Has the Carolina Way disappeared?

What was once the foundation of Tar Heels basketball has eroded

Updated: October 30, 2013, 12:58 PM ET
By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Play hard.

Play smart.

Play together.

The Carolina Way.

It's supposed to be that simple.

The Carolina Way, from its inception, was legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith's philosophy -- his approach to playing basketball.

Acknowledge the player who made the assist. Stand and applaud a teammate's return to the bench. There were even rules for the crowd to treat the visiting team as a guest, which meant that no signs or props could be used to thwart free throw attempts, just hand waving and noise.

[+] EnlargeWilliams
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams and North Carolina have had a tumultuous offseason. Is it part of something bigger happening at UNC?

Smith believed in following a process that would keep his players focused on the things they could control. It was never about the wins -- former players say Smith rarely mentioned winning to them. It was all about the process.

That's the Carolina Way Dr. Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld remembered as a student in the 1980s. It was about sportsmanship. It was about selflessness. It was about Dean Smith, but mainly it was all about basketball.

Colloredo-Mansfeld, who serves as the chair of North Carolina's anthropology department, said he didn't recognize what the Carolina Way embodied upon returning to Chapel Hill as a professor in 2008.

"When I got back, it was associated with victory, and the thought that we were winning both in the fields and in the classroom," he said. "It seemed to, at times, be a kind of bragging that was going on rather than an ideal that there was something more important than victory."

The more successful Smith and the program became, the Carolina Way grew to encompass more than performance on the floor. It started to mean different things to different people.

It wasn't originally intended to be viewed as a winning formula or a higher standard that scoffs at those who don't measure up. But somewhere along the way those ideas became intertwined with an added touch of hubris.

"I feel that what happened to the Carolina Way was we lost sight of what I thought Dean Smith was trying to talk up on the basketball court, that there are more important things than just winning," Colloredo-Mansfeld said.

In a sense, the Carolina Way became as branded to UNC as the university seal and image of the Old Well. The problem with brands is they can also stand for what not to do.

TROUBLE ON THE HILL

North Carolina used to be viewed as a winner in both academics and athletics, but it has taken its share of losses over the past three years. An avalanche of compliance headaches and embarrassing headlines caused shame to those who thought the Carolina Way was not just above reproach but was somehow superior to other approaches.

The toll of it all damaged the university's reputation and took several jobs, too.

The Tar Heels' athletic department had long been compliant with the NCAA. The last major violation in men's basketball came in 1961, which is essentially what led to Dean Smith's being ushered in as head coach. In football, UNC never had a major violation.

Until 2010.

It started with a tweet from defensive tackle Marvin Austin that would eventually uncover his ties to an agent and lead to other impermissible benefits offered to football players. The NCAA hit the football program with reduced scholarships, vacated wins and a postseason ban. The fallout later led to the ouster of then-coach Butch Davis.

That investigation into football unveiled academic fraud in the African and Afro-American Studies department when course irregularities were discovered with athletes who were enrolled in several classes. Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin was asked to take an independent look at the department and find out how far back the fraud went.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams, Dean Smith, Michael Jordan
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeThere is a certain history at North Carolina, with names across generations setting an example.

The investigation found more than 50 courses that included either phantom teachers or forged signatures on grade changes. The head of the department, Julius Nyang'oro, would lose his job. At the conclusion of a three-month probe, Martin told the school's board of trustees, "This was not an athletic scandal. It was an academic scandal, which is worse."

Things that, it seemed, didn't happen at North Carolina were now happening at North Carolina.

Tami Hansbrough, the mother of basketball standout Tyler Hansbrough, resigned from her position as a major gifts officer at the university in September 2012 after it was revealed that former chief fundraiser Matt Kupec, with whom she had been in a relationship, funded several of their personal trips from university coffers.

Then-chancellor Holden Thorp resigned shortly after that news broke. He had authorized Kupec's department to fund a position for Hansbrough in a different department after previously denying Kupec the chance to hire her directly.

Basketball, by and large, avoided troubled waters until this past offseason, when three players came before the NCAA.

Sophomore J.P. Tokoto played two unauthorized games in an otherwise sanctioned summer basketball league. As a result, he was held out of the Heels' private scrimmage with Vanderbilt and will miss Friday's exhibition game against UNC Pembroke.

Coach Roy Williams said Friday that he is still waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding junior P.J. Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald. Williams has maintained an announcement would be made before the season opener Nov. 8 against Oakland.

Williams said he planned to sit Hairston multiple games, but the NCAA could add to the total after looking into his use of multiple rental cars, including one provided and paid for by a known felon.

Hairston's well-documented driving mishaps this past summer initially earned him an indefinite suspension from Williams in July. The guard worked his way back onto the team by enduring intense conditioning and adhering to conditions Williams imposed.

Hairston's conditional reinstatement to the team led to an academic tutor's resignation in an open letter to the Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper, calling Williams' decision to keep Hairston on the team "disgraceful."

"I'm the only guy that goes in the home and says 'I'm going to try to treat your son like I'd want you to treat mine,'" Williams said. "I'm going to be in his corner. I'm going to try to protect him. I'm going to try to take him from a kid to a young man. The other people that aren't in that room, they don't fill that same responsibility. Right or wrong."

As for McDonald, a brand of designer mouthpieces used his image on its website, prompting the university to issue a cease-and-desist letter. If McDonald endorsed the brand or otherwise received compensation, it could be deemed an impermissible benefit and he could face suspension.

McDonald said in a previous interview that a big focus of the Carolina Way was to "uphold ourselves to a higher standard" and "do things the right way." But he added no program, franchise or institution is perfect.

"Every college has their standard and sometimes standards are broken," he said. "Standards are tainted and messed with a little bit, but it's just retaining that reputation and moving forward."

TIME TO REBRAND

Assistant men's coach Hubert Davis would settle for taking the Carolina Way back to its essence. Forget the branding that has today's versions of the Carolina Way out of sync with the one he grew up adhering to.

Davis watched his uncle, Walter Davis, play for Dean Smith from 1973 to '77, and attended Smith's basketball camps until he was old enough to play for the Heels from 1988 to '92. Now in his second year on staff, he's spent nearly half of his life either receiving or teaching Smith's principles.

"It's impossible for me to put my finger on something and say this is why thinking has changed somewhat," Davis said. "But the thinking has changed."

[+] EnlargeHairston
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsHow long P.J. Hairston will sit remains up in the air, with no announcement yet on the length of his suspension.

Davis stops just shy of "get off my lawn" but does believe some of the differences came from a tendency of the younger generation to tweak tradition. He said he could see it during his seven years as an analyst with ESPN, and he's seen it since becoming a coach.

"We were motivated by 'we.' I would say this generation is motivated more on 'me,'" Davis said. "And I would love that to change."

Colloredo-Mansfeld doesn't see a change occurring until the university has clearly distinctive visions. He believes the relationship between sports and academics is currently being driven by athletics.

Before Thorp stepped down as chancellor, he commissioned a panel led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities. The panel included Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who was a former tri-captain under Smith from 1967 to '70. The Rawlings report offered 28 suggestions on better ways to balance the two.

"Part of what Carolina Way was, I think, was Dean Smith trying to say again that there's something more than just the victories here," Colloredo-Mansfeld said. "That spirit is not here. That spirit cannot be here until the administration says there is something more than the success of our revenue sports. When the administration says that, we'll see again a Carolina Way."

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige had only heard the phrase before he arrived on campus, but didn't know exactly what people meant by it.

"I'm from Iowa," he quipped.

He said the Carolina Way would survive its recent stumbles and shifts because ultimately Smith's philosophy still works.

"The outside perception is that it's been damaged, but the people inside know the integrity of our basketball program hasn't changed and probably won't change," Paige said. "P.J. got caught in an unfortunate situation this summer. He made a bad choice. But as a program, we still buy into the Carolina Way. We don't think it's faltered at all."

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball

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