ACC Kickoff: Building Trust

PINEHURST, N.C. -- When UNC announced the Butch Davis coaching hire in November, a resolution of truce greeted the Tar Heel faithful. It had been nearly a decade since the fan base cheered as a cohesive unit, as years of bad losses and poor records led to blame being thrown around in every direction.

This hire not only helped to rally the fans, but it also proved to unite the players that Davis inherited.

And while the new head coach's pedigree was impressive, respect still had to be earned, which occurred promptly once news broke of Davis's cancer treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma heading into spring practice.

"That showed us a lot," senior defensive end Hilee Taylor said Sunday at the ACC Kickoff. "That inspired us. You can't take things for granted.

"This guy with chemotherapy was out there every day, and some guys complain about being out there for a couple of hours running around. We're supposed to love this. It just gave us motivation to just suck it up and play."

One of Davis' first decisions in Chapel Hill was to renovate the players' locker room, eliminating a system of cubbies that had separated teammates into various groups.

By opening the entire area, it will allow for a more family-style atmosphere, which Davis has built on by having an open-door policy in the coaches' offices and in various team meetings.

The close-knit nature of this staff has also had a positive effect on the players.

"Those guys are out there joking and smiling together, and that helps because we feel pressure, but at the same time we're relaxed," Taylor said. "One of Coach Davis' biggest emphases is that you never know how good you are unless you go ahead and take that chance.

"It's a big change, because now with me going inside or outside, he's giving me that free will to do it. That lets me know he has a lot of trust in me."

Senior wide receiver Joe Dailey agreed: "[Davis has added] a lot of confidence and [told us] not to be afraid to make mistakes. Before, a lot of guys were afraid to make mistakes.

"Coach Davis encourages us to make mistakes on the practice field, because that way we can make it right on the practice field, and then on game day, we can make the right decisions."

Davis has been described as energetic and consistent, treating all of his players evenly without having to raise his voice to get his message across. His demeanor is such that he commands respect without having to work hard to earn it.

The openness of the new head coach extends into his spiritual beliefs, something that means a great deal to numerous players, including Taylor.

"We had a religious group, and I never will forget, but Coach Davis came there and he told us private things that you wouldn't expect a coach to tell you," Taylor said. "It surprised me a lot, because he was willing to tell us stuff about him, so as a group, it makes us more willing to talk."

Davis ultimately came to North Carolina to win football games, and while the emphasis on family may not seem that noteworthy beyond the walls of Kenan Stadium, it is evident within the program that those victories will come with trust and as a team.

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