Extras: Checking In With Greg Cauley, UNC’s Biggest Fan

College sports’ ultimate fan, Greg Cauley, who’s been to every UNC football game and home basketball game since 1985, was there in person when Carolina lost to Kansas in St. Louis last weekend. (If you’re like, “Who the heck is Greg Cauley”—I recently profiled him for GQ.) He emailed me last week. We got to talking. Which is good, because I’ve had some concerned folks asking me about him. Here’s how he’s doing. 

So, Carolina lost to Kansas. What was your immediate reaction? 

Pretty much what Mama said my reaction was when the game with dook in Chapel Hill was over….”see you next game”.  Disappointing to not be heading to NOLA for the 30th anniversary of the ’82 championship, but also knowing that in this given moment that we didn’t have out best team on the floor.  Only takes 1 bad game in the tourney and you’re out.  If you’re playing, you’re facing a team that also gives scholarships, so it’s not like the other guys are scrubs pulled in off of the street just prior to game time.

Not the ending … I wanted, but a great run, nonetheless….would love to have seen how things might have gone without the injuries, but that, too, is part of the game. 

Made a side trip on Saturday to Poplar Bluff, Mo., to see Hansbrough’s high school….gym was open for volleyball matches, so got to see Hansbrough Court….kinda neat.

Tell me about that? Why’d you do that?

I thought it was close by, and had seen the sights in St Louis that interested me in 2005.  His all out effort made him a special player in Carolina lore, and I recalled that there was a mural of him on a wall in PBluff and figured it’d be interesting to see in person.  Saturday was a day off from the games, so I had time to make the side trip.  When I programmed the GPS, I found out that it was over 150 miles from St L to PB, and debated a 6 hour round trip….then decided to look for something closer, since I had slept in on Saturday.  Chose a park which reportedly was an old silver mine with the remnants of a dam—60 miles away, so started there. Seemed to be a lot farther than expected….got to that place, which turned out to be a state park for camping and picnicking….drove off of the beaten path a mile into the woods, forded a stream (complete with a flash flood warning sign) and ended up on a cul-de-sac near a small river (with rapids) and a restroom.  There was a path across a footbridge that led to the dam, etc.  I had seen signs along the highway which spoke of feral hogs.  My thought then became “no one knows where I am, I’m a mile off of the main highway, there’s no cell service out here, there might be a razorback roaming these woods and I don’t think he’s going to be intimidated by a useless cell phone that’s thrown at him”  I got back into the car and decided to press on to PBluff.  Go there, found the school, and was fortunate that the gym was open for volleyball matches so I walked in and saw Hansbrough Court, as well as their pictorial HS hall of fame, which includes his dad and brother.  It all gave me the opportunity to see a site which holds some importance in Carolina bball history, not unlike the history that Woolen Gym, Carmichael Auditorium, or the SmCenter hold…..some memorable players have competed on those surfaces.

How surprising is this? Seems like this team could have gone undefeated this year. You’d know better than the college basketball experts since you follow this team more closely than anybody else in the world. Your thoughts on how they performed this year? 

A loss can only be surprising if you’re at full strength and playing your best ball.  The former wasn’t the case, and the latter was until the key injuries hit down the stretch.  When hitting on all cylinders, this squad was tons of fun to watch.  The expectations of an undefeated season are always unrealistic.  Recall that the last time it happened in D1 for men’s bball was what, 1976?  Team has to be both good and lucky to win a national, and something beyond that to go undefeated.  It was beyond funny last year, for instance, when Harrison Barnes made 1st team preseason AA…..before he even had practiced with UNC.  The “experts” put star ratings on kids and probably haven’t even seen them play.  Press clippings do wonders for a reputation.   For the most part, they performed well throughout the season.  I’m not one to expect a blow out win every time out, for the reasons cited above.  The opposition has talent and they have motivation.  Team chemistry and psyche also comes into play.  No one other than the kids themselves know what’s going on inside their heads.  Some folks reason that because a team is anointed the king in pre-season that it’s a failure if they don’t cut down the nets.  I’ve been around long enough to know better, as should most of the folks who think that.  They showed some spunk when faced with adversity and overall handled the pressure of expectations well. There is no answer to the game at Tally.  We didn’t play that day, so the game never happened.

You holding up okay? 

In the context of the game?  Absolutely.  Learned a long time ago to not hitch my happiness to what a kid with a ball does or does not do.  I’ll get as excited as anyone in the universe when we do well.  If we don’t, I can walk away and still find some enjoyment in the experience (‘cept that game at fsu).  One has to understand that it’s entertainment.  The competition is great to watch.  The atmosphere at the event is a thrill to experience. At the end of the day, the realization has to be in place so that you know there are other things more important in life than the outcome of a contest.   Every family has to deal with “mud holes”….sickness, job loss, loss of friendship, death…much more stressing than a game outcome.

Your thoughts on the fact that Roy left Kansas to coach at Carolina? 

Like a lot of other folks, I believed he was the ‘coach in waiting’ to come after Dean retired.  Was not surprised to see Gut get a shot, after he had turned down numerous opportunities to leave as assistant and get a head coaching job elsewhere….it appeared to me that Coach Smith was rewarding one of his loyal team members, and that was not a problem in my eyes. 

When Roy stayed at Kansas the first time, I was disappointed, but also understood that it was a place where he had been for over a decade, had been good to him, and that he enjoyed.   Nothing different that I would have expected had he been wooed to leave us after a similar time. 

One has to remember that loyalty remains important to some folks.  I think Roy is one of those people.

In a way, Dean recognized that Coach Guthridge could have made more money by taking one of those other jobs, in my opinion.  By handing him a program already well established, he could see to it that Gut got some glory, in addition to increasing the base salary upon which his retirement would be calculated (if indeed it works that way) as a thank you.  “Out there” speculation, but that’s me.

How’d you feel a few years ago when Roy wore that Kansas shirt to cheer for the Jayhawks after Carolina got eliminated from the tournament? 

I know it ticked a lot of folks off.  As with the kids, I don’t know what goes on inside their heads, but I viewed it in context of who I think Roy is…he was showing some loyalty to folks who had been good to him.  Others were quite angry that he wore it, saying that it was a slap in the face of his current school and players.  Didn’t make me lose any sleep.

Who’d you go to St. Louis with?

Solo’d it, in Atlantis.* No one but me, the scenery, and the radio.  Drove on Thurs from the Swamp to Frankfort, KY (about 9 ½ hours), finished up the trip on Friday (about 4 ½ more).  Left after the game on Sunday and went back to the same motel in Frankfort for the night, finished it on Monday, getting home about 7 PM—in time to watch the Heels play state in baseball on TV at The Bosh.  About 900 miles to St Louis, around 2000 altogether including the PBluff side trip.

So what’s next for you? What are you going to do with yourself now that basketball is over and football is so far off? 

There’s Carolina baseball. Will be attending more games (have already been to some this year).  Yankees games on YES Network.  Hopefully will be able to get Mama to a Yankee game.  2 acres of yard to maintain, especially soon to prepare for the Victory Well gathering next month.  Games and time in the gym provide stress relief..have to get back to my lifting if I can motivate myself to go solo after losing my lifting partner of 15 years.  Still have to get the arrangements made for the football road trips, too.  Hopefully, the Diamond Heels will give me an opportunity to add Nebraska as the 31st state in which I’ve seen us play…didn’t take advantage of the most recent opportunities.

What are your thoughts on Carolina’s football program right now, with the NCAA violations and sanctions and suspension from bowl season next year and all that?

Have been pretty annoyed about the general situation. First and foremost, the kids who took the impermissible benefits  were wrong.  Period.  In the whole mess, they get off scot free…the NCAA can’t touch them.  Personally, I wish they never had set foot on campus. 

As far as the administration of the program, I’ve never figured how a head coach can know what a kid is doing 24/7.  Sure, they’re paid to run the show.  I get that part.  I’ve not seen any published evidence that the coaches “knew” what was happening.  Too much speculation on the part of the media as to who knew what, when. 

I believe that the so-called “big time” football can be had at UNC, don’t get the thoughts that some folks have that the school promotes basketball over football (knowing that it takes the revenue from BOTH sports to fund the economic engine that pays for all of the other sports on campus—as well as it being evident that more money has been put into facilities and salaries for football than basketball for a long time). 

We can have both sports competing at a high level, and the right way.  I disagree with the chancellor’s reason for dismissing Davis (‘academic integrity of the University being eroded’????) 

College of Arts and Sciences is in charge of the tutoring program, if that’s what he was referencing. Not the football office. That part falls under the control and responsibility of the dean of that college and the chancellor mores than it does the football coach.  It’s interesting that the athletes are held to a different standard than the general students.  New AD and coach seem to be pretty good. Definitely enthusiastic.  Will get to meet both of them at the Tar Heel tour event in Greenville on 4/8 at the Hilton.

Team should be motivated, both by the new coaches, style of play, every game will be their bowl game this year.  Looking forward to the new crop, new way of playing. Coaches can analyze athletic talent and ability. Not so much their character and integrity.  If a kid wants to be dirty and hide it, it’s easily enough done. I can’t know what the few folks who report to me are doing all of the time.  Knowing the reputation that certain conferences have for graft, it’s amazing that UNC received the scrutiny that it did, and that the decision took so long.  

Someone on our internet board pointed out prior to the ruling that we had effectively been on probation for 2 years, during which time the opposition coaches had the ammo of uncertainty to use against us in recruiting, so when the NCAA finally spoke, we should have told them that 2 years of the sentence had already been served.  As with most all of these cases, the kids and coaches who are at the school serve the punishment for deeds done by people who are now gone.  No fairness there.  It’s obvious that if you’re a national contender in football, have a Heisman candidate who’s daddy is trying to sell you to the highest bidder, the NCAA will rule very quickly that you’re not only eligible to play, but the team gets no penalties.  Ohio St seemed to get a lighter penalty than UNC for their misdeeds, and their coach lied about it when questioned.  NCAA  said so, and yet…

In the end, it’s over and done with. We move forward.

Any other thoughts?

Like the verse in The Plan of the Master Weaver teaches, the joy of following the Heels is one of the threads that make up the bright side of my journey through life.  Sure, there are some dark ones, but they just serve as contrast to heighten the brilliance of the good ones.  My salvation is secure, no one and nothing can take that away from me, so what else is there?