Greg: Hollow Support

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – University of North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp assured his football players on Thursday that he was looking out for their best interests. But the timing of his decision to fire Butch Davis raises doubts about those statements.

Thorp's opening comments at the Friday Center were not about former head coach Butch Davis, the timing of the decision or the departure of athletic director Dick Baddour. Instead, UNC's Chancellor addressed the student-athletes that make up the football team.

"I want you to know that the University is behind you and we are totally committed to your success and to a successful football program," Thorp said. "Thank you for putting on a Carolina uniform and representing our University."

Yet those words ring hollow when considering some of Thorp's actions over the past year.

The current roster was given a gag order following Davis's firing, preventing the players from publicly venting their views about the decision. Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to fear of repercussions, several players used words such as "shock," "disbelief" and "upset" when talking with Inside Carolina (read full comments here).

Most of the angst was directed at the timing of the decision. Players were dismissed for a break shortly after summer school wrapped up on July 22. The football team is scheduled to report for training camp on Aug. 4.

"The administration can't call a meeting and look the players in the eye and tell them what's going on?" a parent of a UNC player said about the announcement coming while the players were off campus. "It doesn't matter what Chancellor Thorp had to say to the players in front of a camera in a room full of press - that's pretty empty and hollow to me. Have some guts. The kids have only been away from campus for a week - are you telling me this all happened in the last six or seven days?"

The repercussions of Davis's firing only days away from the start of training camp are even greater for the 24 members of the 2011 recruiting class.

Negative recruiting reached a boiling point as the 2010 season came to a close, leaving many prospects wondering whether or not Davis would actually be their football coach if they chose to sign with North Carolina.

But during a Nov. 18 meeting with the University's Board of Trustees, Thorp helped to calm those fears by publicly supporting Davis.

"We have found no reason to make any more changes in the football program other than the ones that we have already made in terms of changing assistant coaches and the student-athletes that we have had to process," said Thorp, standing alongside Davis and Baddour. "So we're very confident moving together - the three of us and the folks who are supporting us - to address the problems that we have. And we are determined to do what it takes to have a program that we can all be proud of."

Thorp's support enabled Baddour to join Davis in alleviating any concerns about his job stability during the chaotic recruiting period leading up to National Signing Day.

Four-star linebacker Travis Hughes traveled to Chapel Hill on Jan. 29 – five days before Signing Day – to meet with Davis and Baddour and talk about his concerns.

"I had to get some stuff hammered out," Hughes told Inside Carolina after the meeting. "I had some questions going into the weekend that I got answered. I've been getting hammered on some real negative stuff. I didn't want it to affect me too much, so I really wanted to get down there and talk to them about everything that's going on and get some assurance... I wanted to get it out of the horse's mouth."

Hughes ultimately signed with North Carolina and arrived on campus in mid-June to enroll in classes and begin summer school. Nineteen incoming freshmen were scheduled to take part in freshman orientation beginning on June 13. The other five freshmen enrolled at UNC in January.

Had Thorp decided to make this coaching change just two months earlier, this group of incoming freshmen might have had some options at their disposal. If any of the players had wanted to cut ties with UNC and play for another school this fall, all that would have been needed was for University officials to release them from the letter of intent.

Now that those players have enrolled at UNC, their only option is to follow the transfer policy set forth by the NCAA, which requires a residence requirement of one year at a new institution before being eligible for competition. There is no clause in the NCAA Bylaws that allows immediate eligibility upon transfer due to a coaching change.

The students that represent the North Carolina football program put their faith in the administration to guide them through the uncharted waters of the last 12 months. For some, that faith was shattered on Wednesday afternoon and the institution's leadership is to blame.

"As a leader, what you look for is when you have a group of people responsible for doing difficult things, if everybody feels like they had a chance to speak their mind (and) if everybody agrees at the end to do what's best for the University," Thorp said in his closing remarks during November's appearance before the BOT. "That's what makes me feel good about Butch Davis being our football coach, about Dick Baddour being our athletic director and about the football program at the University of North Carolina."

A little more than eight months later, with a minimal amount of new information available since that Board of Trustees meeting, Davis is no longer the head coach, Baddour is on his way out and the football program is in crisis mode.

And it's the student-athletes that are left to bear the burden.

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