July 23, 2007

Excitement greets Davis as coaches take stage

PINEHURST, N.C. The assembled media and consider the location of the ACC Media Kickoff seemed to be waiting for new North Carolina coach Butch Davis' arrival.

As soon as he entered the interview hall at the Pinehurst Hotel and Resort, the media members swarmed to Davis in a fashion that nearly made it difficult for the other coaches in the session to get their fair share of attention, wanted or not.

Since replacing beleaguered John Bunting last November, Davis has been looked at with such reverence in these parts that locals can barely contain themselves. The normally prim, proper and provincial staff at Pinehurst's No. 8 course Monday asked seemingly every participating media member if Davis was on their shuttle to the course and if indeed he was playing golf there today.

It hasn't been quite like the fervor that surrounded the courting of Roy Williams (twice, mind you), but it's different in nature for the mere fact basketball has always been the sport in Chapel Hill.

And there is the crux of the matter. Can Davis make the program that Bobby Bowden once dubbed a "sleeping giant" nationally relevant again? Can he do the unthinkable and rival the popularity of basketball in Chapel Hill?

Davis got that big-themed question Monday and many others related to it. Davis, sporting tightly cropped hair after successfully undergoing chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that was discovered in a routine dentist appointment in February, did not make audacious predictions for the program's future nor totally shy away from expectations, either.

"That North Carolina brand does open some doors. No doubt about that. It's recognizable. Kids and recruits see that 'NC' everywhere, but until you're winning it's just a logo," Davis said. "Winning means more than a brand. I think that the North Carolina athletic department ought to adopt the Oakland Raiders' 'Commitment to Excellence' because each program has high expectations and seems to meet them. The goal is to be great at everything all 28 sports."

Davis' track record would indicate he's capable of turning what now is buzz and conjecture into actual on-field success. Despite a lackluster NFL stint with the Cleveland Browns, Davis was the architect of the University of Miami program for six seasons. There he restored the struggling Hurricanes to both discipline and prominence. After he departed for the NFL in 2000, the Miami team he recruited went on to capture the national title the next season and play for it again in 2002.

That combined with his time as an assistant under the successful Cowboys' reign of the mid-1990s Davis was coincidentally wearing his Super Bowl XXVIII ring Monday is why Davis might be the right person to awaken that slumbering giant in Chapel Hill.

"Butch Davis has been through the wars," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "He certainly knows what he's doing, and I'm really not sure they could have a hired a better coach than Butch Davis."

Davis left a legacy in his time at Miami, one still being felt.

"Butch Davis has a reputation of knowing how to take a program and get them to play championship ball," Hurricanes defensive end Calais Campbell said. "When he was here, the players who played for him that I've talked to say he was real strict. They said he changed the whole program from inside out and made them really play for him. I definitely think they're going to be a great team."

Whether it is that big Super Bowl ring, his matter-of-fact speaking demeanor or that reputation, the message seems to be getting through to the current Tar Heels.

"I really didn't know too much about him," North Carolina defensive end Hilee Taylor said. "I knew he'd coached at Miami. When he came in, he was talking about expanding the stadium, redoing the locker room, redoing the weight room and stuff like that. When I heard he won a national championship at Miami (actually won by former assistant Larry Coker), it was like, 'Oh yeah, I know exactly who he is.' He has this relaxed mode. He wants everybody to relax. He doesn't want you to be afraid of making a mistake. I think that's helped a lot."

Added teammate Joe Dailey: "There were very few NFL guys Coach Bunting brought into the program, only one really. Now you have multiple guys who've been in the NFL. There should be no reason why we can't be successful in terms of bringing talent in and incorporating the scheme to where guys are set up to be successful."

To his credit, Davis has avoided inferences and references to Bunting, who was fired midway through a 3-9 campaign last season. The question was asked about North Carolina's inability to maintain a successful football product, and Davis took measured shots at the program's recent history.

"I'm really not sure," Davis said. "I think it has to do with consistency and that means changes not just at head coach but among the assistant coaches as well. Mack Brown certainly had things going in the right direction. There is no telling what he could have accomplished if he had stayed."

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