CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's firing of Butch Davis just before preseason camp has divided football fans, faculty members and alumni here.
For some, Davis' dismissal amid an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct should've happened long ago. Others say Davis should've stayed because he wasn't tied to a violation and worry the move could set the program back years.
It's created yet another distraction for the Tar Heels this fall.
"I'm sure people are mad because we were pretty mad," linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "You can't sit there and worry about what happened even though we were sad at the time. Now we've got to move on and try to make ourselves better each day in practice. That's how we've got to look at it because we've still got to win games."
Davis entered his fifth season with the support of many fans, who hoped he'd bring his success from Miami to a program that has never managed to become a consistent national power and has long sat second to men's basketball. But after publicly backing Davis for the past year, chancellor Holden Thorp decided there was too much cumulative damage to the school's reputation for Davis to stay.
The change came nine days before the first practice and as the school unveils the Loudermilk Center. The $70 million project adds a "Blue Zone" section to bowl in Kenan Stadium with club seats, the academic tutoring center, and a strength and conditioning facility for the school's Olympic sports programs. It was a symbol of the school's financial commitment to football thanks largely to Davis' presence on campus.
After Davis' dismissal, the school received some calls and emails from angry ticket holders demanding refunds. Others contacted the Rams Club -- the fundraising arm of the athletics department -- threatening to pull financial support. Some emailed Thorp saying the decision "pathetic" and "gutless" while telling him to "look for empty seats this fall" at Kenan.
"It's been very emotional," said John Montgomery, Rams Club executive director. "People have been confused about the timing and some of them have expressed anger about the decision. We've fielded a lot of calls as you can imagine, and we're just talking about refocusing on supporting the football team."
Some "Blue Zone" donors have even hired lawyers and are considering a lawsuit against the school
"No one thought that Butch Davis would be fired right before the season," said Matthew J. Dixon, one of the their attorneys. "They wanted him to stay the coach and the people I represent are angry because they spent a whole lot of money and relied on what they thought was a true statement that he'd stay on as coach."
Clint Gwaltney, an associate athletic director overseeing the ticket office, said the school already reached its target of 32,500 season tickets when Davis was fired. That number dropped about 2,000 from last year when instate rivals North Carolina State and East Carolina, along with Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia Tech came to Kenan. This year's schedule lacks a big seller with James Madison, Rutgers, Virginia, Louisville, Miami, Wake Forest and Duke.
"The best marketing plan is winning," Gwaltney said. "If we go out and win some games, hopefully people will keep coming out and supporting this team."
Fans did that last year as 14 players missed at least one game and seven were forced to sit the entire season amid the probe. The school received the NCAA's notice of allegations in June outlining nine violations, and is scheduled to appear before the infractions committee in October.
While allegations of unethical conduct involving former associate head coach John Blake appeared most serious, the academic misconduct charges seemed to rattle the campus most. That included accusations of previously undetected plagiarism in a research paper by player Michael McAdoo, surfacing only when he sued the NCAA and the school after being declared permanently ineligible for receiving improper assistance on the assignment.
It's no coincidence interim coach Everett Withers noted after the first practice that he planned to "try to put the olive branch out there to the academics." Or why most of the emails sent to Thorp in the 24 hours after Davis' firing and released in a public-records request supported the decision. Many came from faculty members or alumni saying the university's integrity was more important than football.
Faculty chair Jan Boxill said it's all forced the school to do "critical self-evaluation."
"Yes, we are likely to lose some supporters and that's sad," Boxill said. "... I sympathize with the donors. I understand their frustration. But I do think in the long run, we do have to look at where our reputation is and our long-term effect on the state and educating our students."
At least the players had plenty of practice last season tuning out outside chatter.
"We hear it. We're not deaf," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "But we really try to stay focused on the job at hand. ... It's been a rough two years, but like we did last year, it's just focus on the field."