Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Heels aware of James Madison's reputation

North Carolina coach Everett Withers said he doesn't need to remind his players what Saturday's opponent, James Madison, did to Virginia Tech last season.
A 21-16 win over the Hokies cemented James Madison's reputation as one of the strongest programs in the Football Championship Subdivision. Withers said his players are well aware of what happened a year ago.
"When you’ve got a team that’s got as many veterans on it as ours, you don’t pull that [motivational] stuff out as much," he said on the ACC coaches' weekly teleconference with reporters this morning.
One of the biggest areas of tactical interest in the game could be James Madison's spread offense and how it could affect North Carolina's defensive line if the Dukes play at a fast pace.
The strength of the Tar Heel team is a defensive line that features veterans Tydreke Powell, Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss. If James Madison can keep North Carolina from rotating them and keeping them fresh, it could wear out the Tar Heels.
Withers said North Carolina has faced similar strategies in the past, though, and will be ready.
"We feel like we’ll be fine," Withers said. "I feel like this team may be in as good a shape as any we’ve had since I’ve been here."
Withers, who was named interim coach after Butch Davis was fired in July, said his players are eager to get started. Withers said that dealing since June of 2010 with an NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits and academic fraud has made getting onto the football field a cathartic experience for his players.
"The biggest excitement I have is watching our kids execute in practice," Withers said. "I can’t wait to see them play. I can’t wait to see them turn it loose on Saturday."

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wake Forest's Grobe senses "complacency''

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is coming off an 8-16 record the past two seasons. That's after going 28-12, with three straight bowl appearances (including the Orange Bowl) 2006 through 2008.

Grobe doesn't accept this as a down cycle. He senses a complacency in his program and he's not putting up with it.

“The last couple of years it just hasn’t been’’ the same, Grobe said Tuesday, while preparing for Thursday's season-opener at Syracuse. “There might be some complacency. That might not just be the players -- the coaches, too.’’

Grobe has been pushing his players to be more "durable'' this preseason (as in don't miss so much practice time with nagging injuries). At least two key players who fit that description -- linebacker Kyle Wilber and wide receiver Chris Givens -- were listed as second-string on Tuesday's depth chart.

Grobe said he's not punishing anyone or playing mind games. In fact, the coach went out of his way to say he wants to play Wilber all four quarters Thursday. But it was obvious Wilber, a senior, took this as a message to toughen up.

“We have to have mental toughness and physical toughness. That’s why I’m second-string,’’ Wilber said. “I’ve been trying to take care of my hamstring, but some of the time I’ve missed (has been costly). He wants guys who are ready to play all four quarters.’’

--Rick Bonnell

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wake-Syracuse: Some pre-game observations

-- Wake Forest kicks off its football season in Syracuse Thursday night. While it's not automatic that statistical trends carry over from one season to the next, keep this in mind:

Syracuse couldn't score last season and Wake Forest couldn't keep a team from scoring. The Orangemen were 99th among 120 FBC schools in scoring, at 21.0 ppg. The Demon Deacons were 110th in scoring defense, at 35.8 ppg., allowed.

Syracuse went 8-5 and won a minor bowl game at Yankee Stadium. That was primarily built on its defense, one of the best in the country. Wake Forest went 3-9 primarily because of its defense, which allowed 5.8 yards per snap.

There were reasons for this: Wake had terrible injury problems, which forced coach Jim Grobe to use up what depth he had. The Deacons will never have great depth. Their starters can usually match up with ACC peers, but the second and third strings often represent a big dropoff.

Grobe is hoping all the pain of last season now has some give-back, in the experience some underclassmen gained.

-- Syracuse coach Doug Marrone made much of Wake Forest's size and experience along the offensive line.

Certainly the Deacons need for that line to be the team's best unit this season. A lot of time has been invested in developing the juniors and seniors in that group. This is a bigger O-line than Wake typically assembles, and that should lend to good pass blocking.

-- Obviously any quarterback has a big responsibility, but particularly so for Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. Marrone, formerly the offensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints, runs a particularly complex pro-style offense. That puts a ton of read-and-react responsibility on Nassib to distribute the ball.

He's now in his second season as a starter. It figures Wake will run a variety of blitz schemes Thursday, intended to fluster Nassib, because it's no secret there are extra-big demands on Nassib's real-time decision-making.

-- Grobe has been intermittently frustrated this preseason with how many practices have been missed due to injury. As Grobe put it the other day, his players don't always distinguish between the value of being healed and the value of getting better through practice.

He didn't quite use this word, but it sounds like he's concerned some of his players are soft.

-- Rick Bonnell

Friday, August 26, 2011

UNC to hire search to assist AD hire

The University of North Carolina will choose from two executive search firms in its search for a new athletic director.

At the first meeting of the school’s athletic director search committee this morning, two search firms made their pitches for the job.

Bill Carr of Carr & Associates, who is in his 19th year as a consultant, has helped Duke, Auburn and Kentucky find athletic directors.

Todd Turner, a UNC alumnus and former N.C. State athletic director, has worked on the Oklahoma men’s basketball, Colorado football and Kent State athletic director searches.

Their approaches as they auditioned in front of the board this morning could not have been more different.

Carr told the search committee that “your job is a jewel.”

“Wow,” he said. “What a wonderful, wonderful place to come and give leadership at such a critical time for your institution.”

Turner’s comments were more sobering. UNC is replacing Dick Baddour and planning to have the new athletic director hire a new football coach at the end of the season.

Coach Butch Davis was fired in July with the program facing allegations of nine major NCAA violations; Everett Withers is currently working as interim head coach.

“The instability of the football program, it’s an opportunity, but it’s also a challenge,” Turner said.

Lowry Caudill, who chairs the committee, would like to select from between the two search firms quickly but did not give a timeline. One immediate task for the committee is to finish creating a job description so the job can be posted; Caudill said the job can’t be offered to anyone until it has been posted for 30 days.

UNC chancellor Holden Thorp charged the committee with conducting a national search and bringing him seven candidates to consider. He said it’s important to find someone dedicated with continuing the success of all the programs in UNC’s 28-sport department.

Keeping the football program on solid ground through difficult times also is important to Thorp.

“I am completely committed to sustaining our momentum in football on the field, to compete for ACC championships and go to BCS bowls,” Thorp said.

Running an athletic department committed to academics and integrity also was at the forefront of the committee’s discussions.

“This is an important time in the history of the university,” Thorp told the committee. “We’re at a difficult time, but we’re also at a time of great potential.”

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Appalachian-Michigan: The rematch

Michigan gets another shot at Appalachian State when the Wolverines host the Mountaineers to open the 2014 season, it was announced today.

If you'll remember, Appalachian stunned fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32 in Ann Arbor in 2007, the first time an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision team had ever beaten a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team.

The teams will play again Aug. 30, 2014 in Michigan Stadium.

"To have the University of Michigan invite us back is the ultimate compliment for us as a program and a university," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore in a statement.

In the 2007 game, Appalachian trailed the Wolverines 32-31 when kicker Julian Rauch made the winning field goal with 26 seconds left. The Mountaineers weren't certain of the victory, however, until Corey Lynch blocked a 37-yard field goal by the Michigan's Jason Gingell with five seconds left. -- David Scott

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

UNC search committee meets Friday

The committee that will recommend candidates for the athletic director job at the University of North Carolina will hold its first meeting Friday morning from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

UNC is seeking a replacement for Dick Baddour, who announced in July that he is retiring to allow a new athletic director to be in place to hire a replacement for football coach Butch Davis.

Lowry Caudill, a trustee and adjunct chemistry professor, chairs the 13-member committee.

UNC chancellor Holden Thorp recently said the committee is eager to help him and called the athletic director position "very attractive." The new athletic director will face the challenge of steering a football program that is facing NCAA allegations of nine major violations, but will inherit an elite basketball program and strong Olympic sports programs.

"We’re looking for somebody who can continue the extraordinary success that Carolina has had," Thorp said, "who can help us make sure we have the financial resources that the kids need, that the student-athletes are taken care of, that compliance is run tightly, and restore the confidence that some of our football fans have lost in the football program."

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doyel: UNC should hire Randy Shannon

Former Observer reporter turned CBS Sports lightning rod Gregg Doyel says the perfect coach to clean up the mess at North Carolina is Randy Shannon, who was fired at the University of Miami after last season.

Hmmmm. Thoughts?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ter Heel notes: Barth comfortable from 55

CHAPEL HILL – Last season, North Carolina’s Casey Barth proved he could make the big kicks when his team needed them the most – booting, for example, a game-tyer, then game-winner, against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.

Now, the fourth-year starter wants to prove he make the long ones, too.

Barth, a senior from Wilmington, spent the offseason working to get more distance on his kickoffs and field goals, trying to show the coaches that he can kick the latter farther his career high of 49 yards. As a result, interim head coach Everett Withers has allowed him to practice from longer distances during training camp.

The result: “I really am comfortable from 53, 54, 55 … and if my coaches aren’t yet, I hope they’re getting there,’’ Barth said.

The difference, he added, is confidence. Last year, he never practiced kicking much longer than 50 yards, and because of that, he questioned whether he really did have the leg for it. “But this year, they’re pushing me and I’m pushing myself to get comfortable,’’ he said. “And that’s helped me add probably 3, 4 yards to what I could do last year.”

It helps that he has a couple of veterans around him; snapper Mark House and holder Trase Jones are both seniors, “and I feel lucky that we’ve been together for so long … because we all take pride in a big kick, because we’re all part of it,’’ Barth said.

He’s also been aided by working out with older brother Connor, a UNC alum who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey needs only five more field goals to move past his brother into first place on UNC’s all-time list: “We both do sort of keep track, but I think that competition spurs me on, too.”

Withers said that Barth has become one of the leaders of the team, and is excited to see what he can do this year after making 19 of 22 field goals last season, and making 71 straight extra points dating back to 2009.

Thus far this training camp Barth said, the longest field goal he has made is 49 yards – but he can go longer. “I tried one from 54 and it hit the upright,’’ he said. “So they [the coaches] know I have the leg for it, I just have to get it more on target.”

MCADOO NOT DRAFTED: Former defensive end Michael McAdoo, who the NCAA ruled permanently ineligible because of academic misconduct, was not selected in Monday’s NFL supplemental draft.

He is now eligible to sign with a team as a free agent. McAdoo filed a lawsuit in July against the NCAA and the school, which is ongoing. Ai judge denied the player’s request to be reinstated for his senior season with the Tar Heels.

KEEPING HYDRATED: Withers and roughly 10 players went to some near-by dorms over the weekend to pass out Gatorade to students moving in.

“That was a neat experience,’’ Withers said. “You get on campus, you get away from this building, and you meet some of the new students on campus. I tell you what, it was great, the support that we got.

BRIEFLY: Withers said Monday he has awarded scholarships to five walk-ons: running back Matt Kolojejchick, receiver Mark McNeill, defensive end Adam Curry, offensive lineman Peyton Jenest and defensive back Pete Mangum. … Tailbacks Ryan Houston (shoulder) and Gio Bernard (hand) continued to practice in non-contact jerseys Monday.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tar Heels CB Price injures hand, needs surgery

North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price injured a tendon in his left hand during Tuesday’s practice, the school announced this morning, and will have surgery Friday at UNC Hospitals.

His status will be updated after the operation, which will be performed by Dr. Donald Bynum.
Price played in all 13 games last season as a freshman, and started the final four.

He was penciled in as a starter at one corner, on the opposite side of veteran Charles Brown, who was suspended for all of last season as part of the NCAA investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits. Price’s potential loss impacts a position that was already lacking depth; Brown is suspended for the Sept. 3 season opener, and Mywan Jackson, a junior backup corner, opted not to return to the team before training camp.

To help replace Price, former cornerback Tre Boston, who had moved to safety, is back at cornerback, and junior wide receiver Todd Harrelson, a second-team  all-state defensive back in high school in Virginia, has been moved to cornerback.

-- Robbi Pickeral

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miami about to become dead weight in ACC?

The Duke lacrosse saga that began in 2006 is an ongoing reminder that quick conclusions can be the epitome of a dangerous leap in sports.

With that in mind, far be it from me to say without reservation that Miami’s athletics program is on the verge of virtual devastation.

But if the NCAA eventually determines that this week's allegations of outrageous behavior by the school and its athletes are accurate, the ACC will forever rue the day that the Hurricanes only a few years ago were the centerpiece of expansion.

The league’s $2 billion, 12-year or so television contract with ESPN may not be compromised or downsized, but the immediate and long-range impact on the league almost surely will be far reaching. And costly.

At a time when UNC’s football program is in the NCAA’s on-deck circle and various other conference programs have been sanctioned, the potential mushroom cloud in Miami will be as bad for business as imaging.

The whole idea of bringing aboard Miami in 2004 was to add a big-hitter football commodity for TV contractual purposes. After much inspection (supposedly), the ACC pronounced the long-troubled Hurricanes a healthy, rehabilitated program that long would be an asset on and off the field for the conference.

In reality, the football team has been average – 30-26 against so-so league rivals – and anything except can’t-miss TV.

The only plus of expansion has been Virginia Tech, the “regional school” no one in the ACC wanted when the process began.

Boston College will never be a fan factor in the ACC – or in the city of Boston for that matter.

So here we are – eight years later – and the ACC is facing the prospect of forever forking over big checks from the TV bounty to a Miami program that may not be worth its weight in horse feathers when the next TV contract has to be negotiated.

-- Caulton Tudor

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Duke running backs anticipate better season

DURHAM - Duke junior Desmond Scott arrived at fall football camp without the anxiety he carried as a freshman. He felt comfortable with his surroundings, a veteran familiar with process.

"Third year around, you're not new to the program any more," he said. "You're all ready to go."

The Blue Devils hope Scott and the other backs in camp emerge at the start of the season with as much gusto and turnaround the program's inept running game.

The Devils were last in the conference in rushing offense, producing just 110.0 yards per game.

Scott, who on Monday ran with the first team, gained 530 yards last season, averaging 44.2 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

"I didn't live up to my expectations my freshman and sophomore year," Scott said. "I'm setting the bar high for my junior year."

Duke is primarily a pass-first team, though a strong running game is required to keep a defense off balance. On Monday, the Devils used three running backs and sophomore backup quarterback Brandon Connette to carry the ball during its intrasquad scrimmage.

Thompson, a sophomore, led all rushers with six carries for 47 yards, while Connette rushed eight times for 39 yards.

Scott rushed seven times for 31 yards and sophomore Josh Snead carried seven times for 28 yards.

The Devils started with six running backs in camp, but due to injuries to senior Jay Hollingsworth and junior Greg DeLuca, they are down to four to split drill reps.

During the scrimmage, the Devils used their running backs out of the back field and spread outside. Each had their moments, yet there were few extraordinary rushes, outside of an open field play from quarterback Sean Renfree.

The backs, however, all appear stronger and capable of busting through defensive linemen for large gains.

"We're just proving we can do both," Thompson said. "We can pass and run. Play-fakes. We can do it all. We can go out the backfield and take it all the way. We can pretty much do everything. Everyone is doubting us about our game, but we're improving every year and this year is going to that year."

- Edward G. Robinson III

Pack gets in some end-of-game work

RALEIGH - N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien gave out some dismal offensive statistics Tuesday after the Wolfpack's third preseason football scrimmage at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The offense had four passes intercepted and allowed seven sacks. There were 15 tackles for losses by the defense, which limited the offense to 98 rushing yards on 38 carries.

But O'Brien had no sooner read off the stats than he all but dismissed them. It was a situational scrimmage, he said. There was a lot of work on end-of-game drives.

"You're playing end of the game and you're always in two-minute situations, where you've got to throw the ball regardless," he said. "I think most of them were long throws at the end of time, fourth down or whatever heaves.

"That's not good for the offense, because in those situations you've got to go up and get the football. But it's positive for the defense. They got the ball and turned it over."

There again were no individual stats released, but O'Brien generally praised the play of starting quarterback Mike Glennon while noting "he's no finished product by any stretch of the imagination."

"I think he did well," O'Brien said. "I don't know what his breakdown is but (the offense) made some plays tonight they haven't the first two scrimmages. That's positive for the offense. ...

"I think the offense caught up a little bit in these situations. It's a little confidence-builder for the offense and knocks the defense a peg or two, which is pretty good, too."

Other srimmage highlights: freshman punter Wil Baumann averaged 43.4 yards on five kicks and freshman placekicker Niklas Sade booted field goals of 38 and 53 yards.

"Those freshmen have been impressive thus far," O'Brien said. "We keep putting them under pressure. The 53-yarder ... He actually had to run on the field and kick it as time expired."

O'Brien said he reminded the team that the Pack lost three games last season in the final minute.

"I said that's why we do these things," he said. "You learn how to be in these situations so you don't panic and you have confidence in your ability to win the football game. That's real reason you do it."

BRIEFLY: O'Brien said sophomore wide receiver Everett Proctor had left the program and would transfer. O'Brien said Proctor, from Fayetteville, had not been a "champion in the classroom."

O'Brien would not comment on reports offensive lineman Cameron Fordham transferred to NCSU this week from LSU. Fordham is from Duluth, Ga.

The offense finished 22 of 41 passing for 261 yards, with one touchdown. There were four offensive penalties and three defensive infractions. ... O'Brien said there appeared to be no major injuries.

-- Chip Alexander

Monday, August 15, 2011

UNC's Houston eager to ditch orange jersey

North Carolina tailback Ryan Houston continues to wear a precautionary orange don't-hit-me jersey in practice, but said he can't wait to take it off.

"So eager, I just can't wait to go to my metal locker and see, ‘blue jersey!'" Houston, a redshirt senior, said today. "Know what I'm saying? I just can't wait for the day. It [will] be like Christmas, whenever they give me that blue jersey."

Houston, who had shoulder surgery after fracturing his right scapula during the Spring Game, is extra eager because he hasn't played for more than a year. After sitting out the first five games of last season as the NCAA investigated the football program for academic misconduct and impermissible benefits, Houston was cleared, but opted to redshirt the rest of the season.

"It was real hard, especially during the bowl game, on the 1-yard line, screaming like, ‘Forget it, I don't care, I just want to help my team,"' Houston said. " ... But now ... it just makes me hungrier for this year."

He said he holds no resentment about having to sit out those five games: "No, they did what they had to do, and I applaud the University for getting my back, and trying to help, and doing the best things possible for me, and I feel like they made a good decision," he said. "They didn't know what was going on, I didn't know what was going on, and I feel like they made a great decision."

Houston said his shoulder feels good, and that he will be ready for the Sept. 3 season opener. He said he thinks the team is being extra cautious with him, especially after redshirt freshman tailback Gio Bernard suffered a non-displaced fracture to his left hand Saturday. Bernard is being held out of contact drills this week, but could play if there was a game tomorrow, interim head coach Everett Withers said.

"I'm ready -- they just don't want me to to go in there and [mess] something up, because then it would be like, 'Dang, we're down two running backs,"' Houston said. "So it's just more of a precautionary thing. ... They know that I know the plays and I've just got to take my time, and whenever they're ready to let me go forward, I'll be ready."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Titans' Thornton joins UNC's football staff

Former All-ACC selection David Thornton, who recently retired from the NFL's Tennessee Titans, has officially returned to the UNC football team as a member of the player development staff.

According to a team spokesman, that means he can splice and analyze UNC or opponent video, attend meetings and work with athletes in football-specific strength and conditioning drills -- but he cannot coach or provide instruction to the athletes.

"Here's a guy that's been around this program," UNC interim head coach Everett Withers said today. "He played here, came here as a walk-on, earned a scholarship, struggled academically early, got his academic situation in hand, was drafted and played in the NFL. So he's done what all of these guys are trying to do.

"We're going to use him in ways with player development with being a mentor to some of these guys that have that same path working for them. We'll use David in a lot of different ways."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Friday, August 12, 2011

Academics may help ACC avoid poaching

Sports talk radio hosts have lots of time to fill right now.

The NFL and college football seasons haven’t started yet. The NBA is in a labor stoppage and NASCAR just isn’t as interesting as it used to be.

So when talk of the SEC raiding the ACC starts crackling through the airwaves, there is reason to be cautious.

But talk of Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 seems legitimate. Texas A&M has a legitimate reason to bolt because the Big 12 has sold its soul to keep the Aggies’ rival, Texas, in the conference.

If the SEC takes Texas A&M, the conference would be looking for a 14th member, and some attractive options exist in the ACC:

- Florida State has a national following and a top-25 program even after Bobby Bowden’s ouster.

- Virginia Tech has a football program that’s without peer in the ACC.

- Clemson is Auburn with a lake. As a small-town, football-crazed state-supported school, Clemson has a lot in common with Auburn, Georgia, Florida and other SEC schools. So why not join a conference with schools that have similar demographics?

This point has been made before, but it’s worth making again.

In each case, it’s instructive to remember who makes the decision to switch athletic conferences. University chancellors, presidents and boards of trustees usually are charged with that task.

And while the SEC has won the past five national championships in football, the ACC has finished first among BCS conferences in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Ratings in each of those academic years.

Chancellors like to be aligned with other schools that possess highly regarded academic reputations. The big dollars of the SEC are enticing, but having an association with Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia is not to be underestimated when evaluating chancellors’ motivations.

Another point is that in terms of football, the ACC schools would put themselves in danger of being considerably less competitive if they joined the SEC. Virginia Tech dominates the ACC, but loses almost every time it plays a nonconference opponent of any estimation, with recent defeats coming to Boise State, East Carolina and even James Madison. Florida State gets thumped every year by Florida; why join the SEC and get clobbered by a bunch of other football powers, too?

Bottom line, except for the money in the SEC – which is enticing – there aren’t many reasons to leave the ACC.

"As I've said previously, we'll continue to be mindful of the collegiate landscape and what's best for the ACC and its member institutions," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement today. "With that said, I've received no indication from any of our 12 presidents that they have any intention of being affiliated with any conference other than the ACC."

As for the idea that the North Carolina schools might leave, you can forget it. UNC’s rivalry with Duke in basketball is far too important for the Tar Heels to leave for the SEC. (The SEC would not be interested in Duke as a package deal). N.C. State’s culture and tradition as the first home of the ACC tournament, and rivalries with UNC, Duke and Wake Forest would make it difficult to leave.

If somebody does leave the ACC, though, it would be fascinating to see who got an invitation to become the new 12th member. Keep in mind, the academic profile of the new school would remain critically important to the ACC. Here would be some likely candidates:

1. Rutgers: A New Jersey presence would deliver a new TV market and bridge the geographical gap in the ACC between Maryland and Boston College. Rutgers has a decent football program and a basketball program that should be better than it is with a location so close to New York City.

2. Pittsburgh: This is another geographical bridge school that would help the ACC in football and basketball. The TV market isn’t huge, but it’s bigger than the one Virginia Tech brought to the ACC a few years ago.

3. Connecticut: The basketball program would add a lot to the ACC, and the football program is coming off a BCS appearance. The Huskies would provide a local rival for Boston College as well.

4. East Carolina: Perhaps this is a sentimental choice as the only non-BCS conference member on this list. The Pirates wouldn’t add anything in basketball and don’t contribute a TV market. But East Carolina has demonstrated that it can compete with ACC teams in football, and if North Carolina politicians are courted in the right way (remember Virginia Tech in the last ACC expansion), the school could get a shot at ACC membership.
Again, though, this is getting way ahead of the game. It will take a bold move by a chancellor for a school to leave the ACC, especially with the college athletics hierarchy suddenly at least paying lip service to the importance of academics.

Ken Tysiac

VIDEOS: Texas A&M, FSU headed for SEC?

Two videos on the potential shakeup in college football:

First, Sporting News college football writer Matt Hayes on what could happen to the Big 12 if Texas A&M leaves for the SEC:

And the Orlando Sentinel's Coley Harvey on whether Florida State could be on its way to the SEC as well:

UNC system president, Board of Governors back Thorp

CHAPEL HILL - UNC system president Tom Ross and UNC Board of Governors chair Hannah Gage this morning issued a joint statement proclaiming the board's full support of chancellor Holden Thorp's leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Many fans have voiced criticism of Thorp for firing football coach Butch Davis with the Tar Heels facing NCAA allegations of nine major violations. Fans have been upset with Thorp for firing Davis even though he wasn't personally cited in the violations, and for the timing of the dismissal nine days before the start of preseason camp.

"We are well aware that there are some alumni and other friends of UNC-Chapel Hill who strongly support the decision to make a coaching change, some who vehemently oppose it, and others who support the decision, but not its timing," the statement read. "We also know that making difficult and unpopular decisions comes with the job of being a university chancellor, and that Chancellor Thorp is committed to doing everything possible to maintain both academic integrity and athletic success at Carolina."

During a news conference following the end of the Board of Governors' regularly scheduled meeting this morning, Ross said it's important to look at the full body of Thorp's work when evaluating his performance.

"I think if you look at the overall responsibilities of a chancellor and consider all of those, he has done an extremely good job," Ross said. "I know there are a lot of people who disagree with this decision and there are a lot who support this decision. The board looks at the broader picture and supports his leadership."

Thorp spoke to reporters following Thursday's Board of Governors committee meetings; a UNC spokesman said he won't be available for interviews today. On Thursday, Thorp said he intends to continue leading UNC and said the Board of Governors has been "great" as the school has dealt with the NCAA investigation.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thorp has no plans to step down at UNC

Holden Thorp said today that he has no plans to step down as the University of North Carolina’s chancellor and that the UNC system Board of Governors “has been great through this” NCAA investigation of UNC’s football program.

Carolina is a great research university,” Thorp said. “We’re getting a great class next week coming in. We have great students coming back. We’ll have the faculty continue to make discoveries. Our research grants continue very, very strong, and fund raising continues very, very strong. This is a great, great public university.

“I feel inspired by the way our faculty has responded to the economic crisis, and I’m proud to be their leader.”

Thorp spoke to reporters today after giving the Board of Governors Committee on University Governance an update on the NCAA investigation. UNC is charged with nine major rules violations and must respond to the NCAA by Sept. 19.

University officials will take the full 90 days to respond to the NCAA, Thorp said. UNC is scheduled to appear in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28. Today, Thorp spoke publicly in front of the Board of Governors committee for only about 90 seconds before the meeting went into closed session to discuss personnel matters.

On July 27, Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis, saying he could not stand for the damage UNC’s reputation was sustaining because of the investigation. Many fans have called for Thorp’s ouster, saying Davis wasn’t directly responsible for the violations and that nine days before the start of preseason training camp was bad timing for the decision.

But a Public Policy Polling survey of 317 UNC fans in North Carolina found that 36 percent agreed with Davis’ firing, while 27 percent disagreed.

Board of Governors chair Hannah Gage said she supports Thorp.

“He did the right thing,” Gage said. “He made the right decision, and I think it took a lot of courage. He’s the first one who said the timing wasn’t perfect, but it took a lot of courage.”

Ken Tysiac and Anne Blythe

UNC will use full 90 days to respond to NCAA

University of North Carolina officials plan to take the full 90 days allotted to them to respond to an NCAA Notice of Allegations charging the school with nine major violations, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said this afternoon.

UNC’s written response to the NCAA is due Sept. 19, and school officials have an Oct. 28 meeting in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

Thorp spoke publicly only for about 90 seconds in front of the UNC system Board of Governors Committee on University Governance this afternoon. Board of Governors members quickly went into closed session for the purpose of discussing personnel matters.

Fifteen days ago, Thorp fired UNC football coach Butch Davis with controversy over the violations continuing to grip the campus.

“I held a press conference about that, and I’ve talked to the media about that,” Thorp said this afternoon, “so I don’t have a great deal more to add about that in open session.”

Ken Tysiac

Thorp to address BOG committee

University of North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp is scheduled this afternoon to give an update on the school's athletics program to a UNC system Board of Governors committee in Chapel Hill.

Thorp will address the Board of Governors Committee on University Governance. Fifteen days ago, with UNC preparing a response to allegations of nine major violations from the NCAA, Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis.

Some fans have reacted angrily to the firing, but the faculty and UNC Board of Trustees have backed Thorp.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Poll shows mixed feelings within UNC fan base

North Carolina's fan base continues to have mixed feelings about the state of its football program, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Of the 317 Tar Heels fans in North Carolina contacted by Public Policy Polling last week, 41 percent approved of the job Butch Davis did as the Tar Heels football coach - and 36 percent agree with the decision to fire him.

Meanwhile, half were "not sure" whether they approve or disapprove of the overall job Holden Thorp is doing as chancellor, while 45 percent were "not sure" whether they approved or disapproved of his handling of the football team, and whether he should remain chancellor or be fired.

Full results of the poll can be found here.

PPP is a democratic polling company that surveys through automated phone interviews. It's latest poll, conducted August 4-7, had a +/- 5.5 percent margin for error.

Other tidbits from the survey:

  • Of the fans polled, 54 percent think the NCAA investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits in the football program has had at least some impact on the University's academic reputation - and 23 percent of those say it has been severe.
  • Sixty-eight percent said there will be no change in their support of UNC football this year.
  • Five years from now, 34 percent think the program will be stronger, 16 percent think it will be weaker, and 50 percent aren't sure.
  • Almost three-quarters of those polled aren't sure whether they have a positive or negative opinion of interim football coach Everett Withers.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tar Heel boosters considering lawsuit against UNC

A group of North Carolina football supporters who agreed to help fund Kenan Stadium’s “Blue Zone” project are exploring possible legal action against chancellor Holden Thorp and the school.

Don Brown, one of five attorneys representing the group, said he plans to file a public information request as early as today asking for all correspondence – including emails, text messages, letters and voice recordings – between the Chancellor and various University officials.

The issue, according to Brown: Why was Butch Davis fired just nine days before fall practice, and after repeated public statements over the past year supporting Davis as UNC’s head coach?

“I can tell you, everybody that we represent is furious about the timing of Butch Davis’ firing,’’ Brown, whose Brown & Associates firm is based in Charlotte, said during a phone interview this morning. “They feel like their investment was based on Butch Davis being the head coach … and the public reassurances over the past year that he would remain the coach. … They want answers.”

Brown and the other four lawyers are all UNC graduates and have taken on the case pro bono, Brown said. The group they represent wants to remain anonymous at this point, he said, but includes donors of differing financial contributions.

Brown stressed that a lawsuit hasn’t been filed, and he doesn’t know what a cause of action or damages might be: “At this point, we are seeking information … The law we are stressing now is the North Carolina Public records law,’’ he said. “I can’t speculate further than that … what the law might be [in the case of donations] depends on the facts of what facts we find.”

UNC faces an Oct. 28 date with the NCAA Infractions committee to discuss nine allegations of potentially major violations that included academic misconduct and impermissible benefits. The NCAA investigation began more than a year ago; 14 players missed at least one game last season and seven sat out the entire year as a result.

Thorp pledged his support of Davis throughout the investigation, saying there was no evidence that Davis knew about any misconduct. But then he abruptly fired Davis July 27, he said, because the scandal was damaging the academic reputation of the University.

“The chancellor's explanation doesn't … pass the smell test,’’ Brown said.  “… It doesn't make sense that why you would do such an about face, raises more questions than answers. People want answers.”

-- Robbi Pickeral

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Davis says Thorp didn't communicate concerns about offer

Former University of North Carolina football coach Butch Davis said in a statement late Thursday night that he believes UNC chancellor Holden Thorp didn't promptly communicate to Davis any concerns Thorp had about the recruitment of Davis' son, Drew.

"I’m disappointed Chancellor Thorp has chosen to mention our son publicly as a part of his explanation for the decision to terminate my job," Davis said. "The first time I was made aware the chancellor had any concerns whatsoever about the recruiting of my son was the Friday before I was fired — and he did not communicate those concerns to me personally. Once I was made aware that he had become uneasy about the situation, I immediately called him to discuss it. I left a message on his voice mail that was not returned."

Thorp, who fired Davis on July 27, said Thursday afternoon that Davis offered a scholarship to East Chapel Hill High quarterback Drew Davis without first consulting Thorp or athletic director Dick Baddour.

As he has repeatedly, Thorp said Thursday there were many factors that led to Davis' firing as the football program was charged with nine major NCAA violations in June. With respect to the Drew Davis scholarship offer, Thorp said he would have preferred for Butch Davis to consult with Baddour or Thorp first so they could be on the same page with all the controversy surrounding the program

In Davis' statement, he said Drew Davis had already decided to come to UNC as a walk-on in order to give someone else a scholarship opportunity.

"My wife and I had also decided that in addition to the financial gifts we already make to the university annually, we would also contribute a scholarship through UNC’s Family Scholarship Fund so a member of an employee’s family could attend the university," Davis said.

"It's clear Chancellor Thorp knew for some time that Drew was being recruited by our football program. But he expressed no concerns to me whatsoever. I can assure you that if he'd given me any indication during those months that he was the least bit concerned, I would gladly have taken the time to sit down and discuss the issue with him."

Ken Tysiac

Thorp caught off guard by Davis scholarship offer

University of North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp said today that he was disappointed that former football coach Butch Davis offered son Drew Davis a football scholarship without consulting with Thorp or UNC athletic director Dick Baddour.

Thorp added, once again, that there was no one reason for Davis’ firing July 27, but rather a “collection of problems” as UNC faces NCAA allegations of nine major violations and an Oct. 28 hearing before of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

Drew Davis is a senior quarterback at East Chapel Hill High. Thorp said that with all of the controversy surrounding the program, it would have been better for Butch Davis to talk with Thorp and Baddour before offering Drew a scholarship.

“I found out about that a couple months ago when I saw it online,” Thorp said during a telephone interview today, “and yes, I was disappointed that neither the athletic director nor I knew about that.”

Thorp said UNC’s program is under a lot of scrutiny and needs everybody to pull together to make sure things work best for the program. The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations arrived June 21; it was also revealed in June that fewer than 12 players had amassed 395 parking tickets with fines totaling $13,125.

In July, UNC officials learned that they had failed to detect plagiarism in a term paper written by defensive lineman Michael McAdoo, who’s been ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

Butch Davis was to be paid an average of $2.2 million a year under the contract extension he signed after the 2007 season. Tuition and fees at UNC for an in-state student in the 2011-12 academic year cost $7,008.70.

“Drew is a good kid and I feel bad for him in all this,” Thorp said, “and for all I know, we would love to have him on the football team. But with everything going on, it would be good for the athletic director and the coach to talk about that and probably for all three of us to talk.”

Ken Tysiac

Thorp e-mail explains Davis' dismissal

University of North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp explained in an e-mail to students and colleagues today that changing football coaches was the only way for the school to move forward.

Thorp fired coach Butch Davis on July 27. The full text of Thorp's e-mail is below:

Dear Carolina Colleagues and Students:
My decision last week to ask head football coach Butch Davis to step
down was difficult. I think it was the right decision, and I wanted to
let you know why I made that call.

Throughout the NCAA investigation of our football program, I said that
we would take all accusations seriously and that we would face issues
head on. We apologized, and we pledged that the athletic department and
the University would be stronger as a result of the investigation. We
have cooperated fully with the NCAA and we have moved deliberately,
resisting the urge and pressure to make snap judgments.

Early on, I thought that it was important to support Coach Davis and to
allow time for improvements in the football program. But in the past few
months, I became increasingly concerned about the damage being done to
our University's integrity. When we received the NCAA letter of
allegations a month ago, I began to think about the need to make a
change. After 50 years without any major violations, we are now facing
nine allegations. And there are persistent questions about our
commitment to academic integrity. In the final analysis, there wasn't
any one thing that tipped my decision. It was the cumulative effect of
the football-related events of the past year on the University's
reputation. The only way to move forward and put this behind us was to
make a coaching change to restore confidence in the University as well
as our football program.

The difficulty of my decision was compounded by cost (up to $2.7 million
under the terms of Coach Davis' contract - all of which will come from
the athletic department) and timing (just before the start of training
camp for the team). But the reputation of this University and the
integrity of our football program have a value beyond any dollar figure
or any timeline disruption. I am committed to maintaining our standing
as one of the top public universities in the nation - both in academics
and in athletics.

Athletic Director Dick Baddour and I named Everett Withers, a member of
the current staff, as the interim head football coach. His top priority
is to help our student-athletes succeed on and off the field and in the
classroom. Dick also announced his decision to step down as athletic
director before his planned retirement later this year. He offered to
leave his job sooner because he feels strongly that our ability to
recruit a new head coach depends on having a new athletic director in
place to make that hire. I agree with that and reluctantly accepted
Dick's offer. He will serve out his contract through next June, but will
step aside and assume other duties when a new athletic director arrives.
Right now, we're putting together our response to the NCAA that's due on
September 19. Then we'll go before the NCAA infractions committee on
October 28. We need Dick Baddour with us when we go to Indianapolis to
meet with the NCAA. There is no other person I would rather have by my
side than Dick.

One additional issue requires attention this year. I've talked to
several faculty members recently, including new Faculty Chair Jan
Boxill, about the role of the Honor Court. Jan has agreed to pull
together a group of respected faculty members who will help us consider
changes or improvements to the honor system. We have a long tradition of
a strong student-run Honor Court, and of course, we'll involve students
and Student Government representatives in our analysis. Regardless of
the situation with football, it just makes good sense to seek ways to
improve our commitment to honor and integrity.

I hope you'll continue to support our student-athletes and the Tar Heel
football team. They will play their hearts out, just like last year.

Thanks to those of you I've heard from on this issue since it began.
I'll share more updates as developments warrant. In the meantime, best
wishes for a great fall semester.



Ken Tysiac

USA Today coaches poll released

The USA Today college football coaches poll is out, and South Carolina in, and possibly underrated, at No. 12.

The Gamecocks are the only Carolinas team in the initial rankings, although North Carolina (with 14 points), Clemson (7), and N.C. State (4)  also received votes.

Oklahoma is No. 1, with Alabama, Oregon, LSU and Florida State rounding out the top 5. 

In addition to Florida State, the ACC is represented in the top 25 by No. 13 Virginia Tech.

In addition to Alabama and LSU, No. 14 Arkansas, No. 19 Auburn, No. 20 Mississippi State, No. 22 Georgia and No. 23 Florida are in from the SEC.

Former Tar Heels getting their shot

T.J. Yates is getting two-thirds of the snaps with the Houston Texans because free agent quarterback Matt Leinart can't practice until at least today. That puts the former North Carolina quarterback on an accelerated learning curve. Will it mean a former Tar Heel quarterback in the NFL (and actually playing quarterback)?

And defensive tackle Marvin Austin, suspended all of last season for improper contact with an agent, is with the New York Giants and trying to play himself back into football shape.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

RB Furr to transfer from UNC

With the start of practice just two days away, junior running back Hunter Furr has decided to transfer from the University of North Carolina, the school announced today.

Furr asked interim head coach Everett Withers this week to release him from his scholarship. Withers said Furr is looking for more playing time.

In two seasons, Furr carried eight times for 35 yards.

“I've enjoyed being a part of this program and I’ve developed several great relationships with my teammates and coaches," Furr said in a statement released by the school. "I feel it’s in the best interest of my football career to transfer and compete for playingtime at another institution." 

Ken Tysiac

Sisa fills out staff at UNC

Steve Sisa, who has been promoted to safeties coach, will fill out the coaching staff of interim head coach Everett Withers at North Carolina, the school announced today.
Sisa is in his second season with the Tar Heels and worked in player development last year. UNC had a position to fill on the staff after head coach Butch Davis was fired last week and defensive coordinator Withers was promoted to interim head coach.

“With practice beginning in just a few days, we wanted to move quickly to complete our staff,” Withers said in a statement. “I felt it was most important to add someone who knew the players and was a good fit with our other coaches. Steve has developed outstanding relationships with our players and is excited to begin.”

Sisa had served as a graduate assistant in 2008 and 2009 at Southern Mississippi. His career as a linebacker at perennial Division III power Bridgewater (Va.) College was cut short by a shoulder injury.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, August 1, 2011

UNC will go quiet after practice starts

North Carolina's football team, with new interim head coach Everett Withers at the helm, will open fall practice as scheduled.

But don't expect to hear anything from them publicly for about six days after that.

Although Friday's first workout will be open to the media for about 45 minutes, and several players will be available afterward, UNC's practices will then be closed and the Tar Heels will not be available to talk to the media until the following Thursday.

"We're trying to let the team have a week to practice with Coach Withers, and be around him and the coaching style as a head coach before we open up to media requests every day,'' team spokesman Kevin Best explained. "The team's been through a lot, and we want them to enjoy training camp and football."

The players report on Thursday, and they return to Chapel Hill with their program in a far different situation than when they left it.. Withers was hired Thursday, a day Butch Davis -- who was set to begin his fifth season -- was fired as head coach. Athletics director Dick Baddour has resigned, although he will stay on until a successor is found.

And school officials have an October date with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which is expected to eventually dole out penalties. A year ago, the NCAA began investigating allegations of academic misconduct and impermissible benefits in the program

Robbi Pickeral