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UNC Football: What if Marvin Austin had never tweeted?

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A question that will haunt me until my final breath.

Duke v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

“I live in Club LIV so I get the tenant rate... bottles comin’ like its a giveaway”

For a program cursed by, among other things, “the tick”, Dick Baddour never returning Pete Carroll’s phone calls, and Larry Fedora comparing CTE to the downfall of America, a (possibly) innocuous tweet of Rick Ross lyrics did more damage to Carolina football (and the athletic program as a whole over a protracted seven-year investigation) than did a football coach literally dying of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

I remember where I was on July 15, 2010. Having just graduated from UNC in May, I was working out my lease waiting tables at Spanky’s in Chapel Hill. After work, I walked to Chapel Hill Sportswear and bought a Quan Sturdivant jersey, as they had a one-day half-off sale. Driving up Martin Luther King Blvd., I saw the tweet while sitting at a red light:

“NCAA investigating UNC football.”

At the time, the Tar Heels were on an upward trajectory under Butch Davis. After consecutive 8-5 seasons, the Heels were expected to lose some studs from the nation’s 6th-ranked defense to the NFL: Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Austin, Deunta Williams, Da’Norris Searcy, and Kendric Burney were all at the peak of their draft stock, and reigning second-team All-American Robert Quinn, future top-10 draft pick Quinton Coples, and names such as Kevin Reddick, Charles Brown, Michael McAdoo, and Tydreke Powell were also on the roster.

The Heels were a trendy pick to win the ACC, had a marquee opener against LSU in Atlanta, and were primed for greatness.

Holden Thorp and Dick Baddour got on stage with a poorly-planned press conference, apologized for the embarrassment that Carolina football put on the university, and the rest, as they say was history.

  • Austin, Quinn, and Greg Little were ruled permanently ineligible, and later permanently dissociated from the university. Austin was found to have accepted benefits totaling $5,642, Quinn and Little accepted gifts. (Sidebar: Baddour encouraged players to turn over their cell phones to the NCAA. To this day, he should be held legally liable for such bad advice.)
  • Kendric Burney (six games) and Deunta Williams (four) were suspended for what ultimately amounted to sleeping on Chris Hawkins’ couch.
  • Michael McAdoo filed a lawsuit against the NCAA for an injunction to lift his ineligibility, and it was denied.
  • Eight more players, including longtime NFL running back Shaun Draughn, were suspended. Sturdivant and Carter were cleared to play the night before the LSU game.
  • Defensive line coach John Blake was forced to resign.

The Heels lost that game, 30-24, and lost to Georgia Tech by the same score the next week. Behind an offense led by T.J. Yates and Dwight Jones, the team had its moments— ending the curse in Charlottesville with a 44-10 beatdown, upsetting Florida State on the road, and beating Tennessee in overtime in the Music City Bowl.

All appeared to be moving forward, as Butch Davis showed up in Pinehurst, NC for ACC Kickoff in 2011.

Two weeks later, he was unexpectedly dismissed by Thorp.

UNC Football: What could have been?

There’s an article by Mark Schlabach floating around the ESPN archives titled “the team that could’ve stopped Cam Newton.” That team was North Carolina. The offense struggled in 2009, but behind a senior Yates, thrived without half of the defense. Put those two things together, and one doesn’t have to squint too hard to see, at worst, an ACC contender— and per Schlabach, a team that could’ve contended for a national championship.

Davis’ 2009 recruiting class was the best to come to Carolina in the internet era, finishing 12th on 247, and as high as 8th on other sites. It’s safe to assume that the architect of the early-2000’s Miami dynasty would’ve continued to attract top talent to Chapel Hill.

Davis, currently the head coach at FIU, is a year younger than Mack Brown. It doesn’t take Carolina Blue-tinted glasses to see that the Heels could’ve been a top-10 team for the past decade.

UNC Basketball: They got dragged into this, too.

Go look at Roy Williams’ recruiting efforts pre-2012, and then after 2017. He signed Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, and Theo Pinson in 2014 for the 10th-ranked class that year, and otherwise barely sniffed the top 20. The list of elite recruits the Heels missed during the investigation was staggering— and the fact that they cut down the nets in ‘17 remains one of the more underrated coaching jobs we’ll ever see.

You can’t convince me that whiffing on a multitude of top targets didn’t cost the Heels a shot at another title or two in the 2010’s.

In the wake of being cleared in October of 2017, the Heels signed Coby White and Nassir Little, their first consensus five-stars since the 2014 class. They’ve since attracted elite talents such as Cole Anthony, and next year’s #2 class, as the NCAA shadow no longer looms.

Some positives

Holden Thorp was massively unqualified for his post as Chancellor at the University of North Carolina. Without getting into too many details, the issues in the School of Arts & Sciences that led to the seven-year investigation started ON HIS WATCH when he headed up that program.

Dick Baddour, a longtime company man, was promoted to replace John Swofford as Athletic Director when Swofford took the ACC Commissioner job in 1997. Part of the “Carolina Way” trope that lasted for way too long, Baddour was a promoted-from-within hire who helped continue the institutional rot that the corporate inbreeding of leadership tends to expose.

Baddour famously cow-towed to Dean Smith’s desire for basketball to be the breadwinner at Carolina, letting Mack Brown walk after the ‘97 football season— his second consecutive top-10 finish (speaking of another “what if”). He hired Matt Doherty to replace Bill Guthridge after overtures to Roy Williams, George Karl, and other people with UNC DNA turned the job down. Similarly, he tabbed unproven NFL position coach John Bunting for the football job in 2001 after ignoring Carroll, turning down Mark Richt, and God only knows who else.

Ultimately, the hires of Williams and Davis were booster-driven, and Baddour was asked to take a back seat in each courtship. After his resignation, the Heels brought in outsider Bubba Cunningham, who has served incredibly well as AD.

It still hurts.

Longtime readers of this website will know that I grew up on Carolina football, and all other things take a backseat. The what-ifs will always haunt any fan of the program, as the 2010 team took what would ultimately be an 11-2 LSU team to the brink without 10 starters. Eventual national champion Auburn beat that same team by seven points at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

If Marvin Austin hadn’t tweeted, I’m convinced that the 2010s would have been the golden age for the Gridiron Heels— if the school’s administration didn’t find another way to screw it up.