Sunday, December 4, 2011

Clemson coach Swinney can't be this naive

I hate spin. That's when a public figure responds to a media question with the most convenient answer, rather than the most accurate one.

But I'd rather believe Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was spinning Sunday night when he said he didn't have "any doubts'' offensive coordinator Chad Morris would stay, barring an offer to be head coach of a BCS football program.

I believe Swinney when he says there were weeks of discussions to increase Morris' compensation. I believe Swinney when he says Morris' goal is to be a head coach in a BCS conference.

But when someone as dynamic as new Ohio State coach  Urban Meyer comes calling, with the resources to pay a lot of money, you listen. Morris certainly sounded like he was assessing his options, following Clemson's 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.

Three years ago Morris was a Texas high school coach. Now he's among the hottest commodities in college football. He's that innovative. As I've written frequently, Morris applies a basketball concept -- forcing tempo -- to a football problem.

He believes anything short of 80 offensive snaps per game fails his quota. The idea is to exhaust and confuse the opponent.

He has great toys to play with in Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen. But to suggest that retaining Morris was a layup, well...

At best, it's spin. Sure hope it wasn't naive.

-- Rick Bonnell

The football principle that got Clemson back

Former Carolina Panthers general manager Bill Polian used to say there's a strikingly high correlation between which of two teams has fewer passing attempts and which of those teams wins their football matchup.

I can't imagine a better illustration of that than Saturday's ACC championship game.

The best thing Clemson does this season -- offensively or defensively -- is throw the ball. Tajh Boyd is the best quarterback in the ACC (despite some recent down games). Sammy Watkins is the ACC's best wide receiver and Dwayne Allen is the ACC's best tight end. DeAndre Hopkins is a big-time No. 2 receiver.

So in beating Virginia Tech Saturday 38-10, Clemson threw the ball 14 fewer times than the Hokies.

You run the ball because you can. You throw the ball because you must. Saturday, after scoring 21 points in 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, the Tigers had the luxury of running the ball.

You run with a lead to consume time. You throw with a deficit to conserve time. Running lowers your risk of a turnover. Throwing increases it.

So Clemson tailback Andre Ellington gained 125 yards, a 6.2 yards-per-carry average. Virginia Tech tailback David Wilson -- among the nation's best this season -- gained 32 yards and averaged 2.9 yards.

Wilson wasn't bad, he just never to got a chance. Clemson bunched up in the middle early (the football term is "in the box''), daring the Hokies to throw. Then Clemson had that third quarter explosion, and Virginia Tech running the ball became moot. Wilson got just 11 carries. As Hokies coach Frank Beamer said, the Tigers took his team out of what they do best.

That's good football, and somewhat unexpected the way the Tigers played of late. And that's a big reason why this team righted itself to go to the Orange Bowl.

--- Nobody asked me, but....

I'll be going back to the NBA beat now. I've enjoyed covering the unexpectedly successful Clemson football season.

I particularly enjoyed the coordinators. Chad Morris and Kevin Steele are different, yet similar. Chad is hyper. Kevin is reserved and intellectual. And when I parachuted into the Clemson beat, each one was helpful, articulate and sharp. I greatly enjoyed my chats with both.

Here's the contrast to all that: While Clemson was winning a conference title for the first time in whenever, freshman tailback Mike Bellamy was suspended for some unreported violation of team rules.

Not a single head in the press box jerked when it was announced that Bellamy wouldn't play. That's because he's consistently been high-maintenance.

I've seen these guys (the Panthers' Steve Smith comes to mind). They have just enough talent to believe they live by different rules.

I don't know whether Bellamy has run out of chances. It's no longer particularly on my radar, since I'm going back to covering the NBA.

But no matter how much talent he has, the coaches have to assess the damage Bellamy does to team chemistry. At some point, anyone is more trouble than he's worth.

-- Rick Bonnell

Friday, December 2, 2011

ACC championship game returning to Charlotte

ACC commissioner John Swofford announced today that the league's football championship game will return to Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium in 2012 and '13.

Swofford made the announcement on the eve of this year's game between Clemson and Virginia Tech in Charlotte, which has been sold out for several weeks. The game was also in Charlotte in 2010, also a sellout.

"I think it's pretty obvious that both last year and this year are tremendous successes in terms of this game," said Swofford. "They're back-to-back sellouts, and that's certainly very, very important to us."

Swofford said the decision to return to Charlotte was unanimous within the league and that the game was not opened up for bidding to other cities. The game was held in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., before coming to Charlotte. -- David Scott

Clemson coach fires back at Steve Spurrier

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney agrees with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier that 'South Carolina is not Clemson.'

The quote came from South Carolina play-by-play man Todd Ellis, who said at the end of South Carolina's 34-13 win over Clemson Saturday: “As coach Spurrier says, we might not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain’t Clemson, folks.”

The quote was then attributed to Spurrier on the Twitter account of South Carolina's football office (@GamecockFB).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why not LSU-Bama II?

I just watched a Ravens-49ers game that was all it was billed to be -- close, tense, compelling, entertaining.

So why shouldn't the national championship game be a rematch of LSU versus Alabama?

Understand I have no stake in all this. Couldn't care whether the Crimson Tide or Temple shows up at the Superdome to (presumably) face LSU. My point is, as laughably contrived as the BCS system is, there should at least be some effort to put the best two teams on the field.

Until somebody beats LSU (Arkansas?) or until somebody other than the Tigers knock off Bama (Auburn?), these are the teams with the best two resumes. And yet, I keep hearing this bizarre argument that the lack of scoring in their faceoff invalidates a rematch.


Let me get this straight: A 47-45 game is compelling, but a 6-3 game isn't. When was the ability to stop an opponent from scoring any less valid a strategy than the ability to score?

An analogy: Remember when North Carolina ran the Four Corners in that prehistoric time when college basketball had no shot clock? Is someone saying the Tar Heels didn't belong in the NCAA tournament because playing keep-away with a lead wasn't valid? I'm glad the NCAA changed the rule. But that doesn't mean Dean Smith wasn't an innovator for giving his team the best chance to win.

Until there's evidence to the contrary, LSU and Alabama look like the two teams most deserving to play in a national championship game. The idea that they shouldn't be matched because (1.) they play in the same division of the same conference or (2.) they played the equivalent of a masterful pitching duel, is no reason to avoid a rematch.

-- Rick Bonnell

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Wake's win, Clemson's fall from grace

Two quick thoughts on the week that was in ACC football:

--- Wake Forest's 31-10 blowout of Maryland was important to the Deacons' post-season plans on multiple levels.

Obviously Wake needed to win one more game to get to six wins and be bowl-eligible. They had lost three straight going into the Maryland game, and wanted no part of the stress of knowing they'd have to beat Vanderbilt with the post-season at stake.

There's also a side-benefit to the Deacons clinching a bowl against Maryland. It means the Deacons finish with a 5-3 ACC record, and that means they can't be leap-frogged by North Carolina in the conference's bowl pecking order.

According to Wake sports information director Steve Shutt. the ACC's rules work this way: A team with one fewer ACC victory can go to a more prestigious bowl, but not two fewer.

The Deacons finish with five wins. The Tar Heels are 2-5, so they can finish no better than 3-5 with a victory over Duke.

Considering the comparative size of the fan bases, it was quite possible a bowl would pick the Heels over the Deacons, given that choice.

It would be no shock if Wake ends up playing its bowl game in Charlotte.

-- Now, about those tail-spinning Clemson Tigers....

Think how close the Tigers are to a three-game losing streak, following an 8-0 start. Losses at Georgia Tech and N.C. State surround a three-point home victory over Wake. The Deacons led that game by 14 and it took a last-play field goal for Clemson to avoid overtime.

This reminds me of that famous line by boxer Mike Tyson. Some reporter mentioned a "plan'' Tyson's next opponent was conceiving, and Tyson smugly replied, "Everybody has a plan until they get hit.''

Clemson has been hit, and the plan seems dented. This was always a team carried by its offense. They're no longer playing with the turnover-free/ third-down converting efficiency of those first eight games.

Obviously injuries hurt them against the Wolfpack. They played without their superstar (freshman Sammy Watkins) and the starting left offensive tackle. But the ease with which a shaky N.C. State team pushed them around has to be rattling, entering Saturday's rivalry game at South Carolina, and then the ACC title game Dec. 3 in Charlotte.

Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like a huge favorite to reach the BCS. Now it's far from so certain.

-- Rick Bonnell

Friday, November 18, 2011

So predictable

I said on ESPN 730 in Charlotte Wednesday that there are two things you can always count on in the ACC:

North Carolina will consistently underachieve, relative to its football talent, and Wake Forest will consistently over-achieve, relative to its football talent.

The Tar Heels proved my point, falling behind 24-7 to a Virginia Tech team of comparable ability. Now it's Wake's job to whip up on Maryland at home Saturday and become bowl eligible.

The Tar Heels are 2-5 in the ACC. The Deacons are 4-3 in the ACC. Does anyone think the Deacs have more talent this season than the Heels? Come on. Jim Grobe turns nothing into something and the Heels turn something into nothing.

Clemson's game at Va. Tech seems immaterial

I just covered the UNC-Virginia Tech game, the second time I've been to Blacksburg this fall. I was also there the night Clemson dismantled the Hokies.

I think it's inevitable that there will be a Clemson-Virginia Tech rematch for the ACC title game Dec. 3 in Charlotte. Clemson fans shouldn't put much weight in how easily the Tigers won. 23-3, at Lane Stadium Oct. 1.

Hey, I'm not saying Clemson has lost its mojo or that the Hokies have morphed into some super-team. I am saying that Virginia Tech is clearly better than they showed that night against the Tigers and that Clemson has looked less than dominant of late.

The biggest difference for the Hokies is quarterback Logan Thomas. He looked indecisive, if not intimidated, in that first Clemson game. Now he looks like an upper-level ACC quarterback, and the X-factor is his size (6-6 and 254 pounds). I would never trade Tajh Boyd for Thomas, but to dismiss Thomas as a playmaker if foolish.

I keep hearing people saying Clemson has a cake-walk to the Orange Bowl. I don't buy it. I think Clemson-Va. Tech on a neutral field is a wide-open game, and will be great fun to cover.

-- Rick Bonnell

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Clemson keeps playing with fire

Interesting statistic: Clemson's football team has recovered from a deficit of 14 or more points to win a game nine times in the program's history.

Three of those escapes -- versus Auburn, Maryland and now Wake Forest -- occurred this season.

You can look at this two ways: Either, as the sign in the football complex reads, the Tigers "Never, ever, ever, ever give up.'' Or you might wonder if the Tigers developed a false sense of security about how long they can afford to let opponents hang around.

This is a team with a sometimes-spectacular offense and an often-unreliable defense. They have managed to reach 30 or more points in eight of their 10 games so far.

If I were a Clemson fan contemplating a likely rematch with Virginia Tech in the Dec. 3 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, here's what would concern me: In the 8-0 start, the Tigers were strikingly efficient in avoiding turnovers and penalties. They had roughly half as many turnovers and penalties as their collective opponent.

That's changed rather starkly of late. They had more turnovers and penalties than Georgia Tech in their one loss. Then the coaches spent the bye week harping on precision and ball-security.

So what happens? They have three turnovers against Wake Forest (to none for the Deacons) and six penalties (to one for the Deacons).

The Tigers really can't afford to put more pressure on the defense by stalling out drives with penalties or by flat-out giving away possessions. You don't want to test that against an always-aggressive Virginia Tech defense with a BCS bowl bid at stake.

-- Rick Bonnell

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Charlotte's ACC football title game sold out

The ACC football championship game, scheduled for Dec. 3 at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium, is sold out, The Observer has learned. The league will make an official announcement of the sellout Wednesday afternoon.

It's the third time in the game's seven-year history -- and second consecutive time since it's been in Charlotte -- that the game has sold all its tickets.

The only seats remaining are the 10,000 each allotted to each participating school. Neither the league's Atlantic nor Coastal division championships have been clinched yet, although Clemson can win the Atlantic title with a victory against Wake Forest on Saturday. Coastal leader Virginia Tech plays an important game against Georgia Tech on Thursday.

Last season's championship game, played for the first time in Charlotte, was a sellout between Virginia Tech and Florida State. The game was played in Jacksonville and Tampa from 2005-09, and hadn't sold out since 2005's contest between Florida State and Virginia Tech.

"We continue to be encouraged by the enthusiasm that ACC fans have for Charlotte and (Bank of America Stadium)," said ACC commissioner John Swofford. -- David Scott

Monday, November 7, 2011

Clemson OC Morris on ball security

Turnovers had never been a problem for Clemson in winning their first eight games. In fact, they committed about half as many turnovers as their opponents in that span. So there was a clear link between turnovers and a loss when the Tigers gave the ball away four times in a 31-17 fall to Georgia Tech.

A week removed from that loss, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris was still frustrated with those turnovers. He wrote off the last of them -- a desperation pass by Tajh Boyd late. But the miscommunication on a pass route by Sammy Watkins and fumbles by young tailbacks D.J. Howard and Mike Bellamy became huge points of emphasis during Clemson's bye week.

"Two young running backs just (each) put a ball in jeopardy,'' Morris said Monday, while preparing for Saturday's home game against Wake Forest. "We often talk about the space between the ball and the body (when a back is being tackled). You do that and the chances are extremely high the ball will pop out.''

Howard and Bellamy were pushed into action by Andre Ellington's left ankle injury. Morris assured that Ellington is "ready to go. I don't anticipate that being a problem at all'' against Wake Forest.

However that doesn't take the pressure off Howard and Bellamy to start securing the ball.

"It's about discipline. At the point of contact, the ball has got to be close to your bodies,'' Morris said.

Fumbling the ball "will either put you on the bench, wondering why you're not playing, or not. It's a trust factor...understanding how important it is to secure the football.''

-- Rick Bonnell

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Prince of a sack for Shembo

A couple of quick post-game notes off Wake Forest's 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.

-- The pass-rush the Fighting Irish applied to Deacons quarterback Tanner Price was a big factor in Wake going scoreless in the second half. Prince Shembo, a sophomore linebacker from Charlotte's Ardrey Kell High, had one of three sacks on Price.

-- The media grilled Wake coach Jim Grobe pretty thoroughly about his decision to play true freshman Orville Reynolds in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. That sacrificed the option of redshirting Reynolds, as Grobe typically prefers.

Obviously burning a red-shirt nine games into a season is less than ideal. Grobe had hinted Tuesday that he might have no other choice but to play Reynolds if tailback Josh Harris continues to struggle with a strained hamstring. Grobe consulted with Reynolds during the week, and he wanted to play.

Once the trainers shut down Harris for the second half, with Wake down seven points in the fourth quarter, Grobe felt he had little choice but to use Reynolds as a backup to Brandon Pendergrass.

Grobe was emphatic post-game that Reynolds will be used a lot in the Deacons' last three regular-season games. Reynolds is a little guy (5-8 and 175 pounds). He didn't do much against Notre Dame (two carries for five yards and a reception that lost four), but he might be Wake's fastest player.

They'll work him into the offense, and Grobe indicated Tuesday that Reynolds might be a big asset on special teams.

-- Saturday's Wake-Clemson game probably features the ACC's best two wide receivers in the Deacons' Chris Givens and the Tigers' sensational freshman, Sammy Watkins. Both are big-time long ball threats. Watkins is more in-line speed and power. Givens is smaller, but he has great ability to make tacklers miss in the open field.

I plan to write more about these two in this week's Observer, probably on Saturday.

-- Rick Bonnell

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Withers, O'Brien shake hands in pre-game

RALEIGH - After exchanging explosive words earlier this week, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien and North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers shook hands in what appeared to be a friendly greeting 44 minutes before today's scheduled 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Carter-Finley Stadium.

O'Brien walked to midfield and shook Withers' hand. Surrounded by photographers, the coaches spoke briefly, then parted and went back to coach their teams.

Earlier in the week, Withers infuriated O'Brien by saying in a taped radio interview that UNC is the flagship school in the state and that recruits should compare graduation rates because UNC has a different academic environment from N.C. State's.

O'Brien responded by defending N.C. State's academics and criticizing UNC for the NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits and academic fraud that led to allegations of nine major violations against the Tar Heel football program.

But during his interview Thursday after practice, O'Brien also called on fans to be civil Saturday. It appeared that the coaches led the way with that this afternoon.

"As far as our crowd should be, there’d better not be anything in the stands," O'Brien said Thursday. "We have a lot of dignity at this school and we’d better show it. And we can’t lower ourselves to retaliations or fights or anything stupid like that. Our people have to be there in spirit of the game and root like crazy and play hard, just as we’re going to play hard in the game. But after the game, hey, the game’s over. Move on."

Ken Tysiac.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Withers focuses on pride in UNC

CHAPEL HILL - Everett Withers now says he was merely trying to express his pride in the University of North Carolina, not insult N.C. State.

After practice today, interim football coach Withers was asked about comments he made that aired Wednesday on 99.9 The Fan. In the Wednesday comments, Withers had compared graduation rates for athletes and football players at the two schools and said there is a different "educational environment" at UNC.

He focused more on praising UNC this afternoon.

"My statement didn’t have anything to do with really North Carolina State’s academics," Withers said. "It’s about my pride in the University of North Carolina what our faculty and our administration have done here, and I have a lot of pride for what this school stands for academically. That’s part of the whole student-athlete experience."

UNC chancellor Holden Thorp has apologized to N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson over the comments, according to UNC spokeswoman Nancy Davis. Withers was asked if he talked with athletic director Dick Baddour about the radio interview.

"We talked a little bit," Withers said, "but I want everybody to know that my intent was pride for the University of North Carolina."

Earlier Thursday, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien reacted angrily to Withers' comments and referred to an NCAA investigation has UNC facing allegations of nine major violations.

O'Brien said Withers was part of a staff that had achieved a "triple play" in the eyes of the NCAA, with an agent on the staff, players getting paid impermissible benefits and academic fraud.

Withers said he was aware of O'Brien's comments.

"Boy," Withers said, "it must be a rivalry week."

North Carolina (6-3, 2-3 ACC) visits N.C. State (4-4, 1-3) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. 

Ken Tysiac

Thorp, Woodson exchange apologies

Chancellors Holden Thorp of UNC-Chapel Hill and Randy Woodson of N.C. State have exchanged apologies over the verbal sparring that took place in the media between their football coaches.

"Holden and I have a great relationship," Woodson said in a statement e-mailed by N.C. State spokesman Keith Nichols. "We talked this morning, exchanged apologies and we're moving on."

According to UNC spokeswoman Nancy Davis, Thorp called Woodson this morning and left a message. The chancellors spoke later and apologized.

"They had a good conversation," Davis said in an e-mail. "They're good friends, and they respect each other and their institutions."

In a taped interview aired Wednesday on 99.9 The Fan, Withers said recruits need to know that UNC is the flagship school in the state. Withers said there is a difference between the graduation rates of the schools for athletes and football players.

"If you look at the educational environment here, I think you'll see a difference," Withers said.

Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien reacted angrily after practice this morning, saying N.C. State's graduation rates are improving and criticizing UNC for NCAA violations that resulted in a Committee on Infractions hearing Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.

"If that’s what people want in their flagship university in North Carolina," O'Brien said, "then so be it."

Ken Tysiac

Poll finds UNC fans undecided on Withers

A majority of those identifying themselves as North Carolina fans in a recent poll say they haven’t decided whether interim football coach Everett Withers should keep the job on a permanent basis.

Withers is 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the ACC after stepping in following Butch Davis’ firing in July. According to a Public Policy Polling survey of 615 North Carolina voters, including 243 UNC fans, conducted Oct. 27 to Oct. 31, 53 percent of Tar Heel fans haven’t formed an opinion yet on whether Withers should get the coaching job permanently.

Those who have an opinion of Withers have reacted positively. Thirty-nine percent approve of the job he’s doing, while eight percent disapprove, and 34 percent say he should keep the job while 14 percent have decided he should be replaced.

Withers has three games left in the regular season, beginning with Saturday’s visit to rival N.C. State, to make his case for the permanent job.

UNC fans are divided on the decision to fire Davis and chancellor Holden Thorp’s handling of the football program. Thirty-two percent agree with his firing, while 26 percent dissented. Meanwhile, 26 percent approved of Thorp’s handling of the football program and 26 percent disapproved.

Twenty-seven percent of UNC fans approve of Thorp’s overall work as chancellor, while 19 percent disapprove. And 19 percent of UNC fans polled say he should be fired, down from 23 percent in August.

Ken Tysiac

O'Brien responds angrily to Withers' comments

RALEIGH - A visibly furious N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien reacted angrily this morning to comments made about N.C. State by North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers.

During a taped segment with Joe Ovies on 99.9 The Fan that aired Wednesday, Withers took jabs at N.C. State’s academics and said recruits in the state need to know that UNC is the flagship university.

O’Brien responded by referring to UNC officials’ trip to Indianapolis last Friday to appear in front of the Committee on Infractions to answer charges of nine major violations in an ongoing NCAA investigation of impermissible benefits and academic fraud

“Here is a guy that’s on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis,” O’Brien said at his regularly scheduled post-practice media availability. “. . .If you take three things that you can’t do in college football, you have an agent on your staff. You’re paying your players. And you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play as far as the NCAA goes. So I don’t know that he has anything to talk about or they have anything to talk about. If that’s what people want in their flagship university in North Carolina, then so be it.”

He was asked what he meant by “paying your players.” He indicated that he was referring to the impermissible benefits players received.

“They had players accepting money from somebody,” O’Brien said. “I mean, money is being given from someone to somebody, that’s been documented, right? I don’t know how it got there. Maybe I’m wrong saying that. But those are no-nos as far as the NCAA goes.”

Withers had said recruits need to look at North Carolina’s graduation rates for football players compared to N.C. State’s.

“You’ll see a difference,” Withers said. “. . .If you look at the educational environment here, I think you’ll see a difference.”

According to data provided by the NCAA, North Carolina’s football team had a graduation success rate of 75 percent for the freshman class of 2004, compared to 56 percent for N.C. State.

North Carolina’s federal graduation rate, which does not count transfers or players who left early, was 58 percent compared to 50 percent for N.C. State.

O’Brien said N.C. State’s graduation rate is improving and applauded the school’s academic support program for athletes getting certified in 2010 by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

“At our school, A number one, all classes have a syllabus,” O’Brien said. “Our guys go to school. They’re not given grades, and they graduate. It’s a little tougher here, if you have to go to school and you’re expected to have a syllabus and go to class. So I think all our guys earn everything they get here. Certainly our graduates earn everything at this university.”

Ken Tysiac

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ACC championship game nearing a sell-out

Fewer than 700 tickets remain on public sale as of Tuesday afternoon for the ACC football championship game Dec. 3 at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium.

About 53,000 tickets have been sold for the game in the 73,778-seat stadium. The ACC holds out 20,000 tickets for the participating schools.

The remaining seats are good ones: Most of them go for $40 and are in the first 15 rows of the upper deck.

Information: or -- David Scott

Wake freshman Reynolds might play Saturday

A shortage of healthy running backs might force Wake Forest to use freshman Orville Reynolds Saturday against Notre Dame. That would kill the plan to redshirt Reymolds, a top prospect from Coral Springs, Fla.

If the Deacons do use Reynolds against the Fighting Irish, it would be in reaction to Josh Harris' hamstring injury. Harris has been limited by that injury for several weeks. He was sent for a magnetic resonance imaging Monday to detect whether the injury is worse than originally diagnosed.

Coach Jim Grobe said Tuesday he's reluctant to sacrifice Reynolds' redshirt status, since only four regular-season games remain in the season. But he consulted with Reynolds, who said he wants to play if the Deacons need him now.

-- Rick Bonnell

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rivalry with N.C. State important to Withers

CHAPEL HILL – It appears that North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers is treating the Tar Heels’ rivalry with N.C. State differently from the way many perceived that Butch Davis did.

Davis’ 0-4 record against N.C. State led to complaints that he didn’t place enough emphasis on the rivalry.

Withers grew up a North Carolina fan and said Monday that he bleeds Carolina blue. Immediately after last week’s 49-24 defeat of Wake Forest, Withers began talking about the N.C. State game.

Players said Withers emphasized film study of the Deacons less and played up the rivalry more. Withers said some of the Tar Heels’ veterans have probably had the game marked on their calendar all year.

“It’s important. Sometimes you want to stay so focused that you want to say, it’s [just] the next game, it’s the next game,” Withers said. “But these kids were recruited by State, a lot of them. Some of them may not have been offered by State. They may not have had an opportunity. So I think it’s important when you have a school that’s only 20, 25 miles down the road, to be a rivalry.”

UNC freshman wide receiver T.J. Thorpe said he can sense the importance of this game among the Tar Heel veterans who have yet to win against N.C. State.

“That’s kind of sad on our part that we haven’t been able to accomplish what we wanted against them,” Thorpe said. “. . .They all really want this game, probably the most out of the ones we play.”

Ken Tysiac

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On no-longer-undefeated Clemson...

Some quick thoughts on the night Clemson dropped out of the national championship race with a 31-17 road loss at Georgia Tech:

-- The biggest difference between that team that opened 8-0 and the one that was down 24-3 at halftime Saturday was efficiency. Consider that entering the Georgia Tech game, the Tigers had roughly half as many turnovers and penalties as their collective opponent.
So Saturday the Tigers commit four turnovers and five penalties, both exceeding the Yellow Jackets' totals.
Turnovers end possessions. Penalties derail possessions. It was particularly impressive that such a young team (nearly half the scholarship players are freshmen or redshirt freshmen), built around a sophomore quarterback, so minimized mistakes. Tajh Boyd entered Saturday with 24 touchdown passes to three interceptions.

-- Football as basketball: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim used to describe defense in basketball as forcing the other team to play at your preferred tempo. I bring that up because Clemson-Georgia Tech was the definitive clash of tempos.
Someone finally slowed down the Tigers with Chad Morris as offensive coordinator. Clemson ran 65 offensive plays, and Morris' expectation is a minimum of 80 snaps per game. The Yellow Jackets under Paul Johnson want long, deliberate drives that consume massive game clock. Voila: Georgia Tech held the ball 18 minutes longer than Clemson.

-- I realize the internet is this weird place full of cynics and smart-alecks, but why were so many people out there vested in a Clemson loss?

My theory: People hate to admit they're wrong, and Clemson was breaking with its cliche role as chokers and under-achievers. So it threatened certain people's smugness.

I like these kids: They're fun, they're bright and they're humble. And they're young in a way as to suggest they'll be good together for next season and the season beyond that.
-- Rick Bonnell

Friday, October 28, 2011

UNC crosses another hurdle in investigation

INDIANAPOLIS – University of North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp and departing athletics director Dick Baddour left today’s NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing grateful that they are near the end of an investigation that began in June of 2010.

Thorp and Baddour were among at least six individuals representing UNC in the hearing on the nine major violations the NCAA alleges against the school. In a written response to the NCAA last month, UNC officials agreed with the NCAA on most of the allegations but contested a charge of failing to monitor social media, saying that NCAA legislation didn’t require it.

UNC has self imposed sanctions including two years of probation, vacating wins from 2008 and 2009, and reducing scholarships by three each in the next three seasons. The Committee on Infractions can add to those penalties, and its final decision is expected in eight to 12 weeks.

“I think we feel good about the opportunity we had to make our case today and about the hard work we put into getting ready for today,” Thorp said after the hearing. “So while we’d love to get the decision as soon as possible, I think today was a huge, huge milestone. We’re grateful to get past it.”

The hearing was closed to the media, and the NCAA prohibits the accused from talking about the proceedings. NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the NCAA will have no comment on the case until the infractions committee issues its findings.

Baddour is stepping down next month to let his successor, Bubba Cunningham, take office and hire a head football coach. Baddour said that since the investigation of impermissible benefits and academic fraud began, he had been determined to help UNC improve.

“The issue is, as we said from the beginning, how do we get better as a result of what’s happened,” Baddour said. “And we are well on the way, as we were from day one, to putting the things in place to make sure that we got better, that we had better procedures, that we were looking at our academic support program. That’s what I’ve been focused on, and I know that’s what Bubba will be focused on.”

Ken Tysiac

Blake hopeful leaving NCAA hearing

INDIANAPOLIS – Surrounded by scrambling reporters and cameramen, former University of North Carolina associate head football coach John Blake left the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing at 4:50 p.m. today hoping that his defense on three major violations was successful.

Blake was asked if his reputation was restored.

“All I can do is hope and pray,” Blake responded.

The NCAA has the power to impose a “show cause order” with restrictions that would make it difficult for Blake to coach again at an NCAA school. He was charged with working to help recruit athletes for the late agent Gary Wichard while employed by UNC.

Wade Smith of Raleigh, one of two lawyers working to help clear Blake’s name, said he thought Blake got a fair hearing.

“It was an excellent hearing,” Smith said. “We’re finished for now. We’re going to go back to North Carolina. . . .and we will await a decision from the committee. I wish I could say more, but it would be inappropriate for me to do so.

The Committee on Infractions is expected to issue its decision on UNC’s case in eight to 12 weeks.

As of 5 p.m. today, UNC officials remained in the hearing room. UNC is charged with nine major violations – three of which were attributed to Blake.

Ken Tysiac

Blake's future could hinge on hearing

INDIANAPOLIS - Former associate head coach John Blake’s defense may turn out to be the most elaborate part of today’s NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing on the investigation of the UNC-Chapel Hill’s football program.

In their written response to the NCAA, UNC officials largely agreed with most of the nine major violations charged by the NCAA in its Notice of Allegations. UNC objected to some of the allegations in the NCAA’s “failure to monitor” charge, particularly the one that said the school should have been monitoring its athletes’ social media posts.

UNC still needs to explain to the committee the many changes it has made to its monitoring and academic support programs, but doesn’t seem inclined to dispute many of the charges based on the written response.

For Blake, on the other hand, the hearing is an opportunity to present his version of events to the NCAA. Prominent Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith and Florida lawyer William Beaver began laying out some of their answers to questions about Blake in September of 2010.

They told reporters from selected outlets, including the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer, that money Blake received from the late sports agent Gary Wichard was given as gifts or loans to pay private school tuition for Blake’s son, who is Wichard’s godson.

They said a credit card issued to Blake by Wichard’s agency was used to buy T-shirts for a camp Blake was running for youths several years ago. They said they had affidavits from athletes he coached saying that Blake did not try to steer them to Wichard’s agency. Blake and his lawyers laid out their case in even more detail in a story published Wednesday on Sports Illustrated’s web site.

Their aim is to clear Blake’s name so that he doesn’t face an NCAA “show cause order” that would list restrictions that could make it difficult for an NCAA school to hire him.

Blake and his lawyers spent about 45 minutes in the NCAA’s hearing room this morning, then left. It appears that UNC is presenting its case this morning, and Blake will get a chance to defend himself this afternoon.
His career, at least as a college coach, may be hanging in the balance.

Asked what he wants out of the hearing, Blake replied briefly, “The truth.”
The circumstantial evidence against Blake is significant. He was listed from 2001 until 2004 on the website for Wichard’s agency, Pro Tect Management, as vice president for football operations.

He had contact with many top defensive line draft prospects, including Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Marcell Dareus of Alabama, when he wasn’t coaching them. Suh told the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer that Blake didn’t try to steer him to Wichard; Dareus reportedly told Sports Illustrated the same thing.

The standard for the Committee on Infractions to make a finding is credible and persuasive information that can reasonably relied upon.
That’s different from the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies to a jury in a criminal trial. Smith, one of Blake’s lawyers, is well known for successfully arguing, point by point, against prosecutors when beyond a reasonable doubt applies.

He may try to do it again this afternoon. But it may be more difficult for Smith and Blake to win when the standard is credible and persuasive evidence.

Ken Tysiac

UNC officials, Blake enter NCAA hearing

INDIANAPOLIS – With two lawyers at his side, former University of North Carolina associate head coach John Blake entered a conference room this morning for the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis.

UNC officials followed minutes later as the school is facing charges of nine major violations and will defend itself in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions today.

Blake, charged with three of those violations, will present his defense in an effort to prevent an NCAA “show cause order” that could impose limitations that would make it difficult for an NCAA school to hire him.

Chancellor Holden Thorp and departing athletic director Dick Baddour are among at least six individuals representing UNC at the hearing. ACC commissioner John Swofford and associate commissioner for compliance Shane Lyons walked into the meeting room along with the UNC contingent at 8:18 a.m., 12 minutes before the hearing was supposed to start.

The NCAA enforcement staff will present its case and those in attendance will have an opportunity to defend themselves. Former tutor Jennifer Wiley, charged with providing improper academic assistance, will not attend. Neither will Butch Davis, the former UNC head coach who was fired in July but was not personally cited and was not requested to attend.

Blake and his lawyers left the hearing room at 9 a.m., but lawyer Wade Smith said they are expected to return to the hearing. Asked what he hopes to achieve from attending the NCAA hearing, Blake replied, briefly, to reporters: "The truth."

UNC has self imposed sanctions including two years of probation, vacating wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and reducing scholarships by three in each of the next three years. Fourteen players missed at least one game and seven missed the entire season in 2010 in connection with the investigation.

Officials at UNC hope the Committee on Infractions won’t add to the penalties already imposed. But in major cases in recent years, Florida State, Southern California, Georgia Tech and Boise State all have been disappointed and appealed the committee’s decisions.

The appeals of Florida State and Southern California were denied; Georgia Tech's and Boise State’s are still pending.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said this morning that the Committee on Infractions can be expected to issue its findings within eight to 12 weeks.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blake prepares defense on NCAA charges

Former North Carolina associate head coach John Blake will appear in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Friday in an attempt to clear his name, his lawyer, Wade Smith, said in a telephone interview today.

Blake is named in three of the nine major allegations against UNC in the Notice of Allegations sent by the NCAA to UNC in June. He stands accused of recruiting players for his friend, the late sports agent Gary Wichard.

Although Blake no longer is employed by UNC, the Committee on Infractions can impose a “show cause order” that could prevent him from recruiting or coaching and make him difficult for an NCAA school to employ.

Since last fall, Blake’s lawyers, Smith and William Beaver, have said Blake did not try to convince players to sign with Wichard. Blake’s first public comments on the matter appear in a story posted today on Sports Illustrated’s web site.

“It's important to me that they know [I'm] an honest and good man," Blake said in the story. "We all make mistakes in life. But my character, my integrity means a lot to me."

Former North Carolina head coach Butch Davis, who was a coach at Sand Springs High School in Oklahoma when Blake played there in the 1970s, said last fall that he was sorry he trusted Blake.

The Sports Illustrated story portrays Blake as being devastated when Davis said that. Davis and Blake also coached together with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I know that John was heartbroken,” Smith said today, “because he absolutely admired and loved – and I think still does admire and love – Butch Davis. And it was very painful for him.”

Smith declined to comment further on the evidence Blake will present to the Committee of Infractions.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, October 24, 2011

Withers will not attend UNC hearing in Indy

CHAPEL HILL – Interim football coach Everett Withers will not accompany University of North Carolina officials Friday in Indianapolis at the school’s hearing in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

Withers originally had been scheduled to go to Indianapolis because NCAA rules state that the head coach of a team must appear in front of the committee. But Withers was merely the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator during the time that the nine major violations the NCAA alleges occurred.

Butch Davis, who was the head coach, was fired in July. Team spokesman Kevin Best said that after conversations between the NCAA and UNC, it was determined that Withers did not need to appear.

That will allow Withers to focus all his energy on preparing for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. home game against Wake Forest.

“It’s going to be a normal game week for me, because I’m not involved,” Withers said of the NCAA hearing.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sales brisk for ACC championship game

Brisk sales this week for the ACC championship game at Bank of America Stadium have pushed the game’s total of tickets sold past 27,000,

Charlotte Collegiate Football executive director Will Webb said today.
Webb said a total of more than 2,000 tickets for the Dec. 3 game were sold Monday and Tuesday. His goal for sales before the teams are determined was 30,000, and Webb expects to surpass that number next week.

Enthusiasm for schools such as Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech are fueling sales, Webb said, as is the fact that North Carolina still has a shot at the game. The championship game is in its second year in Charlotte and already has surpassed the sales from before teams were announced in 2010.

Webb said the game benefited from starting with a ticket renewal base from last year.

“I think last year people were hesitant to buy until they knew their team was in,” Webb said. “This year with the success of last year, the fun that people had last year, people don’t want to miss out, and I think that’s what’s pushing the sales effort.”

Event organizers are hoping strong support from the game will cause the ACC to keep the game in Charlotte permanently. ACC officials were disappointed with sales in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tampa over the first five years the game was held.

Sales for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium also have been strong, Webb said. Lower level sideline seats have sold out, although corner and end zone seats on the lower level remain available.

Webb said the 8 p.m. kickoff two days after Christmas and the securing of musical artists Daughtry and Edwin McCain for the fan festival have generated additional interest in the bowl.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Watkins now "Spiderman'' in Dabo's eyes

Cute quote from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on freshman Sammy Watkins' pass-catching prowess:

"He looks like Spiderman out there,'' Swinney said of Watkins' agility. "And he attacks the football. He doesn't wait around for it....He has incredibly gifted hands -- strong, strong fingers.''

That sums up how a freshman can have 46 receptions in his first seven college games, for 728 yards and eight touchdowns.

Center Dalton Freeman is one of Clemson's more thoughtful, articulate players. He made two observations Tuesday worth passing along:

Freeman was asked about Andre Ellington's big rushing night against Maryland (212 yards on 24 carries) and whether this indicated Ellington was getting back his form after several injuries.

Freeman said what's often missed about Ellington is his ability to avoid negative yardage. In the Maryland game, Ellington failed to cross the line of scrimmage once, losing a single yard.

"He can find a crease off anything,'' Freeman said. "He can make something out of nothing.''

Freeman was also asked about Saturday's noon kickoff against North Carolina, and whether that early game time could lead to a slow start.

"There is a whole different mentality in knowing you'll be getting up early,'' Freeman said. "But a good football team can play at any time. This is the kind of team where (an early start) doesn't matter. Play at 9 a.m., and we'll be the same team.''

-- Rick Bonnell

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Davis fights subpoena for phone records

A lawyer for former University of North Carolina football coach Butch Davis has filed papers in Orange County Court requesting that a subpoena for Davis’ cell phone records be quashed.

A media coalition led by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer subpoenaed records of calls from Davis’ “personal” cell phone because Davis used it to make business calls while employed by UNC.

Davis’ lawyer, Jon Sasser of Ellis & Winters LLP, wants a judge to quash the subpoena and enter a protective order, calling the subpoena “unduly burdensome, unreasonable and oppressive.”

Sasser argues that the subpoena seeks production of information that is no longer relevant in the case and that the phone records sought do not constitute a public record.

In May, Wake County Judge Howard Manning Jr. granted the media coalition’s request for UNC turn over phone records of Davis, former associate head coach John Blake and athletic director Dick Baddour.

The media coalition later subpoenaed Davis’ “personal” cell phone records. Communications conducted on behalf of a public entity on personal phones are not exempted from public review under the North Carolina public records law.

In an affidavit, Davis said the media’s handling of previous records requests has caused “an extreme amount of suffering and embarrassment” for him. He objected to his home address – albeit his former address – appearing in court papers that were posted online by media outlets.

He also said that in June of 2011, after UNC “produced certain records,” someone revealed his cell phone number to “unscrupulous individuals.” He said the same thing happened to the cell phone numbers of his teen-age son and wife.

Davis said his family received unsolicited calls from media outlets and “crank calls” from fans of other college football programs. According to his affidavit, Davis and his family were forced to change their contact information.

“As a former NFL head coach, and head coach of two college teams, I am well aware of the intense scrutiny directed at my profession,” Davis said in the affidavit. “However, as a private citizen, I also believe that I have a right to protect my own privacy as well as a duty to protect the privacy of my family, friends and business associates.”

Before he was fired in July, Davis had said he would produce records of his business calls with personal calls redacted for the media. He has not released those records.

In his affidavit, Davis offered to have Manning or another person he designates review Davis’ unredacted records if Manning won’t quash the subpoena.

“I would also be happy to meet privately with the court or its designee to answer any questions that the court may have about the records, or any particular phone number, in order to address this request,” Davis said. “Again, I have nothing to hide, other than the protection of my privacy as well as the privacy of others.”

The media have been seeking records of Davis’ calls as a result of the NCAA’s investigation of UNC’s football program. The probe of academic fraud and impermissible benefits resulted in 14 players missing at least one game and seven players missing the entire season in 2010.

UNC was cited with nine major violations by the NCAA and has self-imposed sanctions including two years of probation, the vacating of a total of 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 season, and the cutting of three football scholarships for the next three seasons.

Ken Tysiac

Steele on Kevin Greene, etc.

A funny moment at Clemson Tuesday, when a reporter asked defensive coordinator Kevin Steele about the brush-up between coaches Sunday in the 49ers-Lions game.

"Stuff happens. I've been choked on national television before,'' Steele said, recalling when he was Carolina Panthers linebackers coach and Kevin Greene grabbed him during a heated sideline discussion.

Years later, Greene is now coaching. That doesn't surprise Steele at all.

"You talk about a fun guy to coach -- he came to work every day and he was smart,'' Steele said. "He was really good working with the younger guys. So he was a coach when he was a player.''

-- Rick Bonnell

Clemson's Bellamy lacking patience with role

Clemson freshman tailback Mike Bellamy clearly seems frustrated with the limited role he's had so far this season. A touted recruit, Bellamy has carried the ball 32 times in the Tigers' first seven games.

He seemed detached following Saturday's comeback victory at Maryland, so much so that coach Dabo Swinney was asked repeatedly at Tuesday's press conference about Bellamy's demeanor.

"There's a lot of structure here, accountability here, discipline here. No getting around that. And that's a lot of responsibility to take on when your maturity isn't there yet,'' Swinney said of Bellamy, who was held out of the first half of the Boston College game for disciplinary reasons.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to play more. I want guys who want to play more. But you've got to earn it.''

Bellamy's roommate, star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, said he often advises Bellamy to have more patience, playing behind Andre Ellington.

"He's just got to get used to his role,'' Watkins said. "I talk to Mike every night. I say, 'You'll have all next year...There's a time and place for everything.' ''

-- Rick Bonnell

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pickett shines up in Maryland

Former Ardrey Kell star Justus Pickett is having impact as a freshman running back for Maryland. Against Clemson Saturday, Pickett finished with 102 all-purpose yards: 60 in kick returns, 31 rushing and 11 receiving.

Pickett is backing up Davin Meggett at the tailback position.

-- Rick Bonnell

Why Clemson should entertain you

I don't care who you root for, because a long time ago I stopped rooting.

OK, not entirely: I still root for the Boston Red Sox (my team) and the Atlanta Braves (my son's team; I'm a convert), but the only other thing that catches my interest is Syracuse (kinda) because I went there. It's more a curiosity than a passion.

My point is I'm predisposed to dispassion. And anyone who doesn't get Clemson's strange rise has no soul, no heart. No one expected them to do 6-0, and then to do what they did Saturday -- come back from an 18-point deficit -- is astounding. I'm telling you, the opinon-makers in South Carolina were writing their eulogy simultaneous to them blowing up Maryland in the fourth quarter.

It's fun to watch. I'm kinda feel like the kid at the edge of the merry-go-round, swinging at the edge, and not particularly caring when I fall off. I watch, I write about Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd and Dabo Swinney. And I realize all this is of far more consequence to them than to me.

And I suspect I write well about this because whether they win/lose/draw, it's fun to watch from afar.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rivalry reunites Cunningham with Duke's White

DURHAM - The hiring of Bubba Cunningham as North Carolina's athletic director will reunite him with his former boss when the Tar Heels meet rival Duke.

Cunningham and Kevin White, Duke's athletic director, saw their tenures at Notre Dame overlap. Cunningham spent 15 years in Notre Dame's athletic department, rising from intern to associate athletic director, before leaving for Ball State in 2002.

White was Notre Dame's athletic director from 2000 to 2008. He called Cunningham, who comes to North Carolina from Tulsa, "a brilliant hire."

"His highly successful track record speaks volumes; however, he is even better defined by his unparalleled integrity and unabashed commitment to the student-athlete," White said in a statement. "Moreover, Bubba is extremely bright, highly competitive and inordinately passionate, which precisely is why he is nationally respected and admired. He is not only a great leader for UNC, but Bubba will be a tremendous asset to the ACC!”

Ken Tysiac

NCAA plans court defense in UNC case

The NCAA plans to fight in court to prevent North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall from obtaining records related to the investigation of the University of North Carolina football program.

On Wednesday, the Secretary of State filed papers seeking an order from a Wake County Superior Court judge to compel the NCAA to turn over documents. In its own investigation, the Secretary of State is seeking transcripts of interviews, an unredacted version of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, and other documents.

In court papers, the Secretary of State’s office suggested that the NCAA advocated for states to pass the Uniform Athlete Agent Act to protect athletes, but is ignoring the law’s mandates.

In an e-mail message, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn wrote that the NCAA is disappointed with the Secretary of State’s action.

“This came as a surprise to us,” Osburn wrote. “We were under the misimpression that we had a cooperative relationship with the office. To be clear, the NCAA has no objection to assisting with the lawful prosecution of agents that run afoul of the UAAA. In fact, we have spent considerable time and energy to assist various state agencies, including the North Carolina Secretary of State, in such prosecutions.”

Osburn wrote that the Secretary of State is asserting powers beyond those granted by the courts and creating an unnecessary dispute between the courts of North Carolina and the courts of Indiana.

Earlier in the investigation, the Secretary of State’s office did acquire documents in the case through a subpoena in the Indiana courts.

“We find it inappropriate and contrary to settled law that the Secretary of State would issue a subpoena without going through an entity of proper jurisdiction, in this case the Indiana Secretary of State,” Osburn wrote. “We also find it odd, as it has followed this exact procedure in the past. We are not sure of the Secretary of State’s motives or agenda, but we plan to fight this action aggressively in court.”

The Secretary of State’s court filing says the NCAA refused to comply with a subpoena from North Carolina. The filing says the NCAA’s counsel stated that even if served a subpoena from Indiana, the NCAA would assert confidentiality and redact information from the records.

A Nov. 28 court date has been set to hear arguments from both parties.

North Carolina’s version of the Universal Athlete Agent Act is designed to protect student-athletes’ eligibility. It requires agents to register with the Secretary of State’s office and prohibits them from offering anything of value to student-athletes until their eligibility is exhausted.

Violations of the law are a Class I felony.

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations delivered in June charged UNC with nine major violations and said players received $27,097.38 in impermissible benefits, with much of it coming from individuals the NCAA considers to be agents.

Fourteen players missed at least one game and seven missed the entire season in 2010 as a result of the investigation. Former associate head coach John Blake, who resigned after the 2010 season opener, stands accused of trying to market players to the late agent Gary Wichard in the Notice of Allegations.

UNC has self-imposed penalties including two years of probation, vacating the 2008 and 2009 seasons and cutting scholarships by three in each of the next three seasons.

The Committee on Infractions will rule on whether UNC gets additional penalties after UNC officials argue their case on Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.

Items the Secretary of State subpoenaed include interviews with coaches, players, former Nebraska assistant Marvin Sanders and Todd Stewart, a friend of former UNC player Marvin Austin. The subpoena also requests a copy of Blake’s credit report.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 13, 2011

UNC close to hiring athletic director

The University of North Carolina Board of Trustees is holding an emergency meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. Friday to discuss an athletic director’s contract amid online reports that the school may be close to an agreement with Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

School spokeswoman Nancy Davis said the Board of Trustees would have to approve the contract of a new athletic director if one were hired. UNC announced that a news conference is expected to be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Smith Center.

Cunningham missed his monthly luncheon with the media today; the Tulsa World reported, because he was out of town. Tulsa sports information director Don Tomkalski has said Cunningham doesn’t comment on job opportunities and said this afternoon that he has no new information on Cunningham’s situation.

The school is replacing Dick Baddour, who is stepping down to allow his successor select the new football coach.

Everett Withers is serving as interim football coach after Butch Davis was fired in July.

Cunningham has been Tulsa’s athletic director since 2005 and previously served a three-year stint at Ball State. He has overseen a $25.1 million renovation of Tulsa’s football stadium and presided over a program with 34 Conference USA titles – more than any other school – since 2005.

Before he was hired at Ball State, he spent 15 years in the athletic department at Notre Dame, his alma mater. He began as an athletic department intern and worked his way up to an associate athletic director position.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, October 10, 2011

UNC search committee adds to calendar

CHAPEL HILL - The committee searching for candidates for North Carolina's athletic director has scheduled an additional meeting on its calendar.

Committee chair Lowry Caudill said after Monday's meeting that "several" candidates have been interviewed. The committee meets again Oct. 19 and has added Oct. 26 to the schedule because it's not certain that work will be completed after the middle of next week.

"We're not finished interviewing," Caudill said.

Monday's meeting was conducted in closed session so members could discuss candidates privately.

The committee is charged with recommending candidates to chancellor Holden Thorp, who will make the final decision on who is hired.

North Carolina is searching for an athletic director to replace Dick Baddour, who is stepping down. The new athletic director's most pressing immediate task will be to hire a football coach.

Everett Withers has been serving as interim coach since Butch Davis was fired in July.

Caudill said the committee is considering athletic directors and candidates who have served in top assistant roles in athletic programs. He said administrative experience at schools that have football programs is a plus for candidates.

"It's not critical," Caudill said. "It certainly would be helpful in the situation we're in right now."

Ken Tysiac

Morris won't protect Clemson QB Boyd

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he's confident quarterback Tajh Boyd will play Saturday at Maryland, after suffering a left hip strain in the third quarter against Boston College.

But if Boyd is noticeably limited by the injury, Morris indicated he's rather play freshman Cole Stoudt than significantly limit what the Tigers do offensively.

"If he can't give us the best chance to win the game, we'd put someone else in who can,'' Morris said Monday. "We have to be what got us to 6-0.''

Boyd was knocked out of the BC game early in the third quarter when Eagles lineman Max Holloway hit him in the legs. Boyd couldn't initially get up under his own power, causing a hush in the crowd of about 80,000 at Death Valley.

"The way he fell, I think it scared him -- it was an awkward fall,'' Morris said. "He's a competitor. I think he'll play.''

Boyd told Morris Monday he's still quite sore, but hopes to practice Tuesday. Stoudt completed six of 10 passes in relief of Boyd, and figures to get more reps in practice this week, if only to give Boyd some chance to heal.

"Cole will be fine,'' Morris said. "If he needs to be ready, I'll get him ready. I guess I'll have to work this week.''

Morris said the only significant difference between Boyd and Stoudt is Boyd's superior arm strength on long-ball throws. Morris thinks the experience Stoudt went through in the BC game will be a plus later this season.

"It forced Cole into a game not over yet,'' Morris said. "It forced him to perform.''

On a separate issue, Morris said he was happy with the tailback Andre Ellington's 100-plus yard game against BC, but that he must practice more to maximize his contribution. Ellington has been nursing a hamstring pull and a thigh bruise, limiting his work during the week.

-- Rick Bonnell

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clemson's Boyd "definitely probable'' for Maryland

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday during a media teleconference that he considers quarterback Tajh Boyd "definitely probable'' to play in Saturday's road game at Maryland, after Boyd suffered a hip injury against Boston College.

Boyd had to leave the game in the third quarter, not to return, but an X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging revealed no structural damage. Swinney hopes Boyd is ready to practice full-speed by Tuesday.

-- Rick Bonnell

Clemson's Tajh Boyd questionable with hip strain

Clemson is saying quarterback Tajh Boyd has a left hip strain and is questionable for Saturday's game at Maryland.

An X-ray and a followup magnetic resonance imaging showed no significant damage to Boyd's leg, after he left the Boston College game in the third quarter. That followed a nasty lower-body hit by B.C. lineman Max Holloway.

It's unclear how Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris will distribute the practice reps this week between Boyd and freshman backup Cole Stoudt. Stoudt did fine managing the lead in the second half, but the Tigers were in a position to play conservatively the rest of the game.

-- Rick Bonnell

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tar Heels shuffle secondary

CHAPEL HILL – Jabari Price entered the starting lineup at cornerback for North Carolina on Thursday, and fellow sophomore Tre Boston moved back to safety from cornerback.

North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers announced the moves before practice Thursday. Last week at East Carolina, Price made five tackles in a reserve role after recovering from a torn tendon in his left hand that caused him to miss the first four games.

Price started the final four games of the 2010 season as a freshman.

“Jabari did a good job for us last week,” Withers said, “so we’ll see about him starting and trying to get back into a normal routine back in the secondary.”

Charles Brown at cornerback and Matt Merletti at safety are the other two starters in the secondary. The Tar Heels (4-1) will play host to Louisville (2-2) at noon Saturday.

Boston had moved from cornerback to safety in the spring, but went back to cornerback after Price’s injury. Boston has 26 tackles, third-highest on the team, and one interception.

“We felt like [safety] was his more natural position,” Withers said. “I think he feels more comfortable there.”

The secondary has been somewhat of a problem for the Tar Heels this season. North Carolina is giving up 258.8 passing yards per game, the second-highest mark in the ACC.

Merletti said earlier this week that the defensive backs need to take responsibility for improving the pass coverage.

“It’s on us in the secondary,” Merletti said. “Our defensive line is obviously very, very good.”

Place-kicker Casey Barth, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, will miss Saturday’s game. Five other players are fighting injuries that could keep them out of Saturday’s game, and Withers said he will make game time decisions on many of them.

Running back A.J. Blue (high ankle sprain), center Cam Holland (back), safety Jonathan Smith (ankle), linebacker Kevin Reddick (ankle) and linebacker Ebele Okakpu (ankle) are injured.

Withers said he would prefer to be able to hold Reddick and Holland out of Saturday’s game to avoid aggravating their injuries.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

UNC QB Renner off to strong start

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner is off to an outstanding start as a sophomore after taking over for 2010 senior T.J. Yates.

Renner ranks second only to Florida State's Clint Trickett in passing efficiency in the ACC.

"I'm really satisfied with the way Bryn Renner has played," North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers said on today's ACC teleconference. "He's a young kid and you see growth in him each week."

Renner's numbers, with 11 touchdown passes, six interceptions and particularly a completion percentage of .757, have been impressive. Withers also is pleased with the leadership Renner has demonstrated as a sophomore.

"Bryn, each week is just getting more comfortable being the leader of our offense," Withers said, "and that's been the most pleasing thing that I've seen so far [out of the offense]."

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Davis calls firing 'a total surprise'

Former North Carolina football coach Butch Davis said in an ESPNU interview Tuesday that his firing in July was “a total surprise.”

Davis appeared as a guest college-football analyst on “The Experts,” and told host Anish Shroff that he had no idea that he was going to get fired by chancellor Holden Thorp.

“We’d gone through spring practice, through recruiting, all the summer time preparations for this season, and ultimately the decision totally rested with the chancellor,” Davis said. “It’s within his right, and I certainly respect his authority to be able to make that decision, but obviously I totally disagree with the decision.”

Davis’ interviews on Tuesday with Shroff and with ESPN’s Jesse Palmer on Monday marked his first on-camera reaction to his firing since its announcement July 27. Although Davis taped some guest analyst segments, ESPN publicist Gracie Blackburn said there are no plans for Davis to serve as a regular on-air personality for ESPNU.

Davis told Shroff that he was proud of the way his team responded last season, when 14 players missed at least one game and seven were held out the entire season during the NCAA’s investigation of impermissible benefits and academic fraud in the UNC football program.

North Carolina went 8-5 and defeated Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.

“But you look at it and all the players that didn’t get a chance to play, it certainly was a tragedy,” Davis said. “It’s one I didn’t want to have to go through, another university didn’t want to have to go through, and hopefully those are the kind of things that don’t happen to any other institution in the country.”

UNC officials will appear in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28 in Indianapolis to answer charges of nine major violations. The school already has self-imposed two years of probation, vacated its wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons and cut three football scholarship for each of the next three academic years as it waits to learn if the NCAA will impose harsher penalties after the hearing.

Davis said the violations occurred even though UNC officials took a lot of pride in educating athletes about NCAA rules.

“Some of the things that transpired in our program are things that we felt like we were doing everything we could to explain those kinds of things,” Davis said. “I think maybe additional background checks on people that had access to your athletes, that’s really a critical and important aspect of it.”

Ken Tysiac

Expect more Bellamy at Clemson

Anticipate more carries for freshman tailback Mike Bellamy at Clemson the rest of the season.
Bellamy is a great physical talent -- much speedier than starter Andre Ellington -- but he struggled initially to pick up the offense. Bellamy's 31-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech might be the start of big things.
"He's practicing better. He's taking a little more ownership, so we can trust him,'' coach Dabo Swinney said of Bellamy. "If he keeps practicing like that, he'll earn a lot more playing time.''
-- Rick Bonnell

Monday, October 3, 2011

UNC interviews AD candidates

CHAPEL HILL - The committee searching for a new University of North Carolina athletic director interviewed "several" candidates Monday at the Carolina Inn on campus, committee chair Lowry Caudill said.

The meetings were conducted in closed session in a secure location of the hotel to guard the confidentiality of the candidates. Caudill would not disclose the number of candidates interviewed or the length of the interviews.

Caudill said the NCAA's investigation of North Carolina's football program has not prevented highly qualified candidates from seeking the position. UNC officials are scheduled to appear in front of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Oct. 23 in Indianapolis to answer charges of nine major violations.

UNC has self-imposed two years of NCAA probation as a result of the probe and will await word of additional penalties after the Oct. 23 hearing.

"The candidates, almost to a person, that we've interviewed [have said] that Carolina is a special place," Caudill said. "It's known for first-class athletics and first-class academics, and they see the NCAA issue, it's an issue that we have to get past. There is some repair to be done. But we're Carolina, and they know that's not how we do things at Carolina. So they view this as a very good position."

UNC is seeking a replacement for Dick Baddour, who will step down after the new athletic director is hired. The first, most pressing issue for the new athletic director will be hiring a new, permanent head football coach.

Everett Withers is serving as interim head coach following the July firing of Butch Davis. The search committee is charged with recommending a list of athletic candidates to chancellor Holden Thorp, who will make the final decision on the hire.

Caudill said the committee's interviews are not yet completed. He said the committee has come up with a list of questions that are asked of each candidate based on the job description that has been posted.

"From that we can start to assess the fit, qualifications and are they the right person for the position we have here at Carolina," Caudill said.

There is no timetable for filling the job, aside from a desire to have the athletic director in place in time to hire a football coach.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, September 26, 2011

Clemson's Morris loves taking a gamble

Clemson's new offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, loves to play fast and daring football. So he isn't detered by the fact that his Tigers have converted just one of five fourth-and-ones over the first four games of his tenure with the program.
The Tigers generated 35 points in Saturday's victory over then 11th-ranked Florida State. But they failed on a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter that probably would have sealed the victory.
"That was missed assignments. I loved the call. I'd do it 100 more times,'' said Morris at his weekly media session Monday. "We missed two key blocks on the edge. I didn't come here to lay it up.''
Morris arrived with a quick-tempo, high-risk offense. The goal is a minimum of 80 snaps per game, intended to wear out opposing defenses. Dabo Swinney hired Morris in January to put a jolt in what was an ailing offense, and he's certainly shaken things up.
"Coach Swinney will have to tell me 'Whoa!' not 'Go!' '' Morris said. "I'm not going to play conservative here unless he tells me to.''
The Tigers (4-0) play their first road game Saturday, and it's a huge one: At Virginia Tech at 6 p.m.
-- Rick Bonnell

Friday, September 23, 2011

UNC freshman has wrist surgery

North Carolina freshman offensive lineman Kiaro Holts had successful surgery Friday at UNC Hospitals to repair a ligament in his left wrist, the school announced.

Holts, who was one of the most highly sought players in the Tar Heels' recruiting class, first injured the wrist last year as a senior at Warren Central High in Indiana. He has not played in a game this year, and his status will be updated later

Ken Tysiac

Monday, September 19, 2011

UNC kicker Barth likely out this week

North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers said this morning the Tar Heels will likely hold kicker Casey Barth out for Saturday's game at Georgia Tech, because of a groin pull.

The senior had been playing with a sore thigh since training camp. He kicked the first two extra points during Saturday's win against Virginia, before being replaced by Thomas Moore. Moore, a freshman, was listed as the starter on Monday's two-deep roster.

"I think it's just a culmination of a lot of different things," Withers said of Barth's injury. "I think it's just more of a strain. ... We felt like to get him for the long run, to not put him out there on the field."

-- Robbi Pickeral

UNC releases response to NCAA

The University of North Carolina has released to the public its response to the NCAA's allegations of nine major allegations against the Tar Heel football program.
In the official response, UNC announced it will impose the following punishments on the Tar Heels football program:

- Vacate the 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

- Dock three football scholarships a season for the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.

- Self-impose two years of probation.

- Pay a monetary fine of $50,000.

UNC’s response indicates its agreement with the first eight NCAA charges, except for some minor discrepancies involving amounts of benefits. The school also states as a mitigating factor that some benefits were repaid in cash almost immediately, and some were the result of friendships with former UNC players that current players didn’t think were impermissible.

On the ninth allegation, failure to monitor, UNC resists some of the NCAA’s charges. Regarding failure to monitor social networking, UNC says the NCAA’s constitution and bylaws don’t mention any institutional responsibility to monitor athletes’ communications “on undefined and ever-multiplying ‘social networking’ sites.”

UNC also argues that its staffers were unaware of former Tar Heel player Chris Hawkins’ status as an individual triggering NCAA agent legislation when he was allowed in the football weight room with his friend, former Tar Heel running back Willie Parker.

"We have acknowledged our violations, and we've responded in the way you would expect of this University," UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement. "We think that the sanctions we have proposed accept responsibility and, at the same time, give our current and future student-athletes and coaches every opportunity for success. We go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on October 28, and that will be another important milestone."

"I believe the report is a very thorough response to the NCAA," UNC athletics director Dick Baddour said. "The University of North Carolina takes our standing and reputation in the NCAA community seriously and with great respect and our response to the allegations reflects that. "We accept responsibility for mistakes that were made in terms that are balanced, measured and fair. I want to acknowledge the hard work that University and athletic department staff put in to prepare the report. The October 28th appearance in Indianapolis is the next major step and we will direct our efforts toward preparing for that hearing."

Ken Tysiac

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Syracuse, Pitt add possibilities to ACC

Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in a move ACC commissioner John Swofford said will strengthen the conference as its membership grows to 14.

The ACC announced the news Sunday morning and held a telephone conference with reporters to explain the move.

Big East bylaws call for each of the schools to pay a $5 million exit fee to the Big East and wait 27 months before departing. Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg said the school plans to comply with those bylaws, but is open to an earlier, negotiated departure that wouldn’t leave the school with an extended lame duck status in the Big East.

“I would think that in the weeks ahead everyone will be looking at the transition period and trying to determine whether the 27-month notice period really serves everyone’s best interests,” Nordenberg said.

Swofford said the move bridges the ACC’s geographic footprint from Maryland to Massachusetts so that the conference’s reach extends over the entire Eastern Seaboard, from Boston College to Miami.

Adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse also opens up new possibilities for the ACC. Expanding membership by two schools allows the ACC to reopen negotiations with current TV rights holder ESPN in a move Swofford predicted will more than pay for itself. The ACC is in the first year of a 12-year contract that will pay a reported $1.86 billion.

Getting a team based in the state of New York also brings the possibility of taking the ACC men’s basketball tournament to Madison Square Garden in New York City at least on occasion.

“I don’t think there’s any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for ACC basketball fans,” Swofford said, “and more so now with teams in closer proximity and with that being the media center of the world, so to speak. We’d probably be remiss if we didn’t think of it in those terms.”

The move follows the ACC’s addition of Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 to expand to 12 members. A question left unanswered is whether ACC presidents ultimately would like to have 16 members in the conference as Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC expansion have the college athletic world buzzing about the concept of “superconferences.”

Swofford said the changing college athletic landscape makes it certain that strong conferences will continue to be approached by schools hoping to join. He said the ACC has received inquiries numbering in double digits from schools aspiring to become members, but wouldn’t name the schools.

“We’re very comfortable with this 14,” he said. “The only thing I would add to that is that we are not philosophically opposed to 16, but for now we are very pleased with this 14. We think it’s an excellent group.”

Although the Palm Beach Post reported last week that Florida State will establish a committee to assess its long-term conference options, Swofford said he believes the current membership of the ACC is unified.

Last week, ACC presidents unanimously voted to increase the conference’s exit fee to about $20 million; it had been about $12 million to $14 million. Swofford acknowledged that it’s possible that the ACC could lose schools, but said he is confident in the commitment the current schools have to one another.

“In all of our conversations about this, both individually and collectively, and any conversations I’ve had with any of our presidents and/or athletic directors, I have never once received any indication of anything other than that they are fully committed to the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Swofford said.

Ken Tysiac

ACC announces addition of Pitt, Syracuse

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced this morning that it has voted to accept the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University as new members. The invitation followed the submission of letters of application from both universities.

“The ACC is a strong united conference that is only going to get better with the addition of the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University,” Duke University President Richard Broadhead, chair of the ACC Council of Presidents said in a statement. “Both schools are committed to competing at the highest level of academics and athletics. We welcome them as full partners in the ACC.”

The Council of Presidents voted unanimously to accept the two universities, according to an ACC news release.

“The ACC has enjoyed a rich tradition by balancing academics and athletics and the addition of Pitt and Syracuse further strengthens the ACC culture in this regard,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in the news release. “Pittsburgh and Syracuse also serve to enhance the ACC’s reach into the states of New York and Pennsylvania and geographically bridges our footprint between Maryland and Massachusetts. With the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, the ACC will cover virtually the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States.”

The conference will hold a telephone conference with reporters at 9:30 this morning to discuss the additions, which increase the ACC's membership to 14.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Syracuse, Pittsburgh, apply to ACC

Big East conference members Syracuse and Pittsburgh have sent letters of application to the Atlantic Coast Conference, a high-ranking ACC source said today on condition of anonymity.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Pittsburgh will join the ACC and could be announced as a new member as soon as today. The schools’ addition would have to be approved by nine of the 12 ACC presidents.

According to the ACC source, at least 10 schools have inquired about membership in the ACC.

The news comes amid other recent reports that show the college athletics landscape is shifting dramatically:

- Texas A&M is trying to leave the Big 12 for the SEC but has been slowed by legal challenges.

- The Austin American-Statesman reported that with the Big 12 in danger of dissolving, Texas is considering whether its best future destination is the Pac-12, ACC or independent status.

- According to the Palm Beach Post, Florida State is forming an exploratory committee to evaluate its future conference options.

The applications from Syracuse and Pittsburgh, though, appear to demonstrate that the ACC is on solid ground as conferences seem headed toward “superconference” status. The ACC source said ACC presidents recently showed their solidarity by increasing the exit fee for a school leaving the conference to $20 million from about $12 million to $14 million.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Texas emerges in ACC expansion talk

Here we go again.

With the Big 12 possibly on the verge of dissolution, the ACC has emerged in published reports as a possible new destination for Texas, one of the nation’s most powerful athletic programs.

According to the Austin American Statesman, based on unnamed sources, Texas has three options:

-         Texas could join Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in leaving for what’s now the Pac-12.

-         With its own television network, the Longhorn Network, already established, Texas could try to make a go of independent status, like Notre Dame.

-         In a nod toward being aligned with the most academically prestigious of the BCS conferences, Texas could join the ACC.

According to the report out of Austin, talks between Texas and the ACC have yet to reach a mature stage. But national media outlets such as have jumped on the story, saying that the ACC’s TV deal with ESPN would be more accommodating to the Big 12 than the Pac-12’s regional TV packages.

Meanwhile, the Palm Beach Post is reporting that Florida State has formed an exploratory committee to explore its conference options, including a possible move to the SEC.

Is it all just chatter? Perhaps. But Texas A&M already appears well on its way to joining the SEC, and if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pull out of the Big 12, too, the rest of the schools in that conference will start looking for a lifeboat.

And the ACC might just be able to provide that.

Ken Tysiac