Originally created 11/09/99

North Carolina assistant returns with emotional apology



CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Phil Ford was as composed as they come as a basketball player, running North Carolina's famed "Four Corners" offense to perfection in the 1970s.

On Monday, the assistant basketball coach and admitted alcoholic broke down in an emotional and tearful apology as he was reinstated to the team following a one-month stay at an undisclosed treatment center.

"To those people who believe I should not be given another opportunity, you are entitled to your opinion, and I respect that," said Ford, who admitted he has been an alcoholic for 14 years. "I can only say that I intend to do my very best one day at a time to get control of this disease for the rest of my life."

Ford, 42, was flanked at a news conference by wife Traci, coach Bill Guthridge, interim Chancellor William McCoy, athletic director Dick Baddour, and Dr. Robert Golden, a university expert on alcohol abuse.

Ford was stopped Sept. 27 by Durham police and charged with driving while impaired after a test showed his blood alcohol level was 0.24 percent, three times North Carolina's legal limit of 0.08 percent.

North Carolina's career scorer leader was then placed on medical leave until Monday. He still faces a court appearance Nov. 18.

The latest incident was Ford's second brush with the law. Police records in Michigan show Ford's blood alcohol level was 0.26 percent when he was stopped in September 1997 while on a recruiting trip.

Ford admitted he can't afford another slip, not only in his coaching career but also in his life.

"Coach Guthridge has given me a chance to start my career over, but I know he must demand no mistakes," Ford said. "I have to earn back respect and trust and I am ready to start earning it back right here. I promise to do my best."

The Tar Heels didn't practice Monday, but Ford saw a few of the players and they hugged. He and Guthridge also hugged after the news conference broke up.

"They all know that my door is always open," Ford said of the players. "Sometimes I need them too just like they need me."

McCoy said he was closely involved with health experts dealing with Ford's case and was extremely encouraged by Ford's road to recovery.

"Phil understands that we support him, but by the same token we maintain our standards. I think he understands that and he is committed and knows we expect exemplary behavior," McCoy said.

Ford, the team's top recruiter the past few seasons, will be taken off the road for at least the remainder of the season, Guthridge said. Coach Pat Sullivan will handle most of Ford's off-campus recruiting duties. Coach Dave Hanners will handle the junior varsity team Ford once coached.

Ford said he didn't think once about resigning.

"I have been very lucky to have the support of this university and my family to try to get his disease under control," Ford said. "I love North Carolina basketball and I love the University of North Carolina. It's something I just enjoy doing."

Ford's main focus in practice is working with the point guards. Guthridge said that duty won't change.

"We plan for Phil to turn this into a positive," Guthridge added. "It's an epidemic out there, and if Phil can help other people by admitting this and coming forward I think it will be a positive.'