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The Two Best Articles We’ve Seen About UNC’s Clemson Disaster

And a bit of perspective

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at North Carolina
Jan 11, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Leaky Black (1) with the ball as Clemson Tigers guard Clyde Trapp (0) defends in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. 
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After the extraordinary game in Chapel Hill Saturday, there were two columns that we thought deserved special notice: the first is by Ed Hardin of the Greensboro News & Recorder which really gets a sense of what has happened to Roy Williams and his team.

He catches a sense of the ignominy of the loss, of the history that happened and the pain of UNC’s fall. It’s really a very fine piece of writing.

The other?

It’s from the Daily Tar Heel’s Bryan Keyes.

It’s by a UNC student obviously and it’s about as good as you will see in a college paper. It’s a grudging acceptance that this team is not good now and may not be good again this season. It also captures the sense of loss and despair that a sports team can bring after a long run of success. We think Keyes wrote a brutally honest article and that’s not easy to do when you care about something. He’s done something impressive and worth commending.

It’s easy at times to get caught up in the rah-rah stuff and assume that it will go on forever. It never does, of course. Alabama football has had down times. UCLA is playing .500 ball right now. Don’t even get us started on the Washington Redskins and Daniel Snyder’s destruction of a legacy and relationship with the fan base.

As legend tells us, in Rome, when a conquering general came back and was hailed by the people for his triumphs, someone rode beside him in the chariot to remind him that “all glory is fleeting.”

It is, and while it’s fun for Duke (and ACC) fans to see UNC fall, there are two things that are good to keep in mind.

First, having a weak UNC really hurts the conference. That’s essentially an annual bid we won't get this spring and there are multiple costs to that.

And second, Duke has been down before and someday will be down again. A whole lot of Duke fans have literally no concept of the basketball program struggling but it did a lot in the early ‘70s and early ‘80s (and of course in 1995).

Being the meticulous sort of thinker that he is, we’re sure Mike Krzyzewski looked at Dean Smith’s exit and realizes that Smith did two particularly notable things.

We don’t remember the exact timeline and we may not remember some details correctly because this was 22 years ago, but when John Swofford stepped down as the UNC A.D. in 1997, there was a memorable article in the Poop Sheet, a print publication at the time, about a meeting to interview two successors. As we recollect, they were Dick Baddour and Matt Kupic.

We’ve never forgotten the article because someone who attended the meeting talked about how aggressively Smith went after Kupic. He reportedly was extraordinarily aggressive and wouldn’t even let Kupic finish an answer before cutting him off and asking the next one.

Pretty soon, the Poop Sheet’s source said, Kupic realized that Smith was implacably hostile to his candidacy and determined to stop it. He withdrew soon after and Baddour got the job.

That aggression was a big difference from the gracious public image Smith cultivated and we didn’t understand it until years later when Kupic, who became a university fundraiser, was forced out due to a certain amount of malfeasance which also involved Tyler Hansborough’s mother (essentially they were apparently charging the university for private travel).

Rightly or wrongly, and clearly he knew more than we ever will about the internal machinations at UNC, Smith felt that Kupic was trouble and should not be allowed to take the job and made sure that he couldn’t.

The second thing was how he handled his own retirement and his successor(s).

We believed him when he said that he would coach until he felt like he didn't have the energy to continue but he waited until October 9th, when basketball practice was about to start, to announce it.

UNC, therefore, had little choice other than to promote long-time Smith assistant Bill Guthridge. It was a clever way to reward his friend but did it cost the program in the long run? It may have.

By the way, in an echo of Smith’s aggressive interview of Kupic, Baddour later agreed to give Larry Brown an interview when Guthridge himself stepped down three years later.

Brown said afterwards that it was “the most humiliating two hours I ever spent in my life.”

For whatever his reasons, Baddour clearly did not want Brown to coach UNC. This article suggests a power struggle between Baddour and Smith, who may have been trying to run the program, or at least get the coach he wanted, from retirement (browse through the comments too - they’re interesting in retrospect).

We’re sure Coach K knows more about both situations than we ever will and made careful notes and determined what to emulate and what to avoid.

He’s done everything he can to build a program that will thrive when he steps away but aside from having great facilities, people and practices in place, you can’t control the future.

So if at some point Duke has a painful fall, we hope Duke fans will stick with the program until it turns things around - and just as importantly, that we remain decent and supportive (we would do well to remember Coach K’s early years if it comes to that and what it would have cost us if the “Concerned Iron Dukes” had run him off after having had two 11-win seasons in a row).

We’re sure everyone at UNC is trying their best to improve. Yes, we’ll have some fun with them while they struggle, but clearly there are some people in real pain right now, notably Roy Williams, and there’s a difference between poking fun and being cruel. You probably don't need anyone to define being cruel; let your conscience be your guide.

But for poking fun, how about this joke:

A Durham police officer saw a little boy crying and stopped to talk to him.

“Little boy, are you okay? Can I take you home to your mama?”

“No sir, my mama beats me.”

“Well can I take you to your daddy?”

“No sir, he beats me too.”

“Well where can I take you?”

“You can take me over to Chapel Hill. They don’t beat nobody!”

That’s a fun joke because we first heard it in 1995 when Duke collapsed and it just goes to show you: what goes around comes around. Don’t think we won't suffer again sometime too.