DURHAM, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Butch Davis says an NCAA probe into potential rules violations in his football program came "out of left field."
In his first public comments on the investigation, Davis said Thursday the school is cooperating with the NCAA and that his program follows its rules.
A person familiar with the investigation says the NCAA is looking into whether two seniors received improper benefits from agents. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little are the focus of the probe, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is confidential.
Davis refused to answer specific questions about the case, saying that the NCAA instructed the school to limit its public comments.
"It certainly kind of came out of left field," Davis said after a luncheon featuring area coaches. "I don't think anybody speculated any of this stuff was going to potentially happen. But it is what it is. ... Our players were unbelievably cooperative and we'll get through this as quickly as possible."
The probe became public about a week ago after NCAA investigators visited the campus in Chapel Hill. It has been part of a series of similar investigations at defending national champion Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
"I know we take a great deal of pride in doing things ethically, honestly," Davis said. "I know the feedback that we've gotten is we're doing everything we can to educate our young people about all kinds of things that have to do with collegiate athletics."
The probe has also prompted the North Carolina Secretary of State's office to begin its own investigation about potential misconduct involving agents. The state requires sports agents to register in North Carolina and prohibits them from offering gifts before a contract is signed.
Violations of North Carolina's agent laws can lead to criminal or civil penalties.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has assigned three investigators and said her office has put out notices asking people not to destroy evidence or documents. She said the office can't punish athletes but plans to talk to them about their conduct.
"We are focusing on athlete agents and anybody who gave these young people things of value -- such as trips or parties or food, women, whatever it might be," she said.
Davis briefly referenced the NCAA investigation when addressing the audience at the preseason football luncheon, which also featured Duke coach David Cutcliffe, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill, North Carolina Central coach Mose Rison and North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien. It even offered a moment of levity after McNeill -- who is preparing for his first season in Greenville after Skip Holtz left for South Florida -- compared the past few months to a whirlwind.
"You think Ruffin would like to trade whirlwinds?" Davis quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Still, the NCAA investigation couldn't come at a worse time for Davis, who is preparing for his fourth season in Chapel Hill. He has guided the program to consecutive eight-win seasons, which includes the program's first back-to-back bowl seasons since the late 1990s when Mack Brown left for Texas.
The Tar Heels are expected to contend for the ACC's Coastal Division title behind a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's best last year. Austin -- a 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle -- was projected as a high draft pick before opting to return to school for his final season instead of heading to the NFL.
Little became the team's top receiver last season, coming up with 20 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns in the final three games. He finished with a team best 62 catches for 724 yards and five scores.
Losing either -- let alone, both -- would be a blow for the Tar Heels as they prepare for their opener against LSU in Atlanta on Sept. 4.
Davis said his staff has done everything it can to instruct its players on what is permissible.
"It's no different than being a parent," he said. "You can teach your children, you can talk to them, and lessons that aren't learned, you continue to teach those lessons. We've got good kids at North Carolina. ... We're going to continue to work hard to do everything right."