Butch Davis Firing Underscores Collegiate Athletic Conflicts

Butch Davis Firing Underscores Collegiate Athletic Conflicts


Tarheels seek to leave its football drama behind.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The University of North Carolina has fired its head football coach, Butch Davis, a move taken with the 2011 football season slated to begin in just one month. Davis coached the Tarheels from 2007 to 2010, helping the program achieve three straight bowl appearances and finishing 8-5 each of the past three years.

Top Coach

Prior to his stint as Tarheels coach, Davis served as head coach for the NFL Cleveland Browns which followed his tenure as coach of the Miami Hurricanes, one of the most storied teams in all of college football. Davis’ reputation for honesty and integrity caught the attention of UNC officials who hired Davis expecting him to win and do so by following NCAA rules.

As it turns out, Davis didn’t have quite the control over his players that UNC administrators expected or what the NCAA demands. Last summer, allegations that players accepted jewelry, as well as travel and rent deals emerged, beginning a 13-month investigation by the university and the NCAA. Additional allegations including a tutor helping a student with his paper and perks received from professional recruiters meant that as many as 14 players had to sit out one game in 2010, with seven required to sit out the season. [1] Still, the university and fans stood behind Davis, fully expecting their coach to lead the Tarheels this season.

UNC Decision

The university’s firing decision late last month was both stunning and unexpected. The thinking that you don’t fire someone as the season is about to unfold is rampant, but UNC has been tarnished by extensive bad press. The school, considered one of the top “public ivies” in the nation, has long been known for its championship men’s basketball program, a clean program at that. The football program, always second to basketball has been on the rise, but the Davis debacle hasn’t helped.

Although timing is everything, the UNC decision had to come now. The decision will likely cost the Chapel Hill school several million dollars to settle Davis’ contract, but it could avert deep sanctions from the NCAA which might cost the Tarheels far more money.

In all, the Davis firing underscores the delegate balance America’s large universities must undertake if athletics is not to overwhelm academics. Some people believe that has already happened, but if university administrators want to protect their school’s image, reversing course will be necessary.

NCAA Infractions

UNC is not out of the woods yet as the NCAA infractions committee will decide in October what penalties are coming the Tarheels’ way. A bowl ban is possible, but with Davis gone and its athletic director also resigning, the committee might relent on whatever punishment it has planned for North Carolina. [2]


[1] WTVD: UNC’s Butch Davis Fired; July 28, 2011

[2] Winston-Salem Journal: Baddour to Step Down as UNC’s Athletics Director; Bill Cole; July 28, 2011


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