The news came after a meeting Wednesday of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Holden Thorp.
"To restore confidence in the University of North Carolina and our football program, it’s time to make a change," said Thorp in a statement released by the school. "What started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this University’s reputation. I have been deliberate in my approach to understanding this situation fully, and I have worked to be fair to everyone involved. However, I have lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution. Our academic integrity is paramount and we must work diligently to protect it. The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change."
The timing of the news was stunning considering that Davis said as recently as Monday that he felt he had the full support of school administrators. Speaking at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason media day, Davis said it had been “reassuring” to have the support of athletics director Dick Baddour and Chancellor Thorp.
In a statement Wednesday night, Davis said he was "honestly shocked" by the dismissal and called it "a sad day."
"I can honestly say I leave with the full confidence that I have done nothing wrong," Davis said. "I was the head coach and I realize the responsibility that comes with that role. But I was not personally involved in, nor aware of, any actions that prompted the NCAA investigation."
UNC said Thorp and Baddour would have more to say about the firing at a news conference Thursday morning.
UNC's problems began last year when the school announced it was looking into academic misconduct and allegations that players got perks from professional sports agents.
In all, 14 players missed at least one game because of the probe with seven being ruled out for the entire year. An eighth was cleared to return at midseason but decided to redshirt.
Last month, North Carolina received a notice of allegations from the NCAA outlining numerous "potential major violations" in the football program, including unethical conduct by a former assistant coach as well as failure to adequately monitor the conduct of a former and current players.
The NCAA also alleged that former associate head coach John Blake worked to steer players to late NFL agent Gary Wichard, though Blake’s attorneys have denied there was such an arrangement.
Davis had a long history with Blake, starting when he coached him in high school and including a stint as assistants to Jimmy Johnson with the Dallas Cowboys. He said he knew Blake had worked briefly with Wichard after he was fired from Oklahoma in 1998, but pointed out Blake made stops as an assistant at Mississippi State and Nebraska before joining Davis in Chapel Hill in 2006.
According to the notice of allegations, Blake received more than $31,000 in financial transfers from Wichard from 2007-09, though Blake’s attorneys have described the transactions as loans from one friend to another during financial trouble. Davis has said he hasn’t spoken with Blake since his resignation in September and had previously said he was “sorry” he trusted Blake.
“There were no apparent red flags put out through that investigation (during Blake’s hiring) and obviously I certainly don’t like where our program is today,” Davis said Monday.
UNC has also looking into allegations of academic misconduct by players. It alleged Senior Michael McAdoo received improper assistance on multiple assignments over several terms from tutor Jennifer Wiley and much of a paper he wrote with her help had been plagiarized.
"I'm deeply disappointed in the recent revelations of plagiarism in one student-athlete's paper. I wish we had caught that," said Thorp Wednesday at the meeting with the Board of Trustees.
The notice of allegations from the NCAA accuses Wiley of "unethical conduct for refusing to provide information to the NCAA enforcement staff and to the institution." The document alleges she "provided extra benefits to student-athletes in the form of travel and parking expenses, and tutoring."
The school is scheduled to appear before the NCAA infractions committee in October.
Thorp said the decision was not related to any change in the NCAA investigation, but that it was the result of the cumulative damage to the University’s reputation over the past year.
"The last 13 months have been some of the most difficult that anyone associated with the athletic department and football program have dealt with. At this time, a decision has been made to change the leadership of the football program to help the entire University community move forward," said Baddour in the statement released by UNC Wednesday.
"I want to thank Butch Davis and his family for their four-plus years of service and dedication to the University and the Chapel Hill community," continued Baddour. "My staff and I will work with Chancellor Thorp to transition to an interim head coach as soon as possible. It is critical that we do all we can to help our students and other staff members on the football team since preseason training camp begins in just eight days."
In the meantime, Davis may not be walking away empty handed.
According to Davis' original contract with the university signed in 2006, the university would owe Davis the remaining amount left on his contract.
That buy out would not stand if the university found cause to terminate Davis, but since we do not know the exact cause of his firing, it is hard to say how much could be involved.
One legal expert tells ESPN that Davis could end up getting $3 to $4 million before it's all over.