Nobody cares about all the safe landings.

BobLee
July07/ 2014

Contrary to the current mantra of the ABC Short-Bus faction, the vast majority of UNC FB & Bkball student-athletes who have matriculated over the past 50+ years did so without “special help” from Deborah, Julius, Wayne, Burgess, Jennifer et al.   They subsequently parlayed said unassisted matriculation into productive contributions to family and community.  That said…..

No one cares how many safe landings occur at RDU Airport.   “Safe landings” are what is expected at RDU and at airports near Tuscaloosa, Tallahassee, Auburn, Columbus, Gainesville etc etc.  It’s the crashes that draw the media spotlight.

95% of the friends I made during my four-years at UNC were varsity football and basketball players.   To the best of my knowledge they all graduated and were absorbed into the grand maelstrom of productive citizens.   I can quickly count five physicians, four lawyers and a handful of “wealthy business moguls”.   Only three ever made a pro sports roster.

The rest have spent their adult lives in assorted career pursuits with “success” consistent with their peers.  None served jail time to my knowledge.  Their college experience in Chapel Hill contributed to their ability to “go forth and be productive citizens”.

I should mention that “my era at UNC” pre-dated the creation of ESPN by ten years.  “My era” also corresponded with the first racial integration of Football and Basketball at UNC.  I am not so naïve as to think it hasn’t changed A LOT since then.

Many historians say Carolina “got serious about Football” after my sophomore year when they brought in an SEC Assistant as Head Coach – Bill Dooley.   The more correct historians know Carolina “got serious about Football” a decade earlier when it brought in Jim Tatum.   Jim Tatum was “a big name” before he came to UNC.   Tatum, of course, died tragically before he could “awaken the sleeping giant”.   OK, Carl Snavely and “Choo Choo” did pretty well in the late 40s.

Bill Dooley hired the first Academic coach – Bill Cobey.   Bill Cobey and his assistant constituted the athletic academic department.   That department now has a larger staff than the entire football roster “back then”.   Bill Dooley also let it be known that afternoon labs and other academic intrusions into a player’s dedication to football were “frowned upon” including but not limited to joining a fraternity.

Thru the Dooley, Crum, Brown, Torbush, Bunting eras Carolina Football tended to be “good” and occasionally “very good” but never BIG BOWL good for any extended period of time but certainly held its own and then some versus its “comparables”. 

Butch Davis was the first Big Name Football Coach lured to Chapel Hill since Jim Tatum.   (No, Mack was NOT “a Big Name” when he arrived from Tulane.)   Butch was sought and bought by The BOT3 to finally “awaken the sleeping giant”.

The phrase be careful what you ask for  seems appropriate here.  Maybe “giants” are like dogs in that sleeping ones should be left alone?

Beginning in “my era” Dean Smith’s teams became an annual Top Five program albeit dwarfed like everyone else nationally by Wooden’s Bruins.   Dean’s teams remained a top five program thru his retirement in 1997 including two national championships.   You probably know that.  NC State and Duke also won two NatChamps during that same era.  You know that too.

I knew the players of the Larry Miller, Rusty Clark, Dick Grubar, Charlie Scott era.   Other than a chance passing encounter I do not claim to personally “know” any UNC basketball players beyond the early 1970s.  If ‘Sheed and JR and Touche and Rashad are fine fellows or not you can’t prove it by me.   How deeply did they drink from The Perian Spring?  I’d look elsewhere for Jeopardy partners, but thats just me.

My mother died in 2003 at 93.  She carried to her grave an image of Carolina Basketball being Rusty Clark….. very tall, very white, very smart Morehead Scholar who became a successful surgeon.   It was an image she was very comfortable with.  Who wouldn’t be?

All the UNC athletes of “my era” got degrees in some marketable discipline.  None of them expected to become professional athletes.  They were not all as accomplished in the classroom as they were on the field or court.  There were a few who “finessed”  academics in the fashion of Animal House hi-jinks but none to the level currently under scrutiny.

I offer this retrospective because many of my old friends are conflicted as regards TGU (The Great Unpleasantness).   They are proud of their UNC diplomas and attribute their successes over the past 40 years to their UNC-CH experience.   I expect their contemporaries at NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, UVa etc all value their college experiences too.   As it should be.

Shortly after Marvin tweeted I noted in a column that UNC Football, as with its contemporary comparables, always had 3-4 “academically challenged” youngsters on its roster.   3-4 being “manageable”.   As college football evolved in the 90s that number grew until 3-4 had became 15-20 by 2008-09-10.   Even at 20, the remaining 60+ likely qualify as “real students”.

What is “an acceptable number” ???

That many feral cats are simply too many to herd.   The same evolution was taking place in college basketball in smaller quantities but the same %s.  Tracking the evolution from “just a few” to “too many to herd” is The Question yet to be answered.

NOTE:  There are two types of student-athletes who are potential problems academically.  (1) the ones who arrive on campus woefully deficient in basic learning skills – aka: the ones Mary Willingham faced across a tutor’s desk. ….. (2) the ones who have no interest in academics and feel their athletic prowess grants them a pass on “classroom crap”.  UNC had accumulated a critical mass of both types by that Spring of 2010.

It should be noted that as academic prowess diminished, athletic prowess rather drastically increased.   The UNC Football roster as of Marvin’s tweet in Spring 2010 was, arguably, THE most athletically talented team in UNC history.    It dramatically imploded from assorted improprieties before it ever competed.

My old friends are understandably angry and embarrassed by all that has percolated since Spring 2010.  Some are hard-core Dan Kane-blamers.   Some are “Everybody does it” chanters.   Some “could care less what those idiots at Cow College say”.   Some, alas, are simply “sorry we got caught”.    Some are not all that surprised it happened.

Those who understand that Big Time College Football has changed quite a bit since “our era” are not that shocked but still wish it hadn’t happened.  I wish it hadn’t happened too.

I am the only one of my old friends to meet personally with Jay Smith and Mary Willingham; and, leave those meetings liking both of them.  I’ve also met with “Butch’s attorney”.   I like him too.   I don’t like everyone I meet, but I do like those folks.

I went into those meetings not knowing what to expect, in other words, I had an open mind.   What a concept!  I recommend that approach.

I knew and liked Holden Thorpe too although that relationship became strained towards the end.   You know of my personal friendship with BubbaTheRealAD.   Throw in knowing a few BOTs and a few BOGs and….. of the guys from “our era” I’m confident I have more personal in-depth knowledge of this mess than any of them.   Not to say they are not all entitled to their opinions however they arrive at them.

As for “nobody talks about all the good things about UNC Football & Basketball”  I go back to all those safe landings at the airport.   “Going to college and then going out and contributing to your family and community” is what is supposed to happen.

For the vast majority of UNC Football and Basketball players over the past 50 years that has been “what happened”.

At least it has been for the ones I’ve known.

♦ ♦ ♦

Summer w/ PJ Deja’vu …… It seems like only last summer a year ago PJ was in the headlines with Fats.   And now we be PJ-ing all over again.  For the record, PJ never played a second for UNC after last summer’s boyish indiscretions.   Yes, Roy SWORE PJ had seen the errors of his wayward ways….. but, hey, Roy says a lot of stuff.

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