For an institution that overfloweth with pride in its academics, North Carolina certainly doesn’t look very smart right now.
The decision to fire Butch Davis will cost North Carolina’s athletic department far more than the $2.7 million it will likely owe its former football coach who, technically, was fired without cause.
“We recognize that $2.7 million may be what this ends up costing us,” chancellor Holden Thorp said, “and I’ve reached the conclusion that even though this is a terrible time, the athletic program will need to pay whatever it is we need to pay to make the separation happen.”
Oh, they’ll pay.
It will cost them fan support.
It will cost them recruits.
It will cost them years.
It will cost them wins.
It will cost them their longtime, loyal athletic director, who announced his resignation effective June 2012.
And the NCAA hasn’t even begun to levy sanctions for nine major violations.
North Carolina is in deeper than any other program in the country right now. Overnight, it went from a team reloading on both sides and capable of contending for the Coastal Division to a program completely in rebuilding mode. Dave Hooker of ESPN Recruiting wrote about how many UNC recruits are sticking with their commitments.
A word of advice, guys? Run. As in, 40-yard fast.
We’re talking about a year with an interim coach. Another season with a first-year head coach, who more than likely will be facing a postseason ban. A minimum of three more years until that staff recruits and develops the kinds of players the new coach wants in his system -- which will be a challenge because it would be shocking if the NCAA didn’t hand out some form of scholarship reductions.
Thorp could have saved himself and the football program a lot of agony if he would have taken a page from Ohio State’s playbook and blamed it all on the head coach. It would have been reasonable. Thorp said the trustees were unanimous in their decision to fire Davis. But they're firing him a week before fall camp starts because, because ... because??
“We’ve had a tough year,” Thorp said. “Nine NCAA allegations, continued questions about academics and the need to find a way to move forward, that’s why we’re here.”
Yet even as UNC fires Davis, it still insists he had no idea of the violations that occurred under his watch -- hence firing him without cause.
“I don’t believe he knew about the things that went on,” Thorp said.
Should he have known?
“I said I don’t believe he knew.”
Thorp said he has no regrets about not making the decision sooner.
“I feel like everything we’ve been through was required to get us to this point,” he said. “I know the timing is terrible, but whenever I did this, there would be somebody who would say the timing is terrible.”
And it will stay that way for years -- quite a price to pay.