Davis selling Heels' revival

The Baltimore Sun

GREENSBORO, Ga. - Most coaches arrived for their Atlantic Coast Conference preseason football interviews this week wearing polo shirts or pullovers in their schools' colors.

Not North Carolina's Butch Davis, who met the media wearing a pinstriped suit and sporting a bulky, gold Super Bowl ring from 1993, when he was the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator.

Davis looked like a sales executive, which in a sense he is. The former University of Miami and Cleveland Browns coach is selling the rejuvenation of North Carolina football. The first step has been getting players, alumni, fans and recruits to buy in.

"The biggest challenge certainly is in the recruiting aspect, just trying to acquire enough athletes," said Davis, who was 4-8 last year in his first season with the Tar Heels, including a win over Maryland.

The Terrapins host North Carolina this season on Nov. 15.

"Miami went through a significant amount of time for the better part of 20 years, from Lou Saban on, that the cupboard was virtually never empty," said Davis, who coached the Hurricanes from 1995 through 2000. "There were always a lot of athletes there, so you never felt like, 'OK, we're starting at ground zero.' Coming to Carolina, there had been enough years where they had struggled and the team would be down. We've just got to do a good job recruiting, and it's going to take a couple years to do it."

Judging by the results of the preseason rankings, many in the media believe Davis has North Carolina on an upward arc.

North Carolina was picked second in the ACC's Coastal Division in the poll released this week at the annual preseason coaches and media conference. The Tar Heels were rated behind Virginia Tech and ahead of Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke.

Even Davis said the ranking seemed high for a team that was inexperienced and turnover-prone last season. North Carolina was one of the youngest teams in the country, with just a dozen seniors on their roster.

"I was just a little surprised," Davis said of the rating.

North Carolina hasn't finished above .500 since going 8-5 under John Bunting in 2001. Before that, the Tar Heels had some big seasons - they went 11-1 in 1997 - under Mack Brown.

But North Carolina is showing signs of reversing its recent course. The team returns eight starters on defense and nine on offense, including sophomore quarterback T.J Yates, whose 2,655 passing yards were fourth-highest for a freshman in ACC history.

Fans appear energized by the arrival of Davis and the impending expansion of Kenan Stadium. The stadium overhaul is to begin after the season.

Last season, Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said the noisy crowd of 56,000 was a factor in North Carolina's 16-13 victory in Chapel Hill. "The line couldn't hear some of the checks because of the crowd noise," Turner said.

The Tar Heels are trying to duplicate the model of Wake Forest, which had a breakout year in 2006 - the season before expansion began on Groves Stadium.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said North Carolina, while still young, might be primed for that sort of season. "I could see that happening," Friedgen said.


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