UPDATED: 4:25 p.m.
A group of North Carolina football supporters who agreed to help fund Kenan Stadium’s “Blue Zone” project wants more information about why head coach Butch Davis was fired – and may explore legal action depending on the answers they receive.
Don Brown, one of five attorneys representing the group, had his firm fax a public records request to UNC Monday asking for all correspondence – including emails, text messages, letters and voice recordings – between the Chancellor Holden Thorp and various University officials.
The issue, according to Brown: Why was Davis terminated just nine days before fall practice, after repeated statements over the past year supporting him as UNC’s head football coach?
“I can tell you, everybody that we represent is furious about the timing of Butch Davis’ firing,’’ Brown, whose Brown & Associates firm is based in Charlotte, said during a phone interview this morning. “They feel like their investment was based on Butch Davis being the head coach … and the public reassurances over the past year that he would remain the coach. … They want answers.”
Brown said he and the other four lawyers – Mark A. Johnson of Marietta, Ga.; Matthew J. Dixon of Elizabethtown; Ray S. Smith of Atlanta and J. Scott Hampton of Greensboro -- are all UNC graduates and have taken the case pro bono. The group they represent wants to remain anonymous at this point, he added, but includes donors of differing financial contributions.
The request asks for correspondence between Thorp and more than a dozen people dating back to June 1, 2010, including: Hanna Gage, Chairwoman of the UNC Board of Governors; Wade Hargrove, current chairman of the Board of Trustees; Art Chansky, a former employee at Tar Heel Sports Properties; William Friday, former President of the University of North Carolina System; Davis; athletic director Dick Baddour; and anyone concerning investment in the Blue Zone.
The request also asks the school to produce:
* Thorp’s cell phone records over the past 13 months, and any emails during that timeframe responsive to the request that he may have been deleted.
* Notes, minutes and records in Thorp’s possession from any discussions about Davis and the football situation at the July 27, 2011 Board of Trustees meeting.
* Any documents concerning any proposed self-imposed sanctions that are to be presented to the NCAA in connection with the UNC football program, if applicable.
* Correspondence between Thorp and the NCAA – or anyone else -- concerning Thorp’s self-reported violation of NCAA rules as a result of his public comments about Drew Davis.
The request asks for the information to be provided within one week of the date of receipt of the letter.
UNC confirmed it had received the records request Monday afternoon, but had no comment.
Brown stressed that a lawsuit hasn’t been filed, and he doesn’t know what a cause of action or damages might be: “At this point, we are seeking information … The law we are stressing now is the North Carolina Public records law,’’ he said. “I can’t speculate further than that … what the law might be [in the case of donations] depends on the facts of what facts we find.”
Half of the almost-completed $70 million “Blue Zone” project – which adds the Student Athlete Center for Excellence, and roughly 3,000 seats to the east end zone – is being funded by private donations. The other half is being raises by the sale of club seats and luxury suites.
To date, the Rams Club has fundraised about $22 million for the project, executive director John Montgomery said. The foundation has received calls asking for refunds, and to stop pledging, since Davis was fired, but “ we’ve been working with donors one-on-one, and asking them to reconsider, to stay with us, to support us,’’ Montgomery said. “…We are assessing the situation.”
Since July 28, when Davis was fired, 10 Rams Club accounts have been inactivated, Montgomery said, although 15 new members have joined. It has not granted any refunds.
UNC faces an Oct. 28 date with the NCAA Infractions committee to discuss nine allegations of potentially major violations that include academic misconduct and impermissible benefits. The NCAA investigation began more than a year ago; 14 players missed at least one game last season and seven sat out the entire year as a result.
Thorp pledged his support of Davis throughout the investigation, saying there was no evidence that Davis knew about any misconduct. But then he abruptly fired Davis July 27, he said, because the scandal was damaging the academic reputation of the University.
“The chancellor's explanation doesn't … pass the smell test,’’ Brown said. “… It doesn't make sense that why you would do such an about face, raises more questions than answers. People want answers.”