National Columnist

Those closest to coaches last to know they need to be fired


This took too long, and everyone outside of Chapel Hill knows it. Butch Davis had to be fired, and he had to be fired months ago. Everyone knew it. Everyone outside of Chapel Hill, anyway.

The people who run the University of North Carolina were the last to know, and by firing Davis on Wednesday, they set their football program back years. Not a single year -- years. The Tar Heels are toast for this season, which means recruiting is toast for next season. And from there, it's a vicious cycle.

By the time UNC emerges from this mess -- overseen by Butch Davis, made infinitely worse by athletics director Dick Baddour and those above him -- it'll be 2015 or 2020. That's how bad this one is going to hurt.

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But that's not my problem. Not yours, either, unless you're a UNC fan, and to you, I offer my condolences. I've been hard on UNC during this scandal, but it wasn't personal. It wasn't a UNC thing -- it was a Butch Davis thing. He's gone, as he should be, and that's that. Time to move on.

But it's also time to reflect, and not just on North Carolina. Let's reflect on Ohio State and Tennessee, too, because there are parallels here.

For covering up the violations of his best players and lying about it to his bosses, OSU football coach Jim Tressel had to be fired. Had to be. Everyone outside of Columbus knew it, and after several stupefying months, the people above Tressel finally figured it out. This season, the Buckeyes will be lucky to win eight games.

That was Ohio State. Farther south, for lying to NCAA investigators about an otherwise minor NCAA violation, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl had to be fired. Again, everyone outside of town knew it. The people who run that school were the last to know, and this season, the basketball team will pay dearly.

If the Volunteers break even this season on the basketball court, it would be ... well, it wouldn't be. It won't be. It won't happen. That's going to be an awful team, and Bruce Pearl isn't the only one to blame. His AD is to blame. His president. Everyone who stupidly hoped Pearl could survive, dragging this thing out to its eventual breaking point, is to blame for how bad this season will be for Tennessee.

Just like at North Carolina. And Ohio State.

There's not a manual for stuff like this. When a coach oversees or commits or even lies about violations to the point that he has to be fired, it's an imprecise thing. It's not like you can go to Google or your public library and look up a situation like the one that claimed Butch Davis, or Tressel, or Pearl. Those were original sins, unique little yucky snowflakes that called for the coach's termination.

How can you tell? You just can. It's along the same lines as something Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said in 1964 about hard-core pornography: "I know it when I see it."

What had happened in tandem at North Carolina -- an academic scandal on one front, an agent's runner working as his recruiting coordinator on another -- was so bad that Butch Davis had to be fired. I wrote that on Sept. 7, almost 11 months before he finally was fired.

How did I know? I don't know. I just did. I know it when I see it.

What happened at Tennessee -- Pearl lying to the NCAA about a recruiting violation, then calling the recruit's family to suggest they lie, too -- was so bad that Pearl had to be fired. I wrote that on Sept. 16, more than six months before he was finally pushed out.

How did I know? I don't know. I just did. I know it when I see it.

Same at Ohio State. Tressel had to be fired. I wrote it on March 21, more than two months before he was finally forced out.

I know it when I see it, and now that Butch Davis is gone, I see only one more big-time college coach out there who has to be fired. Not "might" be fired. Not "could" be fired.

Has to be fired.

Oregon's Chip Kelly. Has to be fired.

Whether he was the one who did it, was the one who approved it, or simply was the one who allowed it from negligence, Kelly's football program at Oregon wrote a check for $25,000 to a bogus scout in Texas -- then landed that scout's best player, running back Lache Seastrunk. The scout sent a batch of recruiting info to Oregon to justify his fee, but the info was borderline useless -- names and number of players who in some cases were already playing at other colleges.

Chip Kelly hasn't sufficiently explained how that happened, because he can't sufficiently explain how that happened. There is no explanation, beyond the fact that he did something -- or approved of something, or allowed something from negligence -- that must be penalized by his termination.

Oregon administrators don't want to deal with it, and Oregon fans don't like hearing it, because Chip Kelly is a big-time winner. Hey, it happens. It happened to Jim Tressel at Ohio State. And to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. And now to Butch Davis at North Carolina.

The question isn't whether Chip Kelly will be fired. He will be. How do I know? I know it when I see it.

The people at Oregon are the last ones to see it, but they'll see it eventually. People like that always do.

And always too late.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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