SO clear cut and truly unanimous now, why did they keep him instead of dismissing him last September?
    OUR university is a public university but Mr. (does not deserve the title Chancelor ) Thorpe treated this like a small, privately held business.
    Still a Tarheel, but highly disappointed with this shocking turn of events. Our athletics is the primary way that the droves of alumni and fans connect with and based upon which they offer financial support. No?

  • GenX

    What disgusts me about this whole situation is the lack of focus on the players who caused this whole mess. They own this!!! They are the ones who should be repeatedly shamed for “chip(ping) away at this University’s reputation”. Sad to see that, with all the pressures of the head coaching position, we must add BABYSITTER to its job description. These kids know what the rules are, and there’s no excuse for this kind of behavior. And, there should be ZERO tolerance for ANY/ALL infractions.
    So what’s next? Since these kids obviously can’t handle themselves with dignity and are too young to know the difference between right and wrong: Do we ask all prospective college athletes to submit to criminal and financial background checks? Then, once they’ve made the cut, I suppose we should subject them to daily lie detector tests and routine parking violation screenings. Also, we should hire more staff to read their papers, checking for cheaters!
    I’m, of course, being sarcastic, but this is a serious problem affecting many schools who have the ability to recruit serious football talent. It’s a problem of personal responsibility. There must be harsh consequences for those who ruin athletic programs. These kids have no idea of the ramifications of their selfish actions! Coach loses job; school loses respect; newly recruited athletes lose the coach they signed on to play for; returning players lose the joy of playing Tar Heel football in the midst of such chaos. You can’t recreate the college years. Once they’re gone, they’re gone! Infractions should be treated as Honor Code violations and dealt with swiftly. Scholarships should be repaid. And, for any adults found guilty of assisting in misconduct, heavy fines should be imposed. (It would be nice if the NFL would impose salary restrictions for those found guilty of NCAA violations. And, I’d love to see agents lose their jobs over enticing young college players. - Dream on!)