Sirius radio host Bomani Jones, in a special to ESPN.com, offers his take on what Butch Davis and Dick Baddour had to say in the wake of Greg Little, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn having their college eligibility wiped out by the NCAA. Let's just say, Jones is not going to be invited to any Inside Carolina message board gatherings anytime soon. Then again, probably neither will I.
While announcing that Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn -- none of whom should last beyond the third round of the 2011 NFL draft -- would not return to the field for the Tar Heels, Baddour and Davis clung to their shared cluelessness and newfound enlightenment. That enlightenment prompted UNC to overhaul its oversight of players, which will now include a sign-out sheet for players who go out of town to make sure they're not in untoward places. High school teachers, who can't even get kids to come straight back to class with their hall passes, just laughed in unison.
The solution, at least in Chapel Hill, is to create a system that makes it more efficient to be lied to so, if the NCAA calls again, coaches can say they tried their best.
What comedy, even if it was predictable from two men with their careers hanging in the balance. But it was even more comical considering what UNC's known for -- producing more NBA first-rounders than any other school -- why it hired Davis, and why anyone but football diehards know his name.
Davis was the sheriff of Miami's football program from 1995-2000. With a no-nonsense attitude and low-risk recruiting strategy, he brought The U back from the wreckage of a Pell Grant scandal, forced questionable influences like rapper/booster Luther Campbell away from the program and put the team back on the map without all the negative connotations it carried for a decade. And we're supposed to believe he did it all by accident?
It's unlikely that's true. If Davis knew what to do in his first head-coaching gig, one with an open locker room and located in a city that attracts shady characters looking for easy money, then he knew how to run a clean program in Chapel Hill. Just as he knew, being far removed from South Florida's fertile recruiting, he needed a right-hand man like Blake who could get results (such as Austin, a top-10 recruit).
"I didn't know," with a side of "I learned my lesson," was the best he could work with. Though he works in a bottom-line industry, Davis has faith that ignorance and incompetence play better with the public than honesty. A coach has no excuses for player mistakes and losses, but pending NCAA sanctions should be dressed in the prettiest packing possible.
Davis' five year stint at Miami leads to a valid criticism regarding the present situation. If Davis was able to clean house at Miami, recruit players who are seemingly on half the teams in the NFL right now and do all of this in a city where agents abound then what in blue blazes happened in Chapel Hill? One would assume that guarding the hen house in Chapel Hill would be a tad easier than Miami due to the perceived lower fox population. Not so as it turns out. It would seem Davis and Baddour did not do enough to shore up the sea wall in preparation for a coming storm maybe because they naively believed no storm was really coming? UNC had no less than six players smart NFL folks thought would be valuable draft picks. Two of those, Quinn and Austin, were shoe-in first rounders. Davis has said he cannot keep track of 27,000 students and some have argued that keeping track of 100 players is too much to expect. How about six? Or two?
Jones points to UNC basketball as evidence that the athletic department knows what they are doing when it comes to potential high profile draft picks. True but I think there are certain factors which aid UNC in handling NBA draft picks more easily. First of all, UNC has extensive NBA connections which allow them to glean information for their players. Do those connections mean players won't be tempted to take an improper benefit? No, but in the NBA I think the stakes are different. With the NBA there is a rookie wage scale and the take for agents is probably less than it is in the NFL were a top five pick could sign for a ridiculous sum of guaranteed money. In UNC basketball, the sense of family and the close relationships between Dean Smith then and Roy Williams now means players are less likely to make moves without consulting the head coach..well..unless you are Danny Green or Ed Davis' brief connection to an agent last season. Generally speaking, UNC basketball players allow Roy Williams to guide the process which leaves UNC's basketball office in more control of the situation.
In the UNC football program, did Davis engage with his players enough they put the same trust in him or better yet felt enough loyalty to not screw the program over? Obviously I cannot speak to what kind of relationship Davis had with Austin, Little or Quinn. I imagine it is more difficult in football to develop the kinds of relationships Roy with his basketball players because there are 85 scholarship players. It is more likely that players are close to their position coaches than the head coach. Since two of the players involved here are on the defensive line and John Blake was their position coach, I'll let you do the math. Given that not so insignificant revelation, you have to wonder if Blake knew they were receiving gifts and if so...well..let's not go there now. The question the NCAA is going to ask is whether Davis had a need to know these activities were happening? Did he take the necessary steps to properly engage these particular players to ensure they understood the rules and monitor them as much as possible?
Now, I am well aware you can lead a horse to water but drinking is up to the horse. For all I know UNC did preach to players about these things and it fell on deaf ears. I have a sinking feeling that is not the case. The fact they are now talking about a sign-out sheets and extending agent education to freshman and sophomores indicates they were not giving this issue a wide enough view. That Baddour and Davis are talking about changes means they could have been doing more but failed to see that until it was too late. Hindsight is a great teacher but in the case of Davis he had plenty of hindsight from Miami which seeming went untapped.
That takes us back to Jones' main point. Davis' accomplishments at Miami should have meant UNC had a grasp on issues like this from day one. Yes, agent activity has intensified in the past ten years but I believe Davis could have done a better job in preparing for what could go wrong with Austin or Quinn. It is almost like Davis let his guard down or somehow concluded UNC would not be subject to the same agent pressure you would expect at other schools. In some ways UNC's attitude in this is like me going to one of those well appointed dinners where rules are etiquette are in play and I use the wrong fork for my salad or use my fingers to pick up a morsel of food. For whatever reason it appears UNC did not fully consider the ramifications of having high profile NFL picks or give it the same attention they obviously afford in basketball.
When Davis was hired, his work to convert Miami from a dirty football program was Exhibit A-M in dissuading any fears UNC fans had that bringing him and big boy football to UNC would result in NCAA violations. At the time it sounded very reasonable because it happen to be reasonable, logical and the truth. That being the case, can someone please explain how we ended up here? This is so ironic it hurts. Davis goes to Miami and cleans up a program so dirty it was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a call to give it the death penalty. Then Davis comes to UNC and within four years a school without a peep of NCAA trouble in five decades and three straight "substantial compliance" designations is staring at the business end of an NCAA enforcement shotgun.
Whether Davis knew anything or not, this irony alone is almost enough to drive you off the deep end.