Thorp was always going to be the next domino to fall. It was just a matter of time. You can’t fire Davis for not knowing what was going on within his own football program, then expect the chancellor to skate for not knowing what was going on within his own university.
And so the football scandal at North Carolina, which is now a full-fledged athletic and academic scandal of unknown scope -- encompassing NCAA sanctions, academic shenanigans in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and alleged financial improprieties by a pair of fundraisers who happen to be a former UNC quarterback and Tyler Hansbrough’s mom -- claimed another victim Monday when Thorp announced he would step down in June.
Thorp resigned, but he was on shaky ground. His decision to fire Davis alienated the half of his constituency focused on athletics; the continuing series of additional scandals across campus alienated his base, the half focused on academics.
There’s no doubting Thorp’s academic credentials -- even his detractors acknowledge he’s a brilliant chemist and teacher -- but at a time when the university needed a hard-eyed realist keeping a close eye on Davis and the rapid expansion of football ambition, Thorp was at midfield, playing the national anthem on his keyboard before the Thursday night game against Florida State that turned out to be a disaster for the Tar Heels.
When Thorp finally did part company with Davis, giving the coach a lucrative golden handshake in the process, it was too late. The rot had set in. The Tar Heels wasted one season under an interim coach and now face a long road back under Larry Fedora.
At this point, Thorp has to hope his legacy will be the twin hires of Bubba Cunningham and Fedora. So far, Cunningham has proven a consummate professional who is moving slowly but steadily to shore up compliance, academic support and other areas of concern within the athletic department. He has none of the previous ties to the university that Baddour did, leaving him free to step on whatever toes he feels necessary to trod upon.
If nothing else, Fedora brings enthusiasm to the job, and while the rebuilding process is clearly going to take some time, he’s got the personality to keep things pumped up during the interim.
There was never any doubting that Thorp, like Baddour, was trying to do what he thought was best for the university. That path was certainly unclear at times. Stepping aside now is best for the university, as it should open the door for a forthright and honest examination of the core values of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the reaffirmation of basic principles of ethics and integrity not just in the athletic department but all across campus.
After Blake, Davis and Baddour, Thorp is the latest to fall in the scandal that started in the football program and has since spread across campus like mold. If his return to the chemistry department proves the impetus for getting it cleaned up, he’ll have served his university well with his final act as chancellor.