Q&A with Holden Thorp

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The North Carolina fan base has had plenty of questions concerning the direction of its football program since the dismissal of former head coach Butch Davis in July. Inside Carolina asked some of those questions to Chancellor Holden Thorp, who responded via email.

There is a vocal segment of the fan base that believes your decision to dismiss Butch Davis in July was a clear statement that you intend to de-emphasize football at UNC. Is there any truth in those concerns?
"Absolutely not. I am 100 percent committed to the success of Carolina football and the athletic program. I understand that some people are upset and disappointed with my decision. But I had to do what I thought was best for both the University and for Carolina football.

"I've enjoyed watching Coach Withers and the team win the first two games in Kenan. And the addition of the Blue Zone looks great. I believed in and supported the Blue Zone. I met with the leaders of the Educational Foundation about it, and I advocated for moving forward despite the difficult timing with the economy. I've also helped raise some of the money from passionate donors who made the Blue Zone possible. I'm proud to have done all of that. This is a project that is part of a legacy for Carolina football that will serve the athletics program and the University exceptionally well in the years to come. It's a major statement about the value and long-term future of football at UNC. And it's a great addition to the country's most beautiful football stadium.

"We have a national search for a new athletic director that's going well, and that's important because that person will select our next permanent coach. In the meantime, Everett Withers and our players are doing an outstanding job. There is a lot to be excited about when it comes to Carolina football."

The past 14 months have been difficult for everyone associated with the University and specifically for those involved with the football program. What is your vision on how the football program will emerge from the NCAA investigation's aftermath?
"It has been a tough year, but we're turning the corner. We go before the NCAA's infractions committee on Oct. 28, and that's an important step in moving forward. The search for a new athletic director is well under way, and once we've made that hire, the next step is finding a permanent head coach. We'll have great candidates for both of these positions. I hope our fans will focus on Everett Withers, our coaches and our players and give them all the support they deserve."

For most athletic programs across the country, football is the cornerstone that generates revenue for all other sports. Given that financial impact in athletics, what role should football play within the overall mission of the University?
"I have never seen academics and athletics as an either/or proposition. This is a great public research university with an excellent reputation for academic excellence and with a long tradition of a great athletic program. Those two things can go together, and I'm committed to maintaining our standing as one of the top public universities in the nation – in academics and athletics.

"Coach Withers sent an email to Carolina faculty a few days ago, and he emphasized the fact that we want our student-athletes to win championships and graduate from one of the nation's great universities. I want the same thing.

"When I met with the athletic director search committee, I told them that football and basketball are important to Carolina not just because we like to win, but also because they are so important to the financial model that supports our entire 28-sport program. I think people know how much I also value our Olympic sports. So it's essential that we regain and sustain our momentum in football and be competitive for the ACC championship and BCS bowl games with a program that we can all embrace. And of course, we'll continue to succeed at men's basketball."

Do you foresee any elevated academic standards at UNC for admissions on the horizon for football players or student-athletes in general?
"We haven't developed any new plans to change our standards. There have been some very important conversations at the national level, especially in conjunction with the retreat convened in August by NCAA Mark Emmert for Division I presidents, chancellors and athletic directors. It was very helpful to me to participate in those discussions because across the country, universities are struggling with balancing athletics and their academic mission.

"One outcome of that retreat was a vote to raise the four-year average Academic Progress Rate benchmark from 900 to at least 930 as the cutoff for teams to participate in an NCAA national championship or football bowl game.

"There has been a lot of reaction to that move, but I think it was a positive step toward strengthening the NCAA's focus on what's right academically for student-athletes. The thrust was to make a statement about the academic expectations we have for student-athletes. There is additional discussion about raising other academic requirements, and I'm glad that Carolina is involved in those discussions."

We're seven weeks removed from Davis's dismissal and a segment of the fan base is still directing criticism toward you in the form of buttons and t-shirts that were prevalent at the first two games of the season. Did you expect the initial backlash in the days following your decision? And are you surprised that the criticism and anger continues to exist?
"Some people are upset with my decision, and I understand that. The timing was tough, and that weighed on me. But sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions, and I feel like this was the right decision for the University and for Carolina football. Now it's time for all of us to pull together and put our energy into supporting Coach Withers and the team."

Students, alumni and donors represent a significant portion of the football fan base. How do you plan to go about restoring their confidence in the direction of the football program?
"Three things will restore confidence. The first thing we're already doing – getting back to playing football. The second thing is finding the best AD we can to replace Dick Baddour. We're attracting the very best candidates. And the third thing is filling the head coach's job permanently. All those things, plus my commitment and the University's commitment to success in football, will go a long way toward restoring confidence and excitement in the program."

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