PINEHURST, N.C. -- I vividly remember hearing from my North Carolina friends in 2007 when the Tar Heels hired Paul Hilton "Butch" Davis as their head football coach. They were excited because, after nine long years under Carl Torbush (17-18) and John Bunting (27-45), the Tar Heels were finally going to get serious about the college football business.
Now understand that North Carolina, despite its splendid reputation as a basketball school, has had its moments in football:
• In 1946 Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice and Art Weiner, both in the College Football Hall of Fame, led the Tar Heels to a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
• Bill Dooley, brother of Vince, won three ACC championships at North Carolina in the 1970s.
• Dick Crum won an ACC championship in 1980 thanks to a defensive end named Lawrence Taylor. His 1981 team went 10-2 with the only ACC loss coming to Clemson (10-8), which went on to win the national championship.
• Mack Brown spent 10 years in Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels to a No. 5 national ranking in 1997 before losing an epic showdown with No. 2 Florida State. That 10-1 team was relegated to the Gator Bowl and Brown soon departed for Texas.
A coach once told me that his dream job was North Carolina because "you could win eight games a year without working very hard. And if you win eight games a year at North Carolina you could coach there for the rest of your life."
It all seems so ironic now. Over the past 12 months those same North Carolina friends who celebrated Davis' arrival have had just about all of the college football business they can stand. They have seen Davis bring top tier talent to Chapel Hill, which is exactly what he was hired to do. North Carolina had nine picks in the 2011 NFL Draft, more than any other school.
But along with that exceptional talent there has been a series of world class embarrassments for a university that always has taken pride in doing things the right way.
Remember that in 1961 UNC Chancellor William Aycock forced popular basketball coach Frank McGuire to resign after a series of scandals that included charges of point shaving. Aycock hired 30-year-old Dean Smith and told him not to worry about the wins and the losses. Smith's No. 1 job was to run a clean program. And he did, winning 879 games and graduating 96 percent of his players over the next 36 seasons. Smith also won two national championships and went to 11 Final Fours without even a whiff of a rules violation. Smith's value system set the standard for the entire athletic department.
As the 2011 season approaches, athletics at North Carolina is enduring its greatest embarrassment in a half century. The football program stands charged with nine allegations that include academic fraud by a tutor, players receiving impermissible benefits exceeding $27,000 and a former coach (John Blake) steering talented players to an agent, the late Gary Wichard. One player, Greg Little, had 93 parking tickets. The tutor, Jennifer Wiley, was charged with paying almost $1,800 in parking tickets. The mere fact that an athlete believed he could get away with 93 tickets smacks of an entitlement mentality that most alumni find distasteful.
When I met with Davis in Pinehurst, N.C. on Monday he was embarrassed. Frankly, he should be.
Since last September, when the news first broke and North Carolina sat 14 players for the opener against LSU, Davis has been using the all-too-familiar "I didn't know" defense. He didn't know that Blake, known in the business as a top recruiter who once worked for Wichard, was steering players to that agent and still getting paid. He didn't know that Wiley, who tutored Davis' children before coming to work for the football program, was involved in all kinds of ethical issues.
"Look, you can't minimize what happened and I deeply regret that it happened on my watch. I'm the head football coach. I accept responsibility," said Davis. "My job now is to do everything I can to make sure that all of the facts get out. My job is to work with our administration to identify the problems and to make sure nothing like this happens again. And our administration has been great."
Davis was not named directly in any charges when the NCAA sent out its Notice of Allegations in June. He will have to attend when North Carolina goes before the Committee On Infractions for a hearing on Oct. 28. The committee is bound to ask two very important questions:
• Davis had known Blake for more than 30 years when he hired him. How could he not know what the guy was all about?
• And how does a tutor, who was once his personal employee, get to the point where she even considers paying parking tickets and buying airline tickets for players? How does that happen? "I understand mistakes were made and things were not done the right way. I understand that this has been hanging over our program for a while now," said Davis, who has also promised to release his cell phone records which have been requested by the Raleigh News & Observer. "But I promise you, we are going to get through this and be better and stronger than we were before."
ACC commissioner John Swofford is a former football player at North Carolina, where he was a Morehead Scholar. He served as athletic director at North Carolina for 18 years (1980-97) before he became the conference commissioner. Swofford does not comment specifically on NCAA cases, but it is clear that he's not happy about this one.
"It doesn't happen often in our conference but when it does, it's the thing about my job I dislike the most," Swofford said. "If you look at the history of Carolina, it is very good when it comes to rules compliance."
Exactly. But a bunch of the power brokers at North Carolina gave Butch Davis $2 million a year because they wanted to get into the college football business. Well, now they have.
And here's the ultimate irony from where I sit. Davis was hired at Miami in 1995 to clean up a program that had gotten totally out of control. He brought in great players but tightened up the discipline and totally changed Miami's renegade reputation. After an 11-1 season in 2000, Butch became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Davis left the Miami program in such good shape that Larry Coker won the national championship in 2001 and lost in double overtime (to Ohio State) in the national championship game of 2002. What Davis did in six years at Miami was one of the best coaching jobs I've ever seen.
The only question that remains is whether Davis will be around to help clean up the mess after this season. Part of North Carolina's defense is that, unlike Ohio State, it took decisive action when it learned of the problem. Blake, the lead recruiter, quickly was fired and made the scapegoat (he will probably play the role of Ohio State's Jim Tressel, the rogue coach, in this case.) The tutor was gone before this story broke. The school self-imposed penalties. Seven players sat for the entire season.
Will it be enough to avoid further sanctions and further embarrassment for the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill? The future of the football program -- and Butch Davis -- hang on the answer to that question.
'The Tony Barnhart Show' will return on Aug. 30 on CBS Sports Network.