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