A Lower Profile — But Not Lower Expectations

From the University Report (published by the GAA 1970-94)

The last several months have brought unusual visibility — not all of it welcomed and too much of it unflattering and undeserved — to our University’s athletic program. Perhaps this overabundance of media attention serves to confirm UNC head basketball coach Dean Smith’s often repeated observation: “Athletics is to the University like the front porch is to a home — it is the most visible part, yet certainly not the most important.”

Many alumni are perhaps confused, some concerned, and regrettably, even a few somewhat embarrassed as a result of incidents surrounding the arrest of former UNC running back Derrick Fenner and events surrounding the resignation of UNC Head Football Coach Dick Crum.

Unfortunately, some media have played more than an appropriate observer or reporter role and caused or colored the interpretations that have been given to both of these matters. A reporter knowingly misrepresented Derrick Fenner’s SAT scores, realizing that the University is not permitted to reveal the exact scores of any student. Others in the press suggested that our admissions standards for athletes were faulty because Derrick Fenner was admitted to the University. Yet less than 20% of those who are admitted to the University as exceptions to the admissions standards are athletes. Furthermore, athletes who are admitted as exceptions are admitted by a faculty committee not by the athletic department. Regrettably. some of the press concluded that because Derrick Fenner was charged he would most surely be found guilty. As most readers now know, a thorough investigation of the events surrounding the killing that took place in Maryland last spring corroborated Derrick Fenner’s claim that he was nowhere near the scene of the incident and the murder charges were dropped.

This is by no means to suggest that Derrick Fenner was a model student athlete. He has other serious charges still pending from a separate arrest. There were several problems with Derrick Fenner while he was a Carolina football player. However, rather than indicting the entire athletic program because of unproven charges against a single individual. all of us — the press, particularly — need to remember that a person is presumed innocent unless the courts find otherwise.

It would be equally unfortunate to draw adverse conclusions about our University’s athletic program from the events surrounding Coach Dick Crum’s departure. Clearly, it was no secret that there was an erosion of support of the football program over the last few years. This was publicly acknowledged by Coach Crum, Chancellor Christopher Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford. Some cite the won-loss record (22-211 since 1983 and 2-21-1 against teams with winning records) as the primary concern. Sports writers have observed a difficulty with recruiting North
Carolina high school students to play at UNC. Poor interpersonal communications and low graduation rates for his players have been suggested as other reasons.

A thoughtful, careful, sensitive process was underway to determine what should be the future of the Carolina football program. Mid-season this fall Coach Crum privately initiated discussions regarding his desire to resign at the end of the 1987 season. Unfortunately, unnamed sources, first claimed to be but never proven to be, high University officials, were permitted to move this careful and thoughtful process into the public domain. False claims were mad e regarding Coach Crum’s likely firing, his hold-out for financial settlements for his assistant coaches, and pressure by the Ram’s Club.

A joint statement by UNC Chancellor Christopher Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford indicating Coach Crum had the option of fulfilling his contract was not accepted by the press. Still later, once Coach Crum, having been assured of his absolute option to stay, reaffirmed his desire to resign, a joint statement by Coach Crum, Chancellor Fordham and Athletic Director Swofford regarding Coach Crum’s resignation was still found by some to be inadequate. Additional innuendo, public cynicism and self-righteous comments were made by some editorial writers and others. Coach Crum, to his credit, recognizing that continued misrepresentations of the facts were hurting the University that he had served for ten years, took the extraordinary measure of volunteering yet another public statement about his resignation. (See statement on page 3.)

All decisions regarding Coach Crum’s departure were made carefully and thoughtfully by appropriate University officials and not by Carolina alumni. The general lambasting and criticism of Carolina alumni is unfortunate and undeserved . Surely, Carolina’s alumni had varying opinions concerning Coach Crum’s performance in recent years. However, our Association’s Officers and Directors who are elected by our nearly 50,000 members took no action regarding this matter. Understandably, members of the Educational Foundation, some 8,000, also had concerns, but there is no evidence of the Educational Foundation’s officers and directors taking action except when at the request of the University, the Foundation’s Executive Committee agreed to provide the funds necessary to fulfill the terms of Coach Crum’s resignation.

Fortunately, not all in the media rushed to adverse conclusions. One editor observed, “as the debate continues over the how and why of Coach Crum’s departure, scores of world class professors are teaching and researching, and the morning sun is beaming on a student body that largely values the long-term benefits of scholarship more than the momentary pleasure of a winning Saturday afternoon in Kenan Stadium.”

Alumni should be reassured that we have an athletic program of which we can all be proud. Generally, the graduation rate of our student athletes is nearly equal to that of the student body. More than five years ago Chancellor Fordham offered specific suggestions for reducing the undesirable commercial aspects of intercollegiate athletics. Athletic Director John Swofford is one of the country’s most respected athletic administrators and just last month asked that his name be withdrawn as one of three finalists (along with football coach Bo Shembechler) for the athletic directorship at the University of Michigan — another public university respected for excelling in both academics and athletics. Of course, we are all most familiar with the national respect that UNC Head Basketball Coach Dean Smith has earned over the years. This general affection for and admiration of Coach Smith comes from the fine example that he and his players set and the fact that of his 164 scholarship athletes, 158 now hold Carolina degrees. Fordham, Swofford, Smith, as well as Crum have argued repeatedly that freshmen eligibility in football and basketball be eliminated. All have a demonstrated commitment to placing academic performance ahead of athletic achievement.

Why so much concern regarding these events? Is it the money and concern about priorities? The Athletic Department’s total budget — all self-generated — is $12 million while the University’s budget is $600 mil ion. The Educational Foundation is nearly 50 years old and has an endowment of $18 million while the College of Arts and Sciences’s Foundations for Excellence Campaign in less than four years raised in excess of $21 million.

Perhaps, as a society, we are obsessed with athletics. Athletics is one area where there are clear “winners” and “losers.” We can see the statistics. We can add up the W’s and L’s . We crown national champions and witness national tournaments. In too many cases people try to overcome whatever inadequacies they find in their personal or professional lives by the pride they take in the success of their favorite college or professional teams. Our real frustration is with society, which generall y places a higher dollar value on athletic achievements than on the achievements of educators, researchers, and many others whose contributions, though not as visible, are more enduring than those of an athlete.

Our University’s athletic program is based upon excellence and integrity. This is equally true for our academic programs. We have had immense stability in our athletic program over the years. In the last eight years, we have had in all four 13 men’s sports fewer changes in head coaches than each of the ACC schools in North Carolina have had in football coaches alone. We do not have a won-loss fixation, but we want to be competitive. We will continue to play by the rules and alumni can be proud and reassured that University administrators will be making decisions regarding athletics in this context.

So, as we welcome Mack Brown, who appears to be a very exciting new addition to our University family, let us do it with lowered voices but not lowered expectations. Let us not be so quick to judge everything related to athletics. Let us not permit the media to color our judgment or to diminish our pride in our institution or our fine athletic program. Let us keep our expectations and our standards high. We are an institution with a rich history and high values. Let us respect each other as individuals. Let us assume honesty and integrity in University officials. Let us wish Coach Crum, his wife, Shirley, and their fine family well, and let us welcome Mack Brown, his wife, Debbie, and their family with the patience, sensitivity, warmth, thoughtfulness and understanding that is consistent with The University of North Carolina.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature





Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

Coach Crum’s statement to media

Following is the text of a prepared statement by former University of North Carolina head football coach Dick Crum which was released exclusively to the Durham Morning Herald Thursday, Dec. 3, 1987:

There have been numerous news reports since a statement by myself, Chancellor Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford was jointly issued on Nov. 30, 1987. Representatives of the media have contacted members of my family who are not skilled in speaking to the media. As a result, Impressions have been conveyed that my family did not intend or, in some cases, the person or persons quoted were not aware of all the facts. I am the only person who is authorized to express my views. I have authorized no other person to speak to the media for me. This entire situation has been totally blown out of proportion.

The joint statement issued by me, the Chancellor and the Athletic Director is true and is precisely why I joined in the statement. That statement clearly sets forth that the environment was mutually supportive because, in fact, it was. The discussions were not adversarial, but were amicable as stated. My attorney made sure with my concurrence, as did the University, to maintain a constructive. friendly atmosphere throughout the process. I was granted the absolute option to remain as head coach up to the moment of the statement, exactly as was said. Certainly a major factor in my decision that it was in the best interests of all concerned for me to resign was the incurable harm done to the program. including recruiting. by the repeated publication of unfounded rumors based on statements attributed to unknown, faceless sources whose apparent lack of belief in the truth of what was said did not permit them to identify themselves.

There is no so-called “gag” provision in the settlement agreement. There is no confidentiality agreement. I am as free to speak as any other person.

I have made no derogatory statements about anyone at any time during this entire course of events. I bear no ill will toward any person and I particularly wish the University and everyone connected with it the very best. For 10 years, I was a Tar Heel and I will always want success for all Tar Heels, and most particularly for those student-athletes who I
recruited and will continue to represent the University.

My staff and I gave our best for these 10 years. Sometimes circumstances prevented results that are most desired from being obtained. I expect to be out of Chapel Hill for the next several weeks and I intend this to be my last public statement on the matter, so I will conclude by reiterating:

1. No one has the authority to speak for me, and;

2. No one, absolutely no one, but me knows all the facts that influenced my resignation;

3. I stand behind the joint statement issued by myself and two reputable men Chancellor Christopher Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford.

It is my hope that the media will now let life go on for me, my family and the University.