Commentary: Davis is energizing Tar Heels

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Since moving to North Carolina 16 months ago, I haven't become a full-fledged fan of an in-state college team. I watch ACC games when I can, but mostly to observe and heckle my co-workers when their teams struggle.
Still, as I listened to Butch Davis speak at his introductory press conference at the University of North Carolina on Monday, it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement that surrounds the Tar Heel football program nowadays. Davis cost the Tar Heels a pretty penny at roughly $1.86 million per year, but so far he's saying all the right things to convince a university with strong reputations in academics and basketball that he can bring some football frenzy to Chapel Hill.
He talked of building a program the right way, recruiting players who want to play for North Carolina, not just for a coach who coached or recruited 28 NFL first-round picks while at the University of Miami. He embraced the school's academic reputation and spoke of high academic standards as a positive in recruiting.
Davis and Roy Williams seem to be getting along just fine, with both big-time coaches committed to bringing success to the Tar Heels in all sports.
Davis turned around Miami's program despite a loss of 31 scholarships due to NCAA sanctions - although it helped that he was able to let current NFL receiver Santana Moss compete while on a track scholarship.
Davis was careful not to mention a timetable for improvement, but now the Tar Heels will see what Davis and a new staff of assistants can do with the talent John Bunting built up during his disappointing tenure as Carolina's coach. The question now is not whether Davis will win at Carolina, but how long will it take?
In fact, the status of ACC football in North Carolina could be headed way up from this season, when Wake Forest's shocking 10-2 season and trip to the ACC Championship game were the only highlights from the Big Four.
Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe has turned the Wake Forest program around despite youth and significant injuries to key players. And - assuming a bigger program doesn't lure Grobe away from Winston-Salem - there's no sign of Wake's weakening any time soon.
North Carolina State will debut a new head coach next year as well. The athletic department has been quiet on possible candidates, but some oft-mentioned names include Navy's Paul Johnson, former East Carolina coach Steve Logan and high-profile assistant coaches like Tennessee's David Cutcliffe, the Tennessee Titans' Norm Chow and LSU's Jimbo Fisher.
None of those (except perhaps Chow, who was offensive coordinator at Southern California during the Palmer-Leinart-Bush era) has the name factor of Davis, but all would be solid choices for the Wolfpack.
After all, N.C. State had the talent to beat Boston College and Florida State this year. If the right coach gets them playing with a consistent effort, the Wolfpack back into the mix for the ACC title game.
And Duke … well, it's still Duke. But now that basketball season has started, I'll do the Blue Devils a favor and stop reminding them they have a football team - at least until next year.

– Dennis Pillion can be reached at 910-739-4322, Ext. 118, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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