November 6, 2007
CHAPEL HILL Whatever is happening with Coach Butch Davis and the UNC administration threats to leave after just one season, whether spoken, unspoken or nonexistent Davis appears to have steered his team past this distraction one week after Wake Forest hammered an unprepared Tar Heel team 37-10.
Carolina won a hard-fought game of wills against Maryland, 16-13 on Nov. 3. There is no way the Tar Heels would have won that game if the kids were still of the mind their coach might cut out just one year after taking the job.
The week before UNC played Wake Forest, the news broke that Davis was thinking of leaving after the season to become coach at Arkansas. Forget that there is no job opening in Fayetteville, Ark. Davis addressed the rumors, but his denials sounded too much like those of Mack Brown right before he left Chapel Hill for Austin, Texas.
Even to this day, Davis has yet to say directly, "I'm not going anywhere."
So when all of this occurred, some UNC players combed internet messageboards, obviously seeking information. And it would be naïve to think this did not affect the players at the game against Wake Forest.
Sources close to the school say the administration already knew about this well before it became public knowledge and was scrambling to find out what was behind it.
There are two lines of thought as for the reasons to this posturing, if that is what has happened. The first hypothesis is UNC wavered on its commitment to renovate Kenan Stadium, as officials promised Davis they would when he took the job in November 2006.
The other hypothesis is that all of this is family related, and Davis was using the stadium renovations to provide cover for leaving town after one season. If that is the case, it will not matter what Carolina does. Davis will go.
But if it's just a matter of the school sticking by its pledge to start and complete the renovations to the stadium that have been planned since the 1990s, then sources say the job will get done. The people responsible for bringing Davis to Chapel Hill are not going to lose him because of the renovations.
Davis has been too impressive with how he has taken control of the football program, won the team and the fans to his side and managed to keep the Carolina fans enthusiastic about football during a season in which the Tar Heels have already lost six games.
When the Tar Heels walked off the field after losing to South Carolina, the fans gave the kids a standing ovation for the effort and passion they displayed in fighting back from a bad start and having a chance to win at the end.
As for the stadium, the original price tag for enlarging it by approximately 10,000 seats, knocking down the old field house on the now-open end of Kenan and replacing it with a 100,000-square foot building and replacing the current press box with a new structure that would house luxury suites was approximately $100 million.
That is no small figure by anyone's count. The problem is the combination of this being a public project and the never-ending rise of construction costs, the final sum could easily be double or more by the time the work is actually done.
All along, there has been a segment of the Board of Trustees and the administration that did not want to hire a big-name football coach. The powers behind the scenes that engineered the deal to bring Davis to Chapel Hill overcame all of those objections with some brilliant political maneuvering. Trustees who were originally opposed to Davis supported him enthusiastically by the time the deal was completed.
But this is a school that will always have some opposition to big-time athletics, football in particular. Of course, with the egos involved, there are few proposals that would not earn some objections in the "Carolina environment."
If Davis sensed the school backing off of its promises, he may well have let these rumors circulate as a tool to force UNC back in line. Davis is no different from the Board of Trustee members. He is accustomed to getting what he wants, particularly when he thinks it's important to building a program and that it was promised when he agreed to take the job.
RENOVATIONS APPEAR ON TRACK
Since this "situation" became public, Davis has gradually tried to strengthen his stance that he will be here for the future. Recently, he even talked about the stadium renovations, and the information he provided seems to be new.
Davis says that it may be the spring before the project can begin because this is so large and complicated that the final plans are still being drawn. It sounds as if officials have built in facilities for non-athletic events, such as overall freshman orientation, to get the project past those who object.
"The architects and the company that we've hired to do this project," Davis said, "they've made several visits. And every time they've come they've spent an hour or so, and we've toured our building and we've toured the stadium.
"We've walked around and talked about sort of a wish list and these are the things that need to happen. There will be continual tweaks. I don't think by any stretch of the imagination will they have a finished product until probably mid-spring. The target date to say, OK, this is the blueprint; this is the way it's going to look; let's just start tearing stuff down,' probably won't come until March or April."
If Davis is going to stay, he needs to get past this episode as quickly as possible. It appears to have hurt UNC in recruiting, but Davis and this staff can overcame that in most cases.
Alienating a fan base that has been so enthusiastic and in favor of turning this football program into a national power is not something Davis needs to have happen, however. Nine years of mismanagement, poor recruiting, coaching and simple bad luck primed UNC's fans for Davis and whatever costs may be involved in creating a football program that fits into the culture in which Carolina tries to win at the highest level in its other 27 sports.
The faith of the people may not be easily won back if it is betrayed, whether the intention is a ploy or sincere. North Carolinians are like that.