SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Butch Davis wants to make this clear before agreeing to discuss the state of the University of Miami football program: He is not lobbying for Al Golden’s job, isn’t trying to undermine him.
But Davis, in his role as an ESPN2 analyst, offered eye-opening responses to pointed questions posed in a phone conversation last week.
Davis’ remarkable renaissance job at UM, culminating in the construction of a powerhouse roster that he left behind for Larry Coker when Davis bolted for the Cleveland Browns, was showcased on national television last week, with several re-airings of The U Part 2.
So why does Davis believe the UM program has declined?
“It’s got to be the talent level,” he said. “Somebody is not evaluating the talent. Name the time they weren’t ranked in the top 13 or 14 recruiting classes. And 29 of these guys are gone in the last four years and [some of those still at UM] are not good players.
“You can recruit enough kids just living in Miami to win a national championship. Howard Schnellenberger had it right when he talked about recruiting from Tampa to Orlando and the Space Coast south. You can get 10, 14 players everyone would love to have from South Florida and then cherry-pick other players.
“There would be a Bubba Franks or a Damione Lewis from Texas. If a state doesn’t produce enough of a particular thing,… let’s go to [Pennsylvania] to sign Martin Bibla… Somewhere there has to be a disconnect with that. Either they can’t evaluate players or players have jumped ship or flunked out or whatever the deal.”
Davis, who went 51-20 in six years at UM (1995-2000), also points to coaching.
“Look at the staff I had: Chuck Pagano is coaching the Indianapolis Colts. Greg Schiano coached Tampa Bay. Larry Coker (UT-San Antonio) and Curtis Johnson (Tulane) became head coaches. Rob Chudzinski became a head coach (Cleveland Browns). Our kids got the [expletive] coached out of them.
“When they left our program, they were damn near a finished, polished gem. There wasn’t any rookie wall for Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Bubba Franks… They immediately became impact players at that level. I can’t name a Miami player [in his prime] who’s a star in the league. Other than Jimmy Graham, I can’t name one.
“I love [The U Part 2 director] Billy Corben and he tells a phenomenally great story. The one thing I wished is there would be more credit for some of the assistants. I didn’t do it all by myself. I don’t see anyone on their staff being promoted to coordinators or jumping ship for coordinator jobs. I know that goes hand in hand with winning. That is an outsider perspective.”
(Two exceptions are Jedd Fisch and Terry Richardson, who left for the Jacksonville Jaguars two years ago.)
Davis, who’s living in Bonita Springs, doesn’t want to hear anybody suggest that a return to past dominance is unrealistic for UM.
“I don’t see why they can’t dominate,” he said. “Eighty-five percent of the programs in America would kill to change the location [to Miami] and have the weather they have in Miami. And there are more players in Florida now than when I was there, more schools on the West Coast [of the state].
“If you don’t have access to players and talent, it doesn’t matter what staff you have because you’re probably not going to win. Miami has that ginormous built-in advantage of all that talent. They have a 30-year history of winning and great players. A lot of those kids lived through those generations. The reality is somebody has to recruit and have an eye for talent and somebody has to coach the [expletive] out of them.”
Davis knows the recent NCAA investigation was hurtful, including the two self-imposed bowl bans and the loss of nine scholarships.
But Davis said even beyond the 31 scholarships that he lost to NCAA sanctions, “we had kids with career ending injuries. The Kenny Holmes, Ray Lewises, Kennard Langs decided to go out early. Marlin Barnes had just been [murdered] and Robert Woodus died in the ValueJet crash.”
Davis attended the premiere of The U Part 2 on Lincoln Road a week ago and a few fans in attendance shouted, “We want Butch!”
That reaction, he said, “was awkward, humbling, a tiny bit embarrassing, predominantly because it took a lot of people. It took assistant coaches, it took [former UM president] Tad Foote. It was a huge leap of faith to trust me, that I had the right vision for the program. I loved the years I was there. I cherish it.”
When Davis is approached by UM fans yearning for his return, “I try to avoid those because it’s not good. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want someone lobbying for my job. It’s unfortunate. They’re not playing good, not winning.”
He says it’s an “enormous surprise for them to be 6-6. They didn’t appear to be very competitive at the end of the season, seemed like they were punching the clock.”
After going 28-23 in four years at North Carolina, Davis was fired in July 2010 amid a university-wide academic scandal that long predated his arrival. Davis, 63, was never implicated by the NCAA and said the NCAA sent him a letter exonerating him.
Davis spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons working as a special assistant to Schiano before the Buccaneers fired Schiano. Friends say Davis, 63, would love the UM job if it opens at some point.
“I would love to coach if the right opportunity presented itself,” he said, speaking generally and not about UM specifically. “There have been opportunities in the last couple of years but not the place you said it’s the right fit. Anybody who knows me knows it’s all-in with me.”
### Heat president Pat Riley, who lacks appealing assets to trade and doesn’t want to take on salary past 2016, is being patient and upbeat through the Heat’s struggles. Shawne Williams said that at the team’s Christmas Party at Riley’s home on Thursday, Riley mentioned the Heat’s injuries and told the players “that it will take time, that the team was at the bottom before and it doesn’t last. He still knows that in the playoffs we will be a team nobody wants to see.”
### Riley, who had a meeting scheduled with center Andrew Bynum last February on the day he signed with Indiana, hasn’t called about him since, apparently having lost interest. Bynum is still dealing with knee issues.
The Heat likes free agent center Emeka Okafor, but he’s expected to be out until midseason because of a herniated disk in his neck.
### In a classy move, the Heat has decided to honor LeBron James (and James Jones) with a video at Thursday's Heat-Cavaliers game, despite some hard feelings over LeBron's departure.
### Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry has been so impressive that two head coaches, Denver’s John Fox and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, stopped him after games to tell him “I’m a great player.”
### The Dolphins on Thursday brought in former FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins, who later that day signed with the Saints’ practice squad, and the Dolphins want to find competition in the coming months for Caleb Sturgis, who has the NFL’s worst accuracy (60 percent/6 for 10) on field goals of 40 to 49 yards. Sturgis ranked 28th in overall field goal accuracy as a rookie and 22nd this season.
### UM basketball people continue to express concern about the possible negative consequences to recruiting if the Hurricanes end their relationship with Nike. But if Adidas or Under Armour offers more than Nike, it would be absolutely understandable if UM accepts the offer. The infusion of cash could help the program in other ways.
### If Dan Haren insists on playing out West, the Marlins are open to trading him and likely would not add a prominent/costly free agent pitcher in his place, instead opting to make do with David Phelps or Brad Hand as their fifth starter until ace Jose Fernandez returns. Phelps, incidentally, allowed batters to hit .263 off him last year, compared with .282 for Yankees-bound Nathan Eovaldi.
“I continue to stress to [Haren] this is a good team and we want you to be a part of it,” Marlins executive Michael Hill said. Some Marlins people will be surprised if he comes here, but he hasn’t informed them of a decision.