First let's sum up where we have been. Around 1 PM Inside Carolina posted a coaching search update on their premium side which based on the thread titles that followed seemed to indicate Butch Davis had signed a contract to coach UNC. The free football message board over there picked this up and declared it was indeed a done deal. This was followed over the next few hours by AOL Sports and the Winston-Salem Journal and finally IC posted the story on the public side. At 5 PM Adam Gold led off the third hour of his afternoon drive time show with word from David Glenn, editor of the ACC Sports Journal that UNC had flatly denied the story. In fact Associate AD Steve Kirschner called the previous reports inaccurate and said there no deal.
So this what we have this evening.
ESPN is casting a more scaled back version of events. According to ESPN.com an unidentified source at UNC has told them the deal is close but not done yet. It is has been described as heading that way.
Contrary to various media reports that said Davis and the Tar Heels have completed contract talks, a North Carolina source speaking on the condition of anonymity said negotiations between Davis' agent and the university are still ongoing.
A deal "hadn't yet been finalized, but it seems we're headed in that direction," the source told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach.
North Carolina is hesitant to confirm the possible hiring of Davis because it wants the team's focus to be on Saturday's homecoming game against Georgia Tech at Kenan Stadium, multiple sources told Schlabach. A source said an announcement of Davis' hiring, barring late complications, could come as early as Monday.
So at this point we have a wide range of reports. Inside Carolina and the WSJ have gone as far as to call it a done deal while the ESPN article is a more measured take on the issue. For whatever reason I tend to trust a "North Carolina source speaking on the condition of anonymity" because what that means is it is actually an official at UNC has been tasked with the job of giving some information to the media. These do not tend to be unauthorized leaks but a controlled release of information to keep the PR situation under control. So at this point there are two issues at this point:
1. If this is all wrong then IC and to a larger extent the WSJ take a gigantic hit to their credibility for running the full blown "Butch Hired" story. The sources for both outlets was most likely someone associated with the search but not necessarily an official in the athletic department. The fact IC is so adamant about it creates an air of credibility since one would reason that they would not risk destroying their reputation by being so utterly wrong. Then again turning a profit is a powerful urge and IC definitely had a vested financial interest in hyping the information but keeping it on the premium side until someone else in the media broke it open.
2. UNC's denial maybe simply a smokescreen to get through the weekend and make it official on Monday. If anything is consistent will all the stories out there it is the notion of sensivitity towards John Bunting and homecoming weekend in general. As the ESPN article states that officials want the focus to be on the game and the weekend festivities not on the coaching search. The forcefulness of the denial is the intriguing part since you would assume UNC would simply deny via a simple "no comment" rather than shooting down the whole thing as being inaccurate. One has to wonder if Kirschner decided to lay a smackdown on Inside Carolina in particular for their behavior and issued the denial. The other side of that is that Kirschner is not going to knowingly lie to the media in his denial and what he said in combination with the ESPN sources leads me to speculate that the sides are working towards finishing the deal, wait through the weekend to allow Bunting one final homecoming game in the limelight, and then announce on Monday. There has to be great care given here since the moment Butch Davis is announced Bunting becomes a total afterthought for the fans who will the refer Davis as the head coach.
So at this point it looks like Inside Carolina and the WSJ jumped the gun a bit either of there own volition(less likely) or because whoever they were using as a source cast it in that light. The problem for IC is they have a huge meatball hanging out there in that they have a specialized front page splash saying Davis has been hired. In short they are going to look like total idiots should it all fall apart and to some extent already do. I also think UNC's denial is correct in that negotiations are still ongoing and there is obviously a move to keep this under wraps until Monday of next week at the earliest to permit the team and the game to be the primary focus.
And finally, may I ask, what the heck is wrong with the schools in this area that they seem utterly clueless in their ability to carry out a coaching search and keep a lid on the information? This is the fourth coaching search where incorrect stories have hit the media jet stream about a coach coming to either UNC or NC State only to have it turn out to be untrue.
Does it happen like this at other schools or is it just the ones in the Triangle?
Author's Note: Kudos to David Glenn, again, for getting it right and not only bringing forth a source but one with a name.