UNCís hopes rise
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Butch Davis doesnít look like heís leading a program whose last winning record came seven years ago.
His North Carolina team is a popular pick to contend for an ACC division title. Fans have scooped up every season ticket. Plans for stadium expansion are inching forward. And Davis, after managing just four wins in his first season at UNC, already has secured a contract extension and a raise.
That buzz doesnít fit with the Tar Heelsí struggles since consecutive top-10 seasons a decade ago. Yet so much of that attitude starts with Davis, a big name whose mere presence has success-starved fans believing that a turnaround is close.
iIt is nice to be appreciated, OK?î Davis said. iI think itís a compliment certainly that people think I can be a part of the turnaround. But the reality is Iím just a part of it, that it will take more than just me. Itís going to take the administration. Itís going to take people filling the stadium up and cheering and creating that electric atmosphere on Saturdays. Itís going to take recruits.
iA head coach at any particular place is a portion of it, but youíre not 100 percent of the solution.î
As his players were reporting for preseason camp Thursday, Davis cautions that consistent success will take time.
Heís quick to cite a nonconference schedule that includes a trip to Rutgers and a visit from Notre Dame. Still, the expectations have risen steadily, rooted in his work bringing probation-saddled Miami back among the nationís elite in the 1990s before coaching the NFLís Cleveland Browns.
Two weeks ago, the media picked the Tar Heels to finish second in the Coastal Division behind perennial power Virginia Tech. Itís a rare show of respect for a program that hasnít been nationally relevant in more than a decade, when Mack Brownís Tar Heels went a combined 21-3 in 1996 and í97.
UNC has gone 47-71 in the 10 seasons since. It hasnít had a winning record since 2001 and has reached just three bowl games.
Davisí first team gave reason for hope; six of its eight losses came by seven or fewer points. The results apparently were good enough to sell North Carolinaís fans, who responded by buying the entire allotment of 36,250 season tickets ó the most in school history.
It was also enough to persuade university officials to give Davis ó who was being mentioned as a possible candidate for openings at alma mater Arkansas and elsewhere ó a one-year extension and a raise of $291,000 to push his annual income to about $2.1 million at the end of last year.
iMost of the people that have ever sat on the board of trustees, theyíre CEOs of companies and they understand youíre not going to turn the fortunes of a company immediately around,î Davis said. iItís going to take a vision. Itís going to take hard work. I donít think any fans by any stretch of the imagination are into the 10-year plan. But I think theyíre clearly understanding that … youíve got to recruit athletes and youíve got to retain your coaching staff.î
Davis said several times last season he is happy in Chapel Hill, but his name almost certainly will be tossed around again if North Carolina continues to improve.
Itís something Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who coached with Davis at Miami, understands well after leading the once-woeful Scarlet Knights to consecutive bowl wins.
iButch is a good football coach, and there is always going to be a demand for a good football coach,î Schiano said. iI think heís really excited about building a program in Carolina.
iThe fact that youíre desirable, that means your program is doing well. It certainly has its adverse effects, no doubt. … I think you have to be very selective if you are going to consider anything else. The fans and the administration, they get tired of it.î
Davisí situation also underlines the fickle nature of success in college football. A repeat 4-8 record wonít be received with the same exuberance, and fans will withdraw if the win total doesnít soon match their optimistic expectations.
iI love the fact games are sold out, that people are talking about stadium expansion and the growth of the football program,î Davis said. iThatís exciting. Itís why you wanted to take the job at Carolina. You knew that potential. … People are really starting to take notice.î