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North Carolina coach Williams ‘dumbfounded’ by report

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Before the Wainstein report came out earlier this week Roy Williams knew, he said, that it wasn’t “going to be good.”

“I’m not naïve,” Williams, the North Carolina coach, said on Friday night.

He was speaking after his team’s 111-58 victory against Fayetteville State in UNC’s first exhibition game and, at times, Williams seemed on the verge of tears while he addressed the 131-page Wainstein report.

“I’m dumbfounded by everything that came out in the report this week,” Williams said.

The investigation conducted by Kenneth Wainstein, a former U.S. Justice Department official, confirmed UNC’s worst fears: that for 18 years an untold number of athletes remained eligible thanks to the use of phony African- and Afro-American Studies courses.

The “paper class scheme,” as Wainstein has described it, was hatched by Deborah Crowder, a former administrator in the AFAM department. She set up hundreds of sham classes that had no professors, graded papers herself and gave out consistently high grades to athletes and non-athletes alike.

The grades for athletes, though, inflated their GPAs and had a hand in keeping them eligible to play. Under Williams, who became UNC’s head coach in 2003, men’s basketball players accounted for 136 enrollments in the paper classes.

“It’s a very sad time for me,” Williams said. “A guy that works at the University of North Carolina, who went to school here, and was an assistant coach here. And if you cut me open, it’s the color I bleed. We made some mistakes for a long time.

“And it’s a very, very sad time for us, that we’re going through this.”

Williams, like other coaches, has faced questions about how much he knew about the paper classes, and when he knew about them. When he arrived at UNC, five of his 15 players were majoring in AFAM. The next season, in 2004-05, 10 of his players majored in AFAM.

He told Wainstein that after that season, which ended with a national championship, he spoke with Joe Holladay, the assistant coach who monitored the team’s academics, and expressed concerns about clustering. Williams shared that story again on Friday.

“I went to coach Holladay and I talked about, let’s make sure we don’t push anybody any direction — let’s make sure we allow kids to choose their own major,” Williams said. “I didn’t like the fact that we had so many guys in the same major. I didn’t think it made sense.”

The men’s basketball team’s enrollments in the paper classes declined slightly the next season and remained steady for three years. There was a sharp decline beginning in 2007.

By then Wayne Walden, an academic counselor for the basketball team, had grown suspicious of the paper classes, according to Wainstein’s investigation. Walden worked with Williams at Kansas and then followed him to UNC.

After arriving at UNC, Walden worked with Crowder to enroll basketball players in AFAM classes. He knew about unusual aspects of the classes, according to Wainstein, and Walden “said that he thought Crowder was probably doing some of the grading.”

Walden, though, said he never passed those concerns onto Williams. That left Williams without what Wainstein has described as “critical knowledge” of the scheme. Williams — who said, “Everything in the (Wainstein) report I don’t necessarily agree with” — defended Walden on Friday.

“Wayne Walden is one of the most ethical guys I’ve ever known in my life,” Williams said. “Wayne and I have already had some discussions. I trust him from the bottom of my soul. … there’s never been anybody more ethical than Wayne Walden.”

Walden left UNC in 2009, the same year that Crowder retired. By then, men’s basketball enrollments in the paper classes were nearly nonexistent.

Williams said on Friday that he didn’t know the details of the paper classes — that Crowder and former AFAM chairman Julius Nyang’oro were running a “shadow curriculum,” as Wainstein described it. And if he had been suspicious, Williams said, it would have been difficult to act on it.

“You know, guys, I think I would have been run off if I tried to go into any other department in the university and tell them to try to run things,” Williams said. “That’s not my job. I took care of my guys and if there’s something the coach doesn’t like then he should try to do the right thing. I think I tried to do the right thing.”

Williams said he was concerned by the clustering in AFAM and by his players taking a large number of independent studies courses, which some of the paper classes purported to be.

“We can all look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d have done this, I wish I’d done that,” Williams said. “Guys, I didn’t know anything of what has been shown until three or four years ago. … I mean, I wanted the guys out of there because everybody was clustering.”

Wainstein on Thursday during an interview with The News & Observer said there was no evidence to support the notion that Williams knew about the paper classes and failed to try to put a stop to them. Wainstein’s investigation concluded that the basketball coaches knew about independent study courses in AFAM, and knew that they were easy.

Beyond that, though, Wainstein concluded they didn’t know much else.

“We found no evidence that Wayne Walden told them, hey, by the way, Debbie Crowder’s actually grading some of these papers — or that anybody told them,” Wainstein said.

Now Williams, like others at UNC, will await word from the NCAA , which in the summer reopened its investigation into the academic improprieties involving the athletic department and the suspect AFAM courses. Asked if he was concerned about the possibility of vacating wins or championships Williams said, “Who knows? Am I concerned? I’m concerned about am I going to get up tomorrow.”

It has been that kind of stretch for Williams and his program, which has been rocked in recent seasons by off-court issues.

“If this was my first 16 months of coaching you wouldn’t see a 17th month,” he said, referencing the P.J. Hairston drama from the summer of 2013. “It’s been a pain in the rear end. But I believe in this university.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen with the NCAA but I feel strongly, strongly, that we do things the right way.”