Q&A with Butch Davis, Part IV

With the start of his second season at the Tar Heel helm right around the corner, UNC head coach Butch Davis had a lot to say at the ACC Kickoff. Read it all here at InsideCarolina.com ...

How was it dealing with a health issue during your first season at UNC?

"Well, last year was hard. It was hard physically, it was hard emotionally. I'm sure it was hard on the administration and I'm sure it was hard on the players. They're all like, "wow, brand new coach and now all of a sudden he's bald and going through chemo." It was hard on my family, emotionally, but, you know, my family did an awesome job. The school was extraordinarily respectful and, the players, I think I appreciated the way they approached it, in that, after I told them and was honest about it and up front, we never talked about it again. We said, look, we're going to build a national championship program, we're going to build this program and we never talked about my health. So, I appreciated that."

Entering your second season, are these 2nd place predictions too much too soon? Where do you think the talent level is at?

"I don't know about the predictions, though. To me it looks like two schools got about 99 percent of the vote and it looks like the other ten schools got about four percent of the vote. Once you get past those two schools, I think the other ten … anybody can play well. If you stay healthy and your quarterback performs, anybody will have the chance to have a good season. For us it's exciting, from the standpoint that, you'd like this a lot better than if there was like five teams that had all the votes. Then there might be the have's and the have nots."

Are you excited about your talent level?

"Yeah, because I think we are getting better. Each recruiting class has kind of brought a little new element of speed, a little more talent and a little more play-making ability. But we're still clearly – we're not where you've got to be. But we're getting closer."

Do you laugh at yourself about Little at running back?

"I wasn't very smart. Yeah, I mean really, you think about. The one regret I have is that I wish I would've said ‘I don't care what he doesn't know, we'll put him in at tailback now.' We started doing it against South Carolina – that was the first time that we've gone far enough and said, ‘we probably don't have a running back.' It's kind of like that old adage, if you think you have two quarterbacks you probably don't have any. If you think you have a running back by committee with three or four guys, you might not really have anybody. We needed someone to be the guy. Hopefully, we'll have more than one guy – because at Miami one year we had Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. We had about four guys – we could've gone running back by committee but there was really one guy that was the guy. Amd everybody else you get the crumbs – you know – when it's time."

Have you heard anything on Connor Barth's chances to make the Kansas City roster?

"I haven't other than Mike Priefer came in, who is the special teams coach… I've known his father Chuck … but his son is the guy at the Kansas City Chiefs and he came in and he worked out Connor and he loved him. He said he boomed the ball – his accuracy inside of 50 yards, which NFL coaches are extraordinarily serious about… you get fired if you miss too many 46-yard field goals, they fire the kicker then they fire the coach. So, they like that… here is the one thing I told Connor when he was getting ready to sign somebody -- Herman [Edwards] is a coach that he won't care – because there are some guys that if you don't kick in the NFL for 10-12 years you could be the best kicker in the world, their not kicking you… Herman will kick the best kicker. If you want to go to training camp and win a job, he is one of the few coaches that will give a rookie kicker an opportunity to win that job. I was kind of happy that he went there… I like Herman as a guy and I like a lot of the guys in their organization. I worked there for a couple of years, helping them, and I think it's a good situation. I think he'll go in there with an opportunity to win the job."

Do you think the Barth tradition can be carried on with Casey?

"I hope so. I was told, watching him in high school and this comes from other high school coaches, they might think that Casey might have -- in the door as a true freshman -- a slightly stronger leg than Connor. Now the accuracy aspect of it, that was kind of always one of the things that Connor struggled with, was when the kickoffs moved back to the 30-yard-line, he struggled getting the ball in the end zone and that's something when the season was over with, prior to the draft, he really worked on leg speed and strength so that he could drive the ball deep into the end zone. Well, Casey was already a little bit stronger because I think he is a little bigger. He is a little bit longer leg and he drives the ball a little bit harder. But, the accuracy factor is going to me more important than anything. Making sure that we make all the extra points and all the reasonable field goal attempts."

How frustrating were all the close losses last season?

"It is frustrating, but once you get past that it provides you with an unbelievable array of learning experiences. Because you can go back to each one of those games, when the season is over with, you can sit there and dissect it and say ‘this is why we tell you that kickoff coverage is important' and ‘this is why it's so important to cover punts, or protection, or third-down conversions.' Every thing that we talked about in the spring time, we can relay it back to a missed opportunity. The number of opportunities that we had at Georgia Tech inside the 10-yard-line that we had to try to kick field goals, that if we just score touchdowns we win that game. So, everything takes on a great teaching opportunity and I think it did. I think it motivated the players and they really realized why you talk about those things."

Do you feel like you're seeing a lot of the younger guys grow up?

"Obviously, they did grow up. I think they were thrust into some roles that a lot of them weren't prepared for. I promise you that Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Zack Pianalto, Charles Brown – they didn't dream that they would be starting in front of 65,000 people as a freshman. But there is an upside to that, one of these days -- one of these days they'll be juniors and seniors and they'll have 40 games under their belt. And they'll be able to be great leaders and be guys that the bigger the scenario it won't intimidate them"

Is having senior leaders a prerequisite for a successful team?

"I don't know that you have to have senior leaders. But, I know this – you can't win without leaders. You have to have guys that are willing to go to the mat for issues in the locker room, making sure guys make good decisions and smart decisions. You have to have leaders on your football team that kind of carry the torch of what's the mission and objective and goals of the coaching staff and the whole team. Sometimes with a young football team, they're so busy that… just trying to live in their own little world, they don't have time to lead, they don't have time to mentor or help anybody because they don't even know the plays yet. The more experience they get, the more comfortable they get, then you can start to see some leadership qualities. There're guys last year that might have had zero leadership ability. This year they may be pretty good leaders, because now they are comfortable in their skin that they can go do other things."

Who are those guys on the team right now?

"Quan Sturdivant, I think has made huge leaps and bounds. Deunta [Williams] is somebody that is a very good leader. I'm of the opinion and the belief that I think that you have to have a leader at every positional group. We took a big hit at the defensive line last year. We lost three great leaders and two spectacular players. Hilee Taylor and Kentwan Balmer – you couldn't have asked more from a leadership standpoint and you couldn't have asked more from a performance standpoint on Saturdays and we haven't replaced either of them yet. We haven't replaced them talent wise nor have we replaced them leadership wise. Now, the challenge is going to be can a Marvin Austin -- can he grow into being – not only the player that Kentwan was -- but can he grow into the leader that he was. Or can E.J. Wilson? We've got to try to get some guys that will establish themselves to take that role with the defensive line. I think Chase Rice and Mark Paschal are providing excellent leadership at linebacker. Deunta, as I said, Trimane Goddard is a really, really good leader at safety. Garrett Reynolds on the offensive line… You couldn't ask for a better leader I mean, he is a fearless warrior and a hard worker. The running back situation is still kind of young, but Greg's got an opportunity to do that. But Hakeem [Nicks], Brooks [Foster] and Brandon [Tate], I mean those guys are good leaders, they're good role models."

How has expansion worked out for the ACC in football?

"Well, Virginia Tech and Boston College… both of them, they were both rated in the top 10 last year. Certainly Miami had a little bit of an off year last year. I clearly think that those three schools have dramatically upgraded the perception of the competency, football-wise, of this league. I think it's a lot stronger because of those. I haven't tracked over the last six or seven years who they've played in the BCS, but I think it's like anything else it's just a matter of time. There're too many good football schools, there're way too many good coaches. This league -- there are spectacular coaches, you could match these guys up with any other conference in this country. There is great coaching in this league."

Isn't one of the main reasons UNC has invested so much so fast into this football program is because they believe in you so much?

"Well, it's a nice compliment and I appreciate it. When you sit down and start talking about a job, they have to tell you their vision. They want to know what your vision – what you envision is the program. The unbelievable academic excellence of that institution… I want our kids to graduate and realize that football isn't forever, that you need a great college education. But, by the same token I want us to be good. I really, truly want this school to be in a position that we can compete for and play for – not just one national championship – but when you're good year-in and year-out. OK, what does that take? It takes commitment from their side, it takes commitment from the coaches on their side and it takes commitment from the players. You all get together and start heading down a path. If everybody will stay committed, it certainly can happen."

What's the one thing you have to have to take the program to that elite level?

"You've got to have an unbelievable amount of support from the administration. Dick Baddour, the athletic director has been phenomenal. Chancellor Moeser was great and now we're making a transition – the board of trustees, they want all the teams at Carolina to succeed and to play well. They are as competitive in every single one of the sports… from field hockey to women's soccer to men's and women's basketball… and when the administration has that kind of support, it gives you a chance."

What's the one thing with your players that was most important last year?

"Them learning to trust us. As a football family, the beginning point is you have to have trust. If the players that don't trust the coaches that we've got their best interest at heart… and we've got to trust them, that they're going to do their part. Once you get that 100 percent kind of commitment then you can really start moving your program forward."

Was there a landmark moment last year, where you said, "Okay, we've crossed that bridge now?"

"Gosh, I mean every single game had a little bit of a revelation. I don't know that there was any one. By the end of the season, the players really had started to understand how important preparation was – I think a lot of them still thought being a good athlete allowed you to do play well on Saturdays. And they didn't realize how much hard work and determination and preparation went into being good. That you've actually got to watch a lot of film, you've got lift and you've got to be at practice. Because the NCAA restrictions about the number of hours, with 17 hours there's no wasted opportunities. You can't go on the field and screw around and wait and blow 30 minutes of practice. You don't get that over – there's no back on the ball. There's no you can redo red zone. If we don't get it today, tomorrow is short yardage. Tomorrow is goal line an you know, just creating that football environment."

Do the uniforms look like you wanted them to look?

"They look like what Nike wants them to look like [laughter]. I got no input, I got no input. Other than the colors, we get to keep our school colors. I told them, you can do about anything you want to but you can never touch the helmet. Whatever you do, don't mess up the helmet."

You're not one of those guys that floated the alternate color jersey out there?

"I was quoted in, I guess, the Daily Tar Heel or something like that about Oregon. Where it looks like they took their school colors, they threw them in a blender and turned it on warp speed and they come out with like nine different color uniforms like every season. [laughter] But that's the benefit of having Phil Knight, you know. You got unlimited money, so you can have unlimited uniforms [laughter].

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