Bad timing on Butch Davis' dismissal
There are two reactions to North Carolina's firing of Butch Davis on Wednesday.
It's about time.
But it's also about timing.
And the timing makes a whole lot less sense than the termination itself.
This could have and should have happened much earlier. North Carolina had a dozen compelling and reasonable occasions in its miserable, scandal-scarred past year to fire Davis, and it declined to do so. A partial list of opportunities:
When the NCAA began investigating last summer and suspected that agents were crawling all over the Tar Heels' program, Davis' job was safe.
When the school had to bench 14 players for the season opener -- and several of them stayed benched for the entire 2010 season -- Davis' job was safe.
When associate head coach and recruiting coordinator John Blake -- a longtime Davis friend -- was linked monetarily to agent Gary Wichard, Davis' job was safe.
When former UNC tutor Jennifer Wiley -- at one time privately employed by Davis -- was linked to allegations of academic fraud, Davis' job was safe.
When the NCAA notice of allegations was delivered to the school in June and the Heels were formally charged with nine major violations, Davis' job was safe.
And when Carolina sent the coach to Pinehurst, N.C., on Monday to meet the media, discuss the entire sordid affair and describe his support as "overwhelming," well, it certainly seemed Davis' job was safe. I listened to him talk for an hour -- in fact, Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com and I followed him out of the room and probably were the last reporters to talk to him as UNC coach -- and there was absolutely no way Butch knew he was getting fired. Not in the next five months, and certainly not in the next 48 hours.
Now, boom. He's gone. After allowing a year of tarnish to build up before taking action.
There could be additional information that went into Carolina's jarring decision. Maybe the alleged Michael McAdoo term paper plagiarism fandango of recent days was the last straw. Maybe Davis' cellphone records, which he said will be released to the public soon, are more interesting and problematic than he led us to believe. Maybe Marvin Austin's Twitter threat to "spill the beans" is unfolding behind closed doors.
Or maybe not. Maybe the school finally got around to realizing the severity of the situation and the stain it leaves on both UNC's and Davis' reps. Maybe the reality of preparing a cogent response to the NCAA allegations ahead of the Tar Heels' appearance before the Committee on Infractions in October necessitated this move.
Whatever the reason, North Carolina owes everyone an explanation. And it better be a good one.
It owes Davis an explanation of why it put him through the dog-and-pony show in Pinehurst just days earlier. It owes the players, who are on the cusp of starting the season, an explanation of why their plans are now scrambled -- for the second year in a row. (If you're a North Carolina player who hasn't done anything wrong in terms of taking extra benefits or committing academic fraud, how happy are you tonight?) And it owes the fans, who have pumped money into season tickets for 2011, an explanation for why this trap door was yanked open now, instead of this past December or January.
One thing Carolina has reinforced with this move is the myth of administrative backing for an embattled coach facing an NCAA hearing. Administrators might say they support you fully but they might not mean it in perpetuity.
Bruce Pearl had the unwavering loyalty of the Tennessee administration for months -- until he was fired before the Volunteers met the Committee on Infractions. Jim Tressel had Ohio State president Gordon Gee licking his boots and athletic director Gene Smith making statements of support -- until he was forced out on Memorial Day, two months before a COI hearing. Now Davis joins that list of popular winners who were ultimately deemed expendable.
The bottom line is that it's the right decision. But it was the right decision this past December, too, and North Carolina couldn't bring itself to do it then. Why the Tar Heels perpetuated and exacerbated this toxic situation into late summer is what's wrong.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.