For the second time since the NCAA began investigating North Carolina’s football program 27 months ago, Holden Thorp did the right thing.
The 10th chancellor in UNC history turned in his resignation Sunday, and he will officially leave his post at the conclusion of this academic year in June. This was a wise decision.
But based on Thorp’s words and how he’s handled UNC’s never-ending multi-faceted crisis, he probably should have made this decision a while ago. In addition, if held to the same standard by the UNC Board of Trustees and system wunder which he held former football coach Butch Davis, Thorp would have been fired already rather than walking away on his own terms.
Davis was canned eight days before the start of football practice a year ago, and just a few days after Thorp allowed him to represent the school at the ACC Football Kickoff.
He was right in terminating the coach, whose shadow was all over the mess that has now rendered the Tar Heels football program on probation, without 15 scholarships and banned from participating in a bowl game this season. Thorp mishandled not only Davis, but elements of the investigation by opening too many cavities for the NCAA to sift through, and most egregiously by making many of the same mistakes in his post as Davis made in his.
If Davis was to be held accountable for the actions of an assistant coach, a tutor and his players, Thorp had to be held to the same standard with respect to the head of the African-American Studies department.
How professor and AFAM head Julius Nyang’oro was allowed to essentially roam the landscape doing his thing is a disconcerting display of oversight by Thorp and a world-class university. As a result, Nyang’oro’s troubling fascination with athletes, notably football players, likely wouldn’t have added yet another disturbing prong to the ongoing Tar Heels scandal.
In the grand scheme of things, and with respect to UNC’s overall reputation, the AFAM problems are far more abominable than what happened inside the football program. Rightly or wrongly, many observers simply chalked that up as business-as-usual for big-time college sports, even at UNC, which had previously set the standard for operating within the parameters of the NCAA’s Moby Dick-sized rule book.
Furthermore, Thorp failed to steer the narrative away from sports even when the more recent AFAM issues have been deemed university and academic problems by the NCAA, not athletics ones.
A popular belief among many UNC faithful is that Thorp didn’t provide enough leadership at a time of crisis. Some may say he even buckled and hasn’t recovered since a bungled press conference in July of 2010 alerting the world of the NCAA investigation. And as the layering of problems built up, Thorp appeared more and more ill-equipped to handle the multitudinous mess. That makes one wonder, if Davis had to leave right away, why does Thorp get nine more months?
In fairness to Thorp, his intent was to never harm athletics, as some mouthpieces have spewed. But he didn’t do much to help it, either.
UNC will get past all of these issues and in time Larry Fedora’s football program will have its full allotment of scholarships and the university will continue to do what it always has as a renowned institution.
But the black eye of the Davis, John Blake, Jennifer Wiley, Marvin Austin, Greg Little, Robert Quinn, Matt Kupec, Tami Hansbrough, Nyang’oro and Thorp era will remain for some time. Too long, to be frank. But maybe that’s a positive thing so UNC and other schools don’t forget and make the same mistakes.