Expectations Rising for North Carolina, Davis
Jul 31, 12:48 PM (ET) Email this Story


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -Butch Davis doesn't look like he's leading a program whose last winning record came seven years ago.

His North Carolina team is a popular pick to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference division title. Fans have scooped up every season ticket. Plans for stadium expansion are inching forward. And Davis, after managing just four wins in his first season here, has already secured a contract extension and a raise.

That buzz doesn't fit with the Tar Heels' struggles since consecutive top-10 seasons a decade ago. Yet so much of that attitude starts with Davis, a big name whose mere presence has success-starved fans believing that a turnaround is close entering his second season.

"It is nice to be appreciated, OK?" the coach said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think it's a compliment certainly that people think I can be a part of the turnaround. But the reality is I'm just a part of it, that it will take more than just me. It's going to take the administration. It's going to take people filling the stadium up and cheering and creating that electric atmosphere on Saturdays. It's going to take recruits.

"A head coach at any particular place is a portion of it, but you're not 100 percent of the solution."

As his players were reporting for preseason camp Thursday, Davis cautions that consistent success will take time. He's quick to cite a nonconference schedule that includes a trip to Rutgers and a visit from Notre Dame. Still, the expectations have risen steadily, rooted in his work bringing probation-saddled Miami back among the nation's elite in the 1990s before coaching the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

Two weeks ago, the media picked the Tar Heels to finish second in the Coastal Division behind perennial power Virginia Tech at the league's kickoff event. It's a rare show of respect for a program that hasn't been nationally relevant in more than a decade, when Mack Brown's Tar Heels went a combined 21-3 in 1996 and '97 before the coach left for Texas.

They have gone 47-71 in the 10 seasons since. They haven't had a winning record since 2001 and have reached just three bowl games - the same number of coaches they've had in that span - while languishing in the shadow of the storied men's basketball program led by Roy Williams.

Davis' first team gave reason for hope; six of its eight losses came by seven or fewer points. That included a loss at Hawaii Bowl champion East Carolina on a last-play field goal and loss at North Carolina State in which the Tar Heels couldn't convert a fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line in the final seconds.

The results apparently were good enough to sell North Carolina's fans, who sat through a series of ugly lopsided losses in six years under fired predecessor John Bunting. They responded by buying the entire allotment of 36,250 season tickets - the most in school history.

It was also enough to persuade university officials to give Davis - who was being mentioned as a possible candidate for openings at alma mater Arkansas and elsewhere - a one-year extension and a raise of $291,000 to push his annual income to about $2.1 million at the end of last year.

"Most of the people that have ever sat on the (university's) board of trustees, they're CEOs of companies and they understand you're not going to turn the fortunes of a company immediately around," Davis said. "It's going to take a vision. It's going to take hard work. I don't think any fans by any stretch of the imagination are into the 10-year plan. But I think they're clearly understanding that ... you've got to recruit athletes and you've got to retain your coaching staff."

Davis said several times last season he is happy in Chapel Hill, but his name almost certainly will be tossed around again if North Carolina continues to improve. It's something Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who coached with Davis at Miami, understands well after leading the once-woeful Scarlet Knights to consecutive bowl victories.

"Butch is a good football coach and there is always going to be a demand for a good football coach," Schiano said. "I think he's really excited about building a program in Carolina.

"The fact that you're desirable, that means your program is doing well. It certainly has its adverse effects, no doubt. ... I think you have to be very selective if you are going to consider anything else. The fans and the administration, they get tired of it."

Davis' situation also underlines the fickle nature of success in college football. A repeat 4-8 record won't be received with the same exuberance, and fans will withdraw if the win total doesn't soon match their optimistic expectations.

But none of that matters just yet. After all, Davis' credentials are enough to keep fans both excited and patient.

"I love the fact games are sold out, that people are talking about stadium expansion and the growth of the football program," he said. "That's exciting. It's why you wanted to take the job at Carolina. You knew that potential. ... People are really starting to take notice."