SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/13/2006 08:38:00 PM
UNC: Are You Ready for Some Football?
North Carolina won a national championship in men’s basketball two years ago, reached the women’s Final Four last season and is currently in contention for national titles in both men’s and women’s soccer. Within a few years, it will have a nationally prominent football program as well.
It’s been a long nine years since Mack Brown left Chapel Hill for Austin, taking with him the Tar Heels’ last strands of respectability, but with the hiring of Butch Davis on Monday, North Carolina football is finally worth taking seriously again. Considering it boasts one of the richest and most successful athletic departments in the entire country, there’s really no reason UNC should ever have a 1-9 football team, but a beautiful campus and sparkling facilities can only get you so far when you put your program in the hands of a Carl Torbush and a John Bunting.
Davis may have been a bust in the NFL, but there’s no arguing what he accomplished at Miami, taking over the program right as it was about to be hit by severe NCAA sanctions, steering it through some rough years and coming out the other side with one of the greatest collections of talent the sport has ever seen. In one recruiting class alone (1999), Davis signed Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson, Bryant McKinnie, Clinton Portis and Phillip Buchanon, all of whom would play huge roles in the ‘Canes’ 2001 national championship team. And he signed them at a time when Miami was still losing regularly to Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
An ace recruiter is exactly what North Carolina needs right now, because the current talent level in Chapel Hill is atrocious. Obviously the Tar Heels lack the same drawing power Davis had to sell with at Miami, but in some ways, this might actually be an easier rebuilding job. For one, there are no scholarship limitations or negative publicity to battle. But more importantly, from a competitive standpoint, Davis couldn’t be coming into the ACC – particularly the Coastal Division -- at a better time. Florida State and Miami are a mess. Clemson can’t seem to get over the hump. N.C. State’s coach is in limbo. Virginia’s could be by next year. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest don’t figure to sustain the level of success they’re having this season. And institutionally speaking, there’s no reason why North Carolina can’t reach the same level as Boston College and Maryland.
The program Davis will most be gunning for is Virginia Tech. Considering Miami and Florida State’s current plights, the Hokies are unquestionably the jewel of the conference right now, and they get a lot of their best players out of the state of North Carolina. Davis’ goals will be to lock down some of that in-state talent that’s been getting away to Tech, N.C. State, Wake and elsewhere, tap into his South Florida ties (and take advantage of Miami’s uncertainty) to mine that highly fertile area and use his own clout and recognizability to extend UNC’s reach nationally.
I can’t say I’m familiar enough with the Heels’ current personnel to know just how steep a climb Davis is in for, but I think a realistic timetable is to get them to a bowl game in two years and compete for the division title in three.
Beyond that is anyone’s best guess. As Mack Brown found out, there’s historically been a ceiling as to just how high UNC can get. Even the coach of the reigning national champions couldn’t deliver an ACC championship in 10 seasons in Chapel Hill, though he came close in his final two, going a combined 21-3. Of course, Florida State was at the height of its dynasty at the time and no one else in the ACC could touch the ‘Noles, either. So even though the expanded ACC is much tougher as a whole today than it was a decade ago, the absence of a juggernaut like that actually makes it more suitable for someone like Davis to try and build a power.
I have no doubt whatsoever he’ll significantly upgrade the Heels’ talent level. The only question is whether he’ll stick around long enough this time to reap the benefits.
Good article, Stewart. As to our talent, I felt that this year we had the talent to win 6, and maybe 7. The Frosh class, which some ranked among the nation's 25 or 30 best, was redshirted as a whole. I think there will be enough talent for Davis to go bowling next year. The difficulty will be if he can rework bad habits and instill a winning attitude before next fall. I'm thrilled about it. Hopefully we will see UNC on national TV many times beginning next year. I look forward to Butch taking on the Ole Ball Coach and his Little Carolina Capons.
I agree on all of your comments and we are ready for some football in North Carolina!! This team is not without talented players and I believe Coach Davis could get the Heels to a bowl in 2007. We have a very good recruiting class in place and it will only get better before signing day. In the meantime, we're ready for some basketball too and from what I hear the Heels may show up with a decent group this year. GO HEELS!!!!
North Carolina's talent level isn't as low as you think. If you look at the rankings of their last three recruiting classes and a good deal of their on-field results this season, their horrendous record is more due to poor coaching and/or game-planning than anything else. I agree with most of your assesments, but I don't think the idea of Butch taking the Tar Heels to a bowl game NEXT year is out of the realm of possibility.
UNC has scored a coup by hiring Davis, but he is not the saviour of the program. UNC has always been apathetic to the program; the alums that I know always speak of the basketball, lacrosse, soccer and baseball programs.
As a Wake alum (and former walk-on) I remember very well that playing at Kenan was not a cause for fear as per the Doak.
Davis will find that recruiting in the new ACC is a lot different than when Miami was a member of the Big East. In NC alone, he will have to content with the inroads created by Jim Grobe. Also, while Chuck Amato has not been able to get his guys to win with consistency, there is no question that he has recruited very well. The best UNC should hope for is the Carquest Bowl (in 2010!)
What!? No mention of our CWS runner up baseball team!? Carquest Bowl? Somebody's showing his/her age!! Getting to a bowl game ain't as hard as it used to be! If the Heels recruit/develop a couple of DE's and Paulus is able to step in at QB, they could well be bowling next season. They travel well and would be welcome at just about any bowl game.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I would prefer if you didn't insult Torbush or Bunting in the process. Neither man met expectations but both led the program with class. I would not be surprised to see either have success in different circumstances. In any case, I hope Butch Davis will stick around long enough to make UNC a successful program once more.
I gave credit to the baseball team (albeit grudgingly....) As to my age, yes, I have fond memories of the '92 bowl season.
You're right, UNC has a national presence, just look at the kids wearing Tarheel apparel in middle America. Regardless, if the student body doesn't embrace the program and if Davis can't get Bunting's recruits to play at the level they could be capable of, then its business as ususal at Chapel Hill.
Don't worry though. At least you have a legit shot at the 2007 Final Four!
OK, I admit that it's been a while since my class suited up!
I gave props to the baseball program and UNC has a legit shot at the 2007 BB championship. Regardless, Davis will get his type of players in a few years. As for the kids that Bunting recruited, only they can explain why they have not played at the leve they could be capable of. You can't balme the coaches all the time. At some point, you've got to look in the mirror and accept the fact that the coaches do not execute the plays!!
I dunno about the 'ceiling to how high UNC can go' comment. Sure, Mack Brown never won the ACC, but 11-1 your last season here ain't that bad. I think you have to plateau before you can say that there's a ceiling. A steady rise almost all the way to the top and then abrupt departure and falloff does not a ceiling make. Maybe if we had gone 10-2, 11-1 a few years in a row you can make that comment. After all, Mack's Texas team went 11-1 (with the only loss a *shutout* to Oklahoma, which in 2004 was about like FSU circa 97, which was Mack's only loss) the year before he won the championship. Had he left at the end of that year, would Mr. Mandel have said they reached their ceiling? I guess what I'm saying here is, if Mack had stayed another year or two, what's to say he wouldn't have gone undefeated?
I think Davis will be a BUST! With Spurrier at South Carolina, and Wake, Clemson, and Va. Tech being consisten winners, its going to be very difficult for him to win at a "basketball school" like North Carolina
Great article,, u are right that Davis is gonna gun big time for Virginia Tech, I think Tech and UNC could become what the conference wanted with Miami and FSU - two top notch programs slugging it out off and on the field.
I am sure Davis is just tbe first big ticket hire, more are coming, ACC is in for exciting times.
Great hire by UNC. But, that is just one facet to improving the football culture in Chapel Hill. Ever been to a game there? The campus and stadium are both just beautiful, especially once the foliage all around turns. Outside of Kenan Stadium is a different story. There is absolutely NO atmosphere whatsoever. Visit places like Auburn, and you'll see what I mean. Football at Carolina needs a makeover, both inside, and outide, of Kenan Stadium. Hiring Coach Davis is a good start. Now, get to work on the rest of it.