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Degree of Separation

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At what point is the Butch Davis era really over?

In case you missed it, interim head coach Everett Withers gave the game ball from Saturday's contest versus James Madison to none other than Butch Davis. Davis was in attendance at Kenan Stadium which was probably awkward for someone. Withers discussed it during his postgame press conference(via Inside Carolina)

On awarding the game ball to Butch Davis:

“I don’t know when I plan on doing it, but I just know we’re going to paint one up and give it him. I’ll tell you guys this: Tuesday, about 1:30, Coach Davis called me. And I know why he called me at 1:30, because at 2:10 we start a special teams meeting and it hit him for the first time that he’s not going to be sitting in on that special teams meeting. It hit me – it hit me. So, I told the kids on Thursday, I said ‘We’re getting ready to paint this ball up for Coach and give it to him.’”

First of all, Withers giving the ball to Butch Davis or that Davis was at the game is not a real issue for me. Given the circumstances of his dismissal plus the fact Davis was never actually implicated in the NCAA notice of allegations doesn't really make him radioactive. Yes, that adds to the strangeness of Davis' ouster because usually coaches who get fired are simultaneously run out of town. Most coaches get fired for being a detriment to the program which means they are persona non grata. Davis' situation is different. There is no question Davis' tenure brought more negative than positive. At the same time, Davis' role in that has been proven(so far) to be  limited.  So having him still hanging around, at least at the opener, is not suprising nor harmful on the surface. There is also an element of the remaining players and coaches wanting to do something to show their appreciation for Davis and express their loyalty to a man who they all think pretty highly of. I think that gets lost on many people. The people who worked for Davis and the players who came to UNC all did so to play for Davis. The affection for the man is undeniable as it should be. These folks don't look at Davis through the lens of NCAA violations or whatever nasty PR raining down on UNC. The relationships are personal ones and this kind of move reflect that.

That being said, it would be best if we didn't hear anything else about Davis calling or texting or being at Kenan Stadium in general for the remainder of the season. While I understand Davis might have some contact with the like of Bryn Renner or Withers might still lean on him for some counsel, there must be a point where the program has to put Davis in the past. Withers has to understand that if he wants any shot at getting the "interim" tag removed he needs to put his own stamp on his program. It needs to be clear to anyone watching that Withers is running the program his way and whatever success UNC enjoys is a result of his leadership. Granted the talent assembled is credited to Butch Davis but there is something to be said for how the head coach runs the team. The team on Saturday looked focused, disciplined and as Doc pointed out Withers passed the first test of getting an outstanding effort out of the team despite only taking charge of the team a month ago.

The only thing that could undermine that is the notion that Withers is basically a puppet with Davis pulling some strings behind the scenes. While it is understandable Withers would still communicate with Davis, it is important there be some degree of separation. At the very least, it should stop being something that is talked about publicly. Every time Davis' name comes up as having texted this player or called this coach it looks like he is still exercising influence on the program. Not that I think his influence would be negative. However for the program to move forward minimizing the Davis angle in the public arena is necessary.

Perhaps that is the ultimate point of the game ball for Davis. Maybe this was an act of closure needed to draw the Davis era to a close and move on. Davis was at the game. Withers gives him the game ball to show his appreciation and that of the players. Now Davis can go off and do whatever he wants and UNC can move the football program into the future. Since this season is operating under an interim head coach promoted from the existing staff there is no such thing as a clean break from the predecessor. Davis' fingerprints are all over the program which Withers acknowledged with the game ball. Now the time has come for Withers to put his own stamp on this team, for as long as the gig lasts.