In the wake of the nuclear bomb dropped on Carolina football on Friday, fans and media types are rightly questioning the future of coach Butch Davis. ESPN's Lou Holtz reportedly said Davis needed to prepare his resume, while UNC chancellor Holden Thorp and AD Dick Baddour have given Davis a vote of confidence for the time being.
But there is an odd theme that is gaining traction among some media types, specifically an unmentionable and unlinkable ESPN ACC blogger, which was repeated Saturday by the N&O's Caulton Tudor: Butch Davis' tenure at UNC has been mediocre at best and he therefore hasn't won enough to survive the scandal.
Tudor specifically notes UNC's 20-18 overall record and 11-13 ACC record under Davis and the two mid-level bowl losses as evidence that "after three years, the program has been average at best on the field." The ESPN blogger makes a similar argument in her video piece at ESPN.com.
Do these two need reminding that UNC spent most of the 2000s as one of the laughingstocks of college football? The Heels were mired in a series of 3-win seasons and were routinely blown out. From the moment Davis arrived, Carolina was instantly competitive on the field, and made huge steps forward in years 2 and 3. Since Davis arrived in Chapel Hill, his teams have beaten Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Notre Dame. If only he could solve NCSU and UVa, the overall and ACC records would be much better. And before the current unpleasantness, Carolina was primed to take another step forward. But given where the program was when Davis arrived, to say that the results have been "average at best" is short-sighted.
Besides, both Tudor and the ESPN employee miss the larger picture. How many games he has won or lost is irrelevant to the argument. If he or his staff were culpable for the issues surrounding the program, he has to go whether or not he has a BCS title in hand. And if this happened despite the earnest, best efforts of Davis and his staff, then there is room to discuss his remaining as head coach.
On the other hand, if you want to make the argument that the risk has not been worth the reward, then that at least has merit. In hiring Davis, Tudor writes, "the school's leaders figured they were getting a coach who would lead the Tar Heels into the top 10 rankings and do it without severely damaging their image as an upstanding athletic citizen." That much is true. But as this scandal has unfolded, there are those fans and media types who have declared Davis to be a win-at-all-costs coach who has brought players of questionable character into the program.
This notion contradicts with Davis' reputation as the coach who cleaned up the dirtiest program in the country at Miami in the 1990s and rebuilt them to the cusp of a national championship while doing it the right way. So which is he? The soul-less mercenary or the reformer? If you watch the ESPN "30 on 30" documentary about "The U", it is clear which side the renegade Miami players of the era come down on.
As for bringing in to the program what Roy Williams would refer to as "character kids", players with solid backgrounds who are committed to doing things the right way, well, Davis has done that and yet some of those names are linked to the troubles at Carolina. Greg Little and his on-field antics, and Marvin Austin, with his larger-than-life personality, are easily picked out as potential troublemakers. But Robert Quinn, brain tumor survivor and the school's choice to represent the defense at ACC media days, would certainly be considered a "character kid" and yet he will not play Saturday night on the suspended, not held out, list.
I do not mean to either indict or defend Butch Davis at this point. Personally, I will withhold judgment until all the facts are out and due process has been served. I simply want to point out that he has had measurable success at UNC and also show the highly divergent views of Davis' tenure at Chapel Hill. Chancellor Thorp said Carolina will be defined by how it responds to this issue. It is safe to say Butch Davis will be as well.