Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So, how was YOUR Wednesday?

The sports landscape has a way of ebbing and flowing. Generally, a steady stream of items come across the desk, things which are considered normal.

Normal is far from the reality in the Carolinas these days.

The Carolina Panthers are spending money like Daniel Snyder, and the North Carolina Tar Heels fired Head Coach Butch Davis on Wednesday. While one situation isn't exactly unusual, the other makes me scratch my head. Can you guess which one? Don't worry, here comes the explanation.

The Panthers are the ones that are acting semi-normally. That's right. An organization known for its loyalty to players, continued to show that again on Wednesday. They made good on their conversations (I hesitate to use promises in pro sports), with their own players heading into the off-season, and were able to get Charles Johnson (on Tuesday), DeAngelo Williams, James Anderson and Thomas Davis to agree to new, long-term deals. These were all players tabbed as "priorities," for Carolina, and they wasted no time in getting them done. The next priority will be Jon Beason, but that is down the road.

Now, the loyalty comment takes a bit of a turn here, as the Panthers are expected to release kicker John Kasay on Thursday. For some, that will mark a sad time in Panthers history. The last remaining original Panther, and the franchise's all time leading scorer being shown the door rather unceremoniously. Kasay's contributions to the organization reach far beyond his kicks on the field. He was a steadying force in the locker room, a player that many of his teammates could quickly come to for support and guidance.

For others, Kasay's departure means a fresh start, with no ties to the old regime. It also means the Panthers (with the signing of K Olindo Mare on Wednesday), will carry just one kicker with them into the season, with Jason Baker handling the punting detail. It will free up new Head Coach Ron Rivera to carry another position player into the season on the roster. For Rivera, there is no attachment to the past. When John Fox came in, Kasay was handling all the kicking duties. Towards the end, Rhys Lloyd handled kickoffs, Kasay field goals. The signing of Mare eliminates the need for the KO specialist (unfortunate for Lloyd, who never got a shot at the field goal duties in Carolina). In the end, this decision is about the business of the game.

Carolina hadn't done much of anything in free agency the past few years, and the reason for that was obvious then, and even more so now. The franchise was preparing for the lockout by eliminating big contracts, and stockpiling salary cap room in anticipation of a new collective bargaining agreement. The Panthers HAD spent money in the past, so the fact they are doing it now isn't such a shock.

As for the Tar Heels, this is the head scratcher. This past weekend, Butch Davis was in Pinehurst at the ACC Football Kickoff, and spoke in optimistic tones about the season ahead. He talked about how the program was moving forward from the nasty academic and benefits scandal that scarred the university last year. The fact that just two days after those interviews were given, Davis is now out of a job makes you wonder. Why the delay?

If Davis was on the outs, and the school knew that was coming, why wouldn't they have done it say, back in December after the bowl game? This firing does not change the fact that the NCAA investigation into the program, and the school, was and is an embarrassment to the alumni of the school. The firing also now throws the upcoming season into a tizzy, as the school has eight whole days to name a successor, and begin preparations for the schedule.

This is to say nothing of the upcoming meeting with the NCAA in October, a meeting that Davis was eagerly looking forward to (in his words at Pinehurst), where it was thought the school could move beyond what had happened. Davis' firing is poorly timed, and likely could have saved the school further embarrassment, and potentially harsher punishments from the NCAA. The penalties stand to be severe, regardless of who the next Head Coach is.

Mike Solarte

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