UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Holden Thorp and athletic director Dick Baddour addressed the media on Thursday – less than 24 hours after firing football coach Butch Davis.
At the press conference, Baddour also announced that he would be stepping down in the coming months.
Baddour and Davis are the latest casualties in a year-long scandal that has moved beyond athletics and caused serious harm to the University’s reputation.
Like so many scandals these days, this one started with a twitter message. Last May, Marvin Austin bragged in 140-characters and less about parties he was attending and some of the people he was with. Not unusual for a college student – except Austin was a star football player at North Carolina, and the people he was with were allegedly agents and former players.
That got the NCAA’s attention. Allegations, investigations, firings, and suspensions followed. 14 players missed at least one game; 7 were tossed out of the program for good.
And now, Chancellor Holden Thorp has decided, so is the coach…
Holden Thorp: "Making a change of this magnitude eight days before practice is disruptive, expensive, and hard on our players. But it is the right decision."
Expensive is right. UNC will buy out Davis’ contract for $2.7 million. That news comes a day after Thorp and the Board of Trustees discussed more layoffs of faculty and staff and the closing of some buildings on campus to save money.
Thorp made it clear the money used to pay Davis will not come from the general fund.
Thorp: "We recognize that $2.7 million may be what this ends up costing us. And I have reached this conclusion that even thought this is a terrible time that the athletics program will need to pay whatever it is that we need to pay to make this separation happen."
Thorp says the change will not likely impact whatever penalties come UNC’s way from the NCAA. He said UNC had suffered serious damage to its reputation - and that ultimately led Thorp to make the decision to fire Davis.
Thorp: "Athletics are an important part of this university and a successful football program is essential to the overall health of our athletics program. That’s why we have to put this behind us and move forward."
Moving forward means hiring a new permanent head coach – a process that will cut short the tenure of athletic director Dick Baddour. He said at the press conference that he will leave before his contract ends next June – to give a new A-D the chance to have input into the hiring of a new head coach.
Dick Baddour: "Therefore I have asked Chancellor Thorp to begin the search for an athletic director as soon as possible. It is my responsibility to do what is in the best interests of the program, and this is my decision."
Reactions to Davis’s firing have been swift and varied. Former players, writing again on Twitter, have shown support for Davis. They include last year’s starting quarterback TJ Yates, who tweeted that he was shocked at the news, and said it was wrong to do it right before training camp.
Thorp was asked late in the press conference what he’s learned from a year of scandals in the Carolina football program.
Thorp: "It’s not the most important issue facing the university. Academics and research and education are the most important things facing a university. But nearly every public university, including many, many great public universities are wrestling with the issues we’re talking about."
Thorp then left the press conference. He and Baddour spent the afternoon interviewing potential candidates for interim head coach. They settled on Assistant Coach Everett Withers. Withers has 24 years in coaching, but this is his first job as head coach.
Football practice starts a week from tomorrow.