The Rare Air of Longevity

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When Bobby Bowden brings his Florida State squad to Chapel Hill for Thursday night's showdown, the 79-year-old will be looking for his 312th victory as the Seminoles head coach. According to Butch Davis, that length of tenure is something most coaches strive for in their careers.

The all-times win race between Bowden (384-127-4) and Penn State's Joe Paterno (389-128-3) has drawn great interest over the years for a variety of reasons, including their long-time residence at their respective schools. Bowden is currently in his 34th year in Tallahassee, while Paterno is in his 44th year in the comfy confines of Happy Valley. JoePa surpassed Amos Alonzo Stagg (Univ. of Chicago, 41 years) for longevity at one institution among major college coaches in 2007.

"They are unique, because you don't see people that are still that successful and have the energy for it and want to continue to do it and are afforded the opportunity to stay at a place that long," Davis told reporters before practice on Tuesday.

When the third-year UNC head coach was growing up, longevity at the college level was the norm. Woody Hayes was a mainstay on the Ohio State sidelines and Bear Bryant was an institution in the Deep South. Even Jim Hickey ('59-'66) managed eight years in Chapel Hill with just one winning record.

"One of the things that enticed me a little bit to get into coaching was hoping for that similar type of stability – to get someplace and stay [there] and put down roots and be able to stay a long time," Davis said.

But the college landscape has changed over the last 10-15 years as coaches have been replaced earlier and earlier in their tenure. Carl Torbush ('98-‘00) held North Carolina's head coaching job for three years after posting a 17-18 record. UNC defensive line coach John Blake lasted just three seasons in Norman after coaching Oklahoma to a 12-22 overall mark.

Davis points to Tom Landry as a prime example of how lengthy the rebuilding process can be. In 1960, as a first-year head coach in Dallas, the Hall of Famer led the Cowboys to 0-11-1 record. Four losing seasons would follow and Dallas owner Clint Murchison responded by giving Landry a 10-year extension.

What followed were two Super Bowl titles (VI, XII), five NFC titles, 13 Divisional titles and a 270-178-6 overall record.

"In today's society, do you think he's getting six years with no winning seasons?" Davis said. "And in the first couple of years, they didn't win any games – period… In some respects, that happens collegiately. It's not as easy to turn something around on everybody else's timetable. It just takes time to sort it out, get the momentum, get it built and lay the foundations."

There is a small percentage of the coaching community that enjoys the rigors involved with rebuilding a program, but Davis isn't one of them, despite playing an integral role in revitalizations at Oklahoma State, Miami (twice) and the Cowboys.

When asked if there was something alluring to him about the rebuilding process, Davis replied, "No."

"Unfortunately, the only jobs that come open are the ones that are going through trying times," he said. "It's rare and unique. Look at Ohio State. John Cooper, in his last four seasons, finished second in the nation three times and got let go. That's a pretty good opportunity. LSU wins the national championship… Usually when a job comes open, it's because a lot of bad stuff happened.

"There might be one out of the blue that's a great program and all of the pieces are in place and you don't have to do anything except go in there and keep the ball rolling. Those jobs don't come open very often."

Davis admitted during his first season in Chapel Hill that the rebuilding process had been tougher initially than he originally thought it would be, and there are still obvious signs that this program is years away from where he wants it to be. But the secret is sticking to your plan.

"You can't cut corners," Davis said.

When Florida State rolls into Kenan Stadium with the sports world watching on Thursday night, Bowden will be desperate for a win as his current squad sits at 2-4. Another loss would place FSU's 32-year streak of consecutive winning seasons in jeopardy.

Davis, on the other hand, needs a victory for similar reasons. Another notch in the win column moves the Tar Heels to a 5-2 record and within grasp of a second-straight winning season. Because as Bowden and JoePa have proven, you have to start somewhere.


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