The North Carolina football team returned to Navy Practice fields on Tuesday without two of its most prominent members.
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who was suspended indefinitely last week, and former associate head coach John Blake were noticeably absent from the Tar Heels’ first practice since their 30-24 loss to Louisiana State.
Blake, who was a part of the NCAA investigation into the football program, resigned Sunday and said that he had become a “distraction to this great University.”
“I was shocked when coach Davis told the team,” senior linebacker Bruce Carter said. “I was shocked because Coach Blake is a great coach. We still love him regardless of his decision.”
Davis said Blake’s open position will be filled in-house in a collaborative effort by a number of current staff members.
Defensive coordinator Everett Withers, assistant linebackers coach Art Kaufman and strength and conditioning staff member Norris McCleary, a former NFL defensive lineman, will pick up the slack.
“We just felt like it was in our best interest to handle this internally for the time being,” Davis said.
“I’ll be a little bit more involved. I’ll be able to help with them; sit in on meetings a little bit more than I had in the past, at least initially.”
All 13 of the players held out of the LSU game, with the exception of Austin, were able to join the team in practice. Davis said the players, most of whom are members of the defense, will continue to practice until a final ruling has been made.
“It’s probably certainly a good thing that we have an open date this week that gives us a little bit more time maybe for some of this resolution to become a little bit clearer,” said Davis, whose team doesn’t play again until Sept. 18 against Georgia Tech.
Carter, who was initially withheld from traveling with the team to Atlanta, recorded three tackles and a fumble recovery in a game where his eligibility was out of his hands.
“That’s with compliance and the University,” Carter said. “You just got to roll with the punches. Our team is trying to weather the storm right now, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”
Davis and Austin met on Monday and spoke for an hour. Davis described the meeting as a “healthy conversation.”
“Marvin is a good kid at heart,” Davis said. “One of the things as a head football coach, you’re more than just Xs and Os in a lot of these kids’ lives. You’re a surrogate father figure, you’re a mentor. You can try to put things in perspective of helping them recognize there are things they need to grow on as an individual.”
Senior writer Louie Horvath contributed reporting.
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