Keeping it Heel Interview: Behind the Scenes of the UNC Football Investigation with the Shoop Family

When the NCAA comes investigating into an allegation that a student athlete has committed an infraction the American right of due process is completely thrown out of the window.  In the case of the University of North Carolina and its football program multiple players were held out of games who were later ruled eligible and had committed no violation.

The actions of a few individuals affected many people who were a part of the UNC football program.  When the University of North Carolina decided to fire Head Coach Butch Davis a few days before the first practice of the year no consideration was given to the people whose lives were affected by this decision.

Players and coaches were left scrambling, and more importantly if you know the culture of football the assistant coaches basically wasted a year of their coaching lives in Chapel Hill last fall.  With the negative publicity few thought Coach Withers would be given the job, and as when Coach Davis brought his staff to Chapel Hill there is little hope of assistants on a previous regime being selected to stick around whether they did anything wrong or not.  When Coach Fedora was selected as head Coach John and Marcia Shoop had a decision to make.  Would Coach Shoop seek out another coaching position, or would he take some time off to reflect on life and how he can help improve the lives of student athletes in another way.

Dr. Marcia Shoop has been an advocate of student athlete’s rights, and has been vocal in discussing how things have played out in Chapel Hill speaking from view of a former athlete as well as a football coaches wife.  Being the wife of an offensive coordinator is probably the hardest job in college football because arm chair quarterbacks like me call better plays every Saturday. Of course that is not true, but the position of offensive coordinator may be the most fickle position in all of sports.

We recently reached out to Dr. Shoop asking for her opinions on a variety of topics in college athletics, and while speaking to her husband Coach John Shoop, former UNC offensive coordinator, he agreed to join in the discussion and provide us a perspective from someone who was in the trenches everyday with a major division I program.  We are grateful for their time and we encourage you to read Dr. Shoop’s blog entitled “Calling Audibles” at http://www.marciamountshoop.com/.

Questions For Dr. Shoop

Matthew Haley: “Calling Audibles” provides a glimpse into the emotions from the family side of a college football coach. What inspired you to start this series, and is it something you plan to continue?

Dr. Shoop • For so much for the investigation I felt frustrated with the distorted messages that were out there in the press about UNC and about the players especially. There was a gag order on all the coaches and players, so much so that they weren’t even talking to each other about what was really going on. After Coach Davis was fired John and I started asking more questions. As we found out more about what was going on I wanted to speak out about it, but I also didn’t want to jeopardize anything for any of the players or for our family in the process. When the news about Jerry Sandusky broke I just felt like it was time for me to do at least my little part to explore some of the shadows of big-time football. Even if it involved a risk for us it felt like the right thing to do. It felt like something I didn’t really want to do, but needed to do at that point. I literally woke up the next morning with the idea to name it “Calling Audibles.” I told John he would have total veto power and editing power over anything I wrote. He was very supportive. I am still open to posting in this series and probably will post again before too long.

Matthew Haley: You have participated on several panels for student athlete due process. What do you see as the fundamental flaw with the way the NCAA investigates and if there was one thing you would change immediately to benefit student athletes what would that be?

Dr. Shoop: Without a doubt the main thing I would change immediately is that all players are guaranteed an advocate—a lawyer who is representing their interests and who walks with them through the whole process. There are several problems with the way NCAA investigations go, but mostly it boils down to the fact the Student-Athletes do not have clearly delineated or protected rights of due process in these investigations. In the case of the UNC investigation the University, not just the NCAA, failed to create the conditions for the investigation to go fairly for the Student-Athletes. UNC very clearly made a choice to protect the institution, the brand, rather than advocate for the young men who were a part of the UNC community.

Matthew Haley: There has been much discussion about UNC appeared to look out for its own image as opposed to protecting the student athletes. Did you find this to be true in your discussion with students and parents?

Dr. Shoop: (See my previous answer). I feel strongly that this is what happened and it is what is continuing to happen. Any time an institution veils its procedures in such a lack of transparency and disenfranchises people at the grassroots level, that institution is not a healthy institution. Healthy institutions want to hear bad news so they can get better. Healthy institutions want to be inclusive at the table of conversation with people from all levels of institutional life so that they can hear truth from several perspectives. UNC behaved not like a healthy institution, but like one that is distorted by a destructive kind of institutional idolatry or blindness. Also, in terms of my discussions with parents and players, I have heard heartbreaking stories of lives profoundly harmed and hopes dashed. Many parents especially grieve for what’s been lost for their kids—things that can’t be corrected, things they can never get back.

Matthew Haley: Do you worry that speaking out about the problems in the NCAA; may affect your husband’s ability to obtain a future coaching position at the collegiate level?

Dr. Shoop:• There is often a risk of personal cost when you decide to speak out about an injustice. We have talked about the possibility of speaking out being an act that some in this business may not view as a positive. We speak out because it is the right thing to do. And we have to trust that things will work out for the highest good possible, not just for us, but also for the world of sports in general. I hope, to universities who have integrity, that the impulse to speak out in the face of injustice will be positive character trait, not a negative.

Matthew Haley: Do you have any plans moving forward to advocate for student athlete rights?

Dr. Shoop:  Yes, I will continue to be a part of this discussion. I hope that somehow the movement will continue to gather steam and that due process can be the beginning step to carving out a new way of doing business in big time college sports.

Questions For Coach Shoop on page 2

Matthew Haley: First i want to thank you for joining us and giving us a different perspective that has not been very publicized during the entire investigation. How difficult was it for you to watch your players hang in limbo as the NCAA and the university held them out especially the players who were found to be fully cleared of any wrong-doing?

Coach Shoop: First I want to say that these weren’t “my” players they were “our” players—players, students, and athletes for the whole Carolina community. Some of the players suspended are players I recruited and I sat in their living rooms and made promises. So it hurt really bad to have many of their hopes and dreams dashed. I am sad with them.

Matthew Haley: What can college football coaches do collectively to improve the due process element when it comes to investigating athletes for possible NCAA violations?

Coach Shoop: Coaches can work to assure that every Student-Athlete has an advocate working for them and in their particular interests throughout the process. Coaches can play closer attention to what is actually happening and how the process is actually working. Collectively, coaches can encourage universities to have standards of due process in which the Student-Athlete has an advocate representing their particular interests.

Matthew Haley: You have coached in the NFL and in college and I hope to see you on the sidelines again soon. I have heard how reflective you are as a coach. What have you learned through this whole experience that will help you when you become a head coach at the college level if that is a path you choose?

Coach Shoop: The Head Coach of the football program has to be a big part of the university’s community in many ways not having to do with football. One pleasure that has come from this whole difficult experience is that I have gotten to meet so many interesting professors, administrators, staff, and alumni from the UNC community who I wish I had met before all this happened. If we had had these connections with each other going into this crisis, so much of it could have been avoided. Many of them wanted to hear my perspective on things. And it has been helpful for me to hear theirs. I have always valued the potential for these kinds of relationships in a university community. That’s one of the reasons I left the NFL and came to UNC. If I ever am a Head Coach I will be intentional about doing my part to build these relationships. I have learned that they don’t just happen by default. If I am ever a Head Coach I will consider myself as much a part of the university community as a faculty member.

Matthew Haley: I do not think the assistant coaches were given enough credit for the job you did especially in 2010 with the number of players that were held out each game, and this year with losing the head coach just days before camp. What did you learn from this year that you can carry with you in your next coaching position?

Coach Shoop• I don’t think the players were given enough credit for the job they did the last two years. TJ Yates had the greatest year of any Tar Heel quarterback in the history of the school only to be outdone by Bryn Renner this past year. The leadership that the quarterback position showed through the chaos of the last two years was remarkable. It was a privilege to work with them. There are so many other players, too, who worked so hard to represent the university well. Even though they represented UNC in such great ways they’ve been made to feel like they did something wrong. I am so sad about that. • I’ve learned ways to coach and foster morale and camaraderie on a team that I didn’t know before. I am especially pleased that all the members on the team stuck together. The suspended players were still valued members of the team during their suspensions. Everyone wanted to do what was best for the team.

Matthew Haley: What responsibility do you think each coach has within a program to make sure their colleagues are complying with the rules?

Coach Shoop: Every coach has a responsibility if they see violations or even a scenario in which there is a possibility of a violation to report it. But reporting doesn’t solve problems without follow through from university officials. There needs to be a university-wide culture of transparency and honesty.

Matthew Haley: You could be very bitter toward the University, but from articles I have read you appear more upset with the impact it has had on the student athletes.

Matthew Haley: What are your plans for the next phase in your coaching career, or do you see yourself focusing on student athlete rights and improving the relationship with the NCAA?

Coach Shoop: To me the university is the people that form the community we live in and I have deep feelings for many wonderful people in that community. Therefore I love the University of North Carolina and care for it because of the people I love there. And I am sad that players who I have recruited and promised that UNC would care for them were hurt because that is not what turned out to be true. • I plan on coaching again. And I am learning to trust that God’s hand is in this. I am working to be open to whatever is next. And whatever job I have next I will take into it this priority of attention to Student-Athletes rights.

One aspect that i have learned in talking with the Shoop family is despite all the heartache that has befallen upon them throughout the last two years they believe in UNC and what it stands for.  The coaching business is one of the most ruthless professions in America.  Sometime we forget what great people we have working with student athletes when a play call does not go their way.  Coach Shoop like all coordinators has 60,000 people every Saturday that believe they can do it better, but yet they stay the course believing in the young people they are surrounded with.  We hope we can bring Coach Shoop back to keepingitheel.com and go inside the playbook with one of the brightest minds in football.

As always you can follow the Haley and MandMsportshow on twitter @MandMSportshow and you can read more articles from Haley at The Water Cooler.

Tags: John Shoop Marcia Shoop UNC INvestigation

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