Eight days before preseason training cam begins, UNC has dismissed head coach Butch Davis, ending his four-year tenure at Carolina. To say this is sudden is an extreme understatement; as of the ACC Media day on Monday Davis was discussing the full support of the administration he felt he had. So what changed?
The Board of Trustees, for one thing. There was a change in leadership, with Wade Hargrove taking over as chairman and a number of new members joining the board. This was the first meeting of the trustees since late March, and it appears either the support changed with new members or the full notice of allegations was enough to sway the opinions of key people. There were rumors Davis was fired in advance of the board meeting, but I at least am unsure of the timeline. Chancellor Thorp is quoted in the press release as saying this is not the result of any change in the NCAA investigation, though, and the only recent events have been Davis's promise to release his full phone records and the NCAA announcements involving Georgia Tech, LSU, and Ohio State.
That last bit, involving the Buckeyes, may have played a role, especially in changing the minds of various trustees. OSU's (relatively) quick firing of Jim Tressel seems to have placated an NCAA investigation. Of course, UNC did the same with rapid suspensions and the quid firing of John Blake. This latest move, if anything, undermines the Tar Heels' case that Blake was a rogue coach, by stating that Davis was also to blame, even if only in a managerial capacity.
You can't help but look at this as a stupid, panicked move on the part of whoever did the firing, though. It is eight days before training camp begins, and the administration has stood by the coach for a full year. An entire recruiting class was signed under the promise that UNC was standing by their coach and the program would survive the current scandal intact; it only hurts the school's integrity to suddenly go back on that promise.
So where does this leave Carolina? In the short term, this football season looks to be pretty much destroyed. The associate head coach, Sam Pittman, has been in the position for less than a week. The coordinators have been there longer, but will spend the season putting out feelers for permanent jobs elsewhere, while the players will be confused by the completely different direction the administration has taken. Dick Baddour's job is as perilous as it's ever been. If the administration was this unhappy with what Davis has done to fire him immediately, they can't be too happy with the man who both hired him and stood by him for a full year. (People on Twitter are saying similar things about Chancellor Thorp, but the football program is a much smaller part of a chancellor's purview. He seems to be doing well in all other aspects of managing the university, and I can't see him being removed unless a scandal somehow implicates him personally, and it won't.)
In the longer term, well, I don't know what type of coach UNC will get now. The facilities are still good, and the potential is there, but the rashness of this firing has got to make a lot of coaches wary. Presumably a hiring will not come until after the season. Should the year go well, hiring a coordinator or Pittman will be tempting, and just as possibly lead to a repeat of the Carl Torbush years. If it goes poorly, well, waiting for a currently employed coach to finish the season leaves a lot of time with no one truly at the head of the program.
No matter how you look at it, this decision seems a little short of disastrous. It won't ameliorate the NCAA investigation in the least, and it leaves the football program in chaos. Where Carolina goes from here is anybody's guess.