What was your initial reaction when you heard that Coach Davis had been let go?
“I was very sad and shocked. More than anything, I was hurt. Hurt for the majority of the people involved. I was hurt because this is a tough time for this to go down for the program, as far as everything that went on last year and all of the distractions that we had. One thing that we could count on was the leadership and vision of Coach Davis, which was a plus during that hard time. He made things easier because of his vision and his focus. So I understand the guys there now at Carolina, they don’t have that, which will be tough for them. But they’re a group of guys and I think they will bounce back and work hard and do the things that they set out to do during the offseason. They’ll be able to rebound.”
The majority of people associated with the program – from the players up to the athletic director – have been in full support of Coach Davis since the NCAA news broke last July. You mentioned last fall that it was a few players that made the mistakes, not Coach Davis. Do you still believe that, and if so, do you believe that it was wrong for Davis to be let go?
“Yes. The primary reason he was let go, according to everything, was the academic prestige being challenged because of the actions of the players. With him being the leader, of course, this all falls down on him. It’s like when you lose the game, the quarterback’s to blame, but when you win the game, the quarterback’s [celebrated]. So one thing that I think we all have to take into consideration is that we had a big group of seniors to graduate last year, which was a major plus, and guys are on track to do the same this year. So all of the academics weren’t in shambles.
"I think that the actions of certain individuals, whoever they may have been, the actions of those guys collectively led to a bad situation for Coach Davis and the outlook of the program. My initial reaction was, ‘Well, Coach Davis isn’t teaching the classes, he’s not teaching bad habits to the guys, he’s not telling guys to ‘do this with this person.’’ I think it’s just been an unfortunate turn of events for him personally, but all of the credit goes to him. For him changing the culture of Carolina and making us relevant again in the football world, that was on him as well. It’s only right that negative things fall upon him. That’s just the nature of how the business world is.”
In the press release on Wednesday afternoon, Chancellor Holden Thorp indicated there was no new information pertaining to the investigation that forced this decision. Because of that, a lot of people are saying, ‘You’ve basically known all of this since last fall, so why not fire him then instead of waiting until nine days before training camp starts?’ Were you shocked by the timing?
“The timing wasn’t particularly good for any of the parties involved. You’ve got the fans that are looking forward to the season and they get hit with the major blow. More importantly, for the morale of the team, it’s difficult to overcome this type of a blow because your leader, your No. 1 guy on the team, is no longer there. He’s not able to see out the vision that he put forth, so that’s always tough. It’s a difficult situation. I’m not trying to take any one side. I’m strictly down the middle on everything because the one thing that I see as I’ve matured and grown, I understand how some of the things in the world work.
"We are pieces of a well-oiled machine. We’re parts of that machine. Carolina has been here for years, before we were here, and the things that we’ve done and that others have done before me to build the university into a prestigious university are now being challenged. And one of those things is academics. So I totally understand why some of the decisions were made, based on that. But like you said, the timing really wasn’t a good time to do this, which leaves a lot of people upsets and leads to a lot of questions for guys – the recruits, the guys that just got here, the freshmen. There’s also the rule that if your coach gets fired your first year, you can transfer, so who really knows who will stay, who will go, who will come in with the recruits. That leaves a big question mark on that part.”
Is this decision disastrous for the program or is this something that can be overcome relatively soon?
“You have to understand the magnitude of this decision. What quality coach would want to come now and take on this burden? That’s the question. The University of North Carolina is a wonderful opportunity for anyone, but who would want to put themselves in this situation now to go in and be questioned about everything you do? You can’t really control the players. You hold onto the guys as tight as you can and those kinds of things without babying them, but you can’t control them every second of the day because of regulations. The NCAA has made it so you only have 20 hours to do this, you have to do that.
"The demands of football put a lot of stress on players and that’s one thing people don’t understand. Now, I’m not saying you should result to cheating – don’t do that. I went through without any academic [problems] on my part, so I definitely know that it can be done. And I know people that have done far beyond what I did in school, but it’s very tough because it puts coaches in a bad position to come and move their families here and do all of those things and try to start a career here… It just is what it is. Things happen and you’ve got to make the best of it.”
One of the names that has been tossed around over the past couple of years as a potential successor to Coach Davis is defensive coordinator Everett Withers. Having played under him for several years, do you see Coach Withers as a guy that would make a good interim coach in this situation?
“I really don’t know. When Coach [John] Blake was there, I think Coach Blake would have been a great person to step in and do that. But really, the contrast between coaches is very significant sometimes. Sometimes coaches just have ‘it.’ And Coach Davis was one of those coaches. All of the guys loved him. Of course, the ballers loved him because he treated the ballers very nice. His policy was a “what have you done for me lately” type of thing.
"So if you were balling, you were in the good graces of Coach. Players like that type of stuff. When he came in, he gave us gear and all types of incentives to do the right thing. Even with academics, if you got a certain GPA, you were able to do more stuff – cut back on mandatory study time, move off campus, get sweatshirts or jumpsuits or things of that nature. So it will be very hard for a coach to come in and set his law down when Coach Davis had already been there.”