Knocking down locker room walls and removing doors to coaches' offices, Butch Davis unveils his Carolina plan
AS PART OF his efforts to rebuild North Carolina's struggling football program, Butch Davis is rebuilding the Tar Heels' locker room. The facility, updated in 1997 during a $50 million renovation to Kenan Stadium, still looked new, but the lockers were sectioned off by position, making it difficult for all of the players to interact. "The locker room facilitated cliques," says Davis. "I felt very strongly about [the remodeling] in terms of building good camaraderie."
Last week renovations also began on the weight room. Those are just two on a list of changes, both cosmetic and philosophical, that the former University of Miami and Cleveland Browns coach has implemented since taking over on Nov. 27. He ordered new stationery, hung new pictures on the walls and, as part of his "open-door" policy, removed several doors from coaches' offices. "There needed to be a culture change and an environment change," Davis says.
Davis, who spent the past two seasons as an analyst for the NFL Network, is no stranger to rebuilding. In 1995 he left as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys to take over at Miami, which was about to be hit with NCAA sanctions. Three years after enduring the school's first losing season in 18 years, he had the Hurricanes back in national title contention. ( Miami's 2001 BCS championship came a year after Davis had departed for the Browns.) At Chapel Hill he inherits a tradition-starved program that went 27--45 in six years under John Bunting—including 3--9 last season—and has not won an ACC championship since 1980.
One thing UNC does not lack, however, is money. Boasting a $50 million athletic department budget, a roster of strong teams (24 of the 28 reached the NCAA postseason in 2005--06) and a facility that Davis says "was probably the Taj Mahal of college football when it was built," the school signed him to a seven-year, $13 million contract. "[ Davis] met with the team early on and talked about the characteristics great players on his teams have had," says senior wideout Joe Dailey. "You can tell he's a highly trained professional."
At Miami, Davis was known as a masterly recruiter, signing a staggering 20 players who became first-round NFL draft picks over a six-year span. He did not disappoint Tar Heels fans with his first UNC class, landing the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle, Marvin Austin from Ballou High in Washington, D.C. Davis's self-assurance was also evident during spring practices. "It was very relaxed," says defensive end Hilee Taylor. "They let us know we're out there to have fun, not to worry about making mistakes."
Placing an emphasis on speed over strength, Davis and his staff changed the positions of more than a dozen players, most notably Dailey, who started at quarterback last season after transferring from Nebraska. The Tar Heels, who have just 11 seniors returning this fall, may be led by a freshman quarterback, either redshirt T.J. Yates, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, or highly touted recruit Mike Paulus of Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, whose brother, Greg, starts at point guard for Duke. "Fifteen days of [spring] practice weren't enough," says Davis. "I'd like to lobby the NCAA for another 45."
For Davis, 55, even to attend practice was no small feat. During a routine checkup in February the coach's dentist removed a cancerous growth from his mouth that was later diagnosed to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Though the cancer had not spread, Davis underwent chemotherapy treatments every other Friday for much of March and April. "They said there would be an eventual cumulative effect, where you start to feel tired and run down," says Davis. "Fortunately, I have May, June and July to build myself back up." Safe to say, it won't be the only building that he does.
ONLY AT SI.COM More spring football insight from Stewart Mandel.