Miami Ties Run Deep

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina fans have highlighted the first Saturday in October for months. Head coach Butch Davis played a pivotal role in elevating Miami into a football powerhouse during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and now will face that program from the opposite sideline.

Davis is quick to downplay the relevance of the meeting on Saturday, reminding reporters during Monday's press conference that he left Coral Gables in January 2001.

"The scenario that I've got is a little bit different than [N.C. State head coach] Tom O'Brien," Davis said. "Tom, when he had to play Boston College a couple of weeks ago, he walked on the field and virtually every single player on the team were kids that he had been in their homes and recruited. I've been gone from Miami now for six years, and so it's all new players."

But while Davis may not have many relationships with the current Hurricane roster, he knows the administration and various members of the coaching staff. First-year head coach Randy Shannon played and coached under Davis at Miami.

But the ties that bind Davis to South Florida go beyond personal relationships – they go to the very core of his coaching mentality. He followed Jimmy Johnson as an assistant from Oklahoma State to Miami in 1984, winning the national championship in 1987.

Their defensive philosophy changed the landscape of college football, focusing on speed over brawn and quickness over brute strength. Safeties became linebackers, linebackers became defensive ends and defensive ends became defensive tackles.

"We were never as big as Penn State, Notre Dame, [and] Florida, but we got faster," Davis said. "I think a lot of people kind of looked at that and maybe it changed, to some of extent, the way people started to emphasize speed over power."

By the time Davis returned to Miami as head coach in 1995, that Florida speed was still woven throughout the roster, but poor discipline and graduation rates were rampant. Things had gotten so bad that Sports Illustrated ran a cover story that summer entitled ‘Why the University of Miami Should Drop Football.'

Davis overcame the public scrutiny and the reduction of 31 scholarships that his predecessor Dennis Erickson left him, lifting the program out of chaos through patience and dedication – the same virtues that he intends to use to turn around this North Carolina program.

Following the 37-10 loss to South Florida, Davis' postgame talk focused on personal accountability and how the players needed to take an ownership stake in the success of their team.

Not surprisingly, he used a former Hurricanes' player to illustrate his point.

"He talked about Russell Maryland, and how they used to call him "The Conscience" or whatever," freshman defensive tackle Marvin Austin said. "He would have guys in his room watching film all night, and he would make sure everybody on the team watched film and holding guys accountable."

And the head coach said he believes those comments have begun to take effect.

"That's getting better, and it's just part of the culture and the attitude that you have that if you're going to play well on Saturdays, you've got to do a great job preparing," Davis said. "… They realize the areas where we're making some improvements and some strides. They're also cognizant of the areas where we're not getting it done."

Davis and his coaching staff have stressed the importance of every opportunity, whether it be a snap in spring practice or a snap in the last minute of a tightly-contested ball game. That mentality not only lays a foundation for next week and next month, but also for 20 years from now in the lives of these young men.

The first-year UNC head coach takes pride in overcoming the odds at Miami, and he plans to do the same in Chapel Hill.

"I think we tried to accomplish something that people said you couldn't do, that you couldn't have good academics and good Division I football," Davis said. "That you couldn't compete for a national championship at the expense of having guys graduate from your football team."

While winning football games on Saturday afternoon is the primary reason Davis is being paid just shy of $2 million per year, he also understands his influence on his players extends past the walls of the Kenan Football Center.

"You'd like to be able to meet the needs of these kids, because not every kid is going to play in the National Football League," Davis said. "The reality of it is that some of them are going to have awesome college careers. It's going to be the greatest period of time of their athletic life, and then they're going to go on to great business careers. They're going to be good husbands, they're going to be good fathers [and] they're going to be alumni."

The University of Miami played a significant role in Davis' life, but the legacy that he left in Coral Gables may have a longer-lasting impact. As for now, Davis is a Tar Heel and his sole mission is turning around this program by focusing on North Carolina, not the Hurricanes.

"It's not about them – it's about us as a team," Austin said. "If we do what we have to do, and be in the position that we're supposed to be in, then we can play with anybody in the country."

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