Rebuilding Task a Work in Progress

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Pundits pointed to the 2008 season as a potential breakout campaign for North Carolina, but Butch Davis has been hesitant to proclaim his squad ready for the spotlight. The preseason hype can still be achieved, but it's safe to say that this rebuilding project is nowhere near complete.

"It's going to take a while," Davis told reporters during his weekly press conference on Monday. "And I've tried to say that pretty emphatically over the last year, that it is not a quick fix trying to build your program."

The Butch Davis name tag comes with a $2 million-plus salary, but it also carries immense expectations. Gone are the days that Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer can suffer through early growing pains and emerge five years later with winning seasons.

But for immediate results to occur in a coaching transition, the ingredients must be perfectly mixed for both the players and the head coach. Davis has made a career out of putting more talent on the field than his opposition, and the North Carolina cupboard he walked into had recently struggled in that area against opponents such as Furman and Duke.

"Every program is different," said Davis, who has a 5-8 record at UNC after last Saturday's season-opening victory over McNeese State. "We're trying to build on the things that give us a chance to build this program. We've got great academic credibility, we've got passionate fans that want to see this program grow, and it's going to take time. I wish that it had been different. You'd like to walk in the door and there are 25 guys that are headed to the NFL, but that's not the way it was. So it's going to take us year by year, building and growing and keep adding recruits."

When Davis left the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator position to return to Miami as head coach in 1995, poor discipline and graduation rates were rampant in Coral Gables. He overcame 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.

But it wasn't an overnight success – the Hurricanes posted a 5-6 record in Davis' third season at the helm. Three years later, Miami finished 11-1 with the No. 2 national ranking.

"I welcome the day that we're the most experienced veteran team on the field, as opposed to being the youngest, most inexperienced team in the game," Davis said.

Part of that learning process cannot be taught – it has to be experienced. Sure, it sounds good to hear about how the 2000 Miami Hurricanes knocked off the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, but you may as well show these 18- and 19-year-olds vintage clips of Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke.

That's why the 2007 season was so important – it provided a video vault for these Tar Heels to look back on and fully understand.

"Everybody that's still here can remember and relate to some of those kinds of things, whether it was a fast start or a slow start," Davis said. "And until you go through some of those scenarios, you can talk about it until you're blue in the face and you can show all of the video that you want to, but it doesn't mean anything until the guys that were actually involved in those scenarios [are on your team.]"

Davis indicated that one key element in changing the culture of North Carolina's program is having the players take ownership of their team.

"I can remember back at Miami the days when you would walk in the office early in the morning and Cortez Kennedy or Jerome Brown would be sitting at your desk and they've got the clicker in their hand and drinking a cup of coffee at 6:30 in the morning watching film," Davis said.

While things may be progressing in that regard, it has not fully occurred. And it is probably premature to think that it could happen within 20 months of Davis taking the North Carolina job.

That fact has become abundantly obvious in listening to the second-year head coach talk in recent days about his next opponent and former assistant in Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano.

"He has just made huge strides with that program over the last eight years," Davis said. "You can just see the byproduct of having a lot of fourth and fifth-year guys in your program that have been in your system for a long time – how experienced they are and how comfortable they are, and how quickly they can make adjustments from week to week because of the experience of their football team."

Schiano attributes a lot of his early success in New Jersey to the two seasons ('99-'00) that he spent as Davis' defensive coordinator in Miami, and as an interesting sidebar, he took over a program that makes UNC's recent futility look spectacular in comparison.

Both men echo a similar blueprint in building a successful program.

"I think you build relationships and then make people comfortable with you, and through those relationships you continue to recruit better players," Schiano said during his Monday teleconference. "Meanwhile, while you're doing all of that, you have to make sure you [promote] your image to young people and to recruits, so it's a complex thing. Certainly, if you don't win some games, it won't finish off. But you lay all of the seeds early on and fortunately, some of those seeds came to harvest and we were able to win some games and that allowed us to continue to grow."

But if there are any Tar Heel fans that will be upset with anything less than an eight-win season in 2008, this Davis disciple offers another perspective to take into consideration.

"I think Butch is what college football needs," Schiano said. "The reason that I'm in college football is because you have the opportunity to influence young people and to help them to grow up to be men. And I think Butch is one of the few guys in this country that I would trust my sons playing for, so that's the kind of men that we need in college football."


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