John Klein: The time is right for Butch Davis at Arkansas
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, November 16, 2012
11/16/12 at 3:56 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Davis deserves a chance at Arkansas
ARKANSAS IS LOOKING for a coach to restore the success and reputation of the Razorbacks.
Butch Davis completely rebuilt Miami's football culture, returning the Hurricanes to national prominence, then was on the cusp of doing the same at North Carolina when he was fired.
Davis is a natural to be the next coach at Arkansas.
Davis, a Bixby native who started his coaching career in stops at Pawhuska, Sand Springs and Rogers High School, is likely to be mentioned for a handful of expected openings in the next month.
However, his resume would appear to be a perfect match for Arkansas.
He is an Arkansas alum who grew up then launched his coaching career in high school football just 90 miles away in Tulsa.
Davis has long been rumored, and has long been sought, to be the next Arkansas coach by a large group of fans and influential donors.
Finally, it may be time. Arkansas has an opening. Davis is looking for a job.
Once Arkansas does the right things, including a thorough investigation of what happened at North Carolina, Davis should emerge as not only the logical but obvious choice to lead the Razorbacks back to college football's elite.
Davis was not mentioned in the 111-page report that resulted from an NCAA investigation of allegations while he was coach at UNC.
"I do want to get back into coaching, and I really love college football," said Davis, currently working as a special assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I don't know what the future holds for me, but I do hope it includes another chance to coach.
"I was not mentioned in the NCAA report at North Carolina. I was cleared of any wrongdoing in investigations by the school, the NCAA and the North Carolina attorney general. Still, I think there is a perception out there that I'm tied to it."
Yes, perception can be a powerful thing. When Oklahoma State wanted to hire Eddie Sutton, to restore a glorious basketball history, there was a perception that he was tied to a scandal at Kentucky. However, after NCAA officials assured OSU that Sutton was not implicated in the Kentucky probation, OSU hired him.
Sutton went on to change the culture, history and revive the tradition of Oklahoma State basketball.
One has to believe Davis would change the football fortunes at his alma mater.
The problems at Arkansas are not nearly as extensive as the ones Sutton found in OSU basketball. Oklahoma State basketball had suffered from neglect in facilities, resources and success for several decades.
By contrast, Arkansas has deluxe football facilities, a handful of billionaire boosters and it is just a year removed from finishing in the nation's top five.
The problems in Arkansas football are not nearly as widespread as what Davis found when he took over Miami football.
"We had a lot of things to change at Miami," said Davis. "The reputation of the football program was not very good when we got there. So, we had a lot of work to do to change the perception by changing the culture.
"In addition, at the same time we were changing the culture, we had to restore the winning tradition of the program."
Davis gets much of the credit for rebuilding Miami, as he should, and then the year after he left for the Cleveland Browns, another Oklahoman, Larry Coker, coached the Hurricanes to the national championship.
Davis seemed to have the Tar Heels on a similar trajectory.
In 2010, many expected North Carolina to be a national championship contender before a scandal erupted that linked players to agents through former assistant John Blake, yet another Oklahoma link in this story.
Blake was fired almost immediately, and it was the start of a series of investigations that drove Davis out.
"I was fired, but in the time since then we have been cleared," said Davis. "That is a difficult thing. No matter what you say or do, people associate you with those incidents.
"I know there is a limited amount of time to get back into coaching, and that's what I really want to do. I know that's what I want to do. I want to be a coach. That's what I know. And I know there are a lot of places we could be successful."
Davis was rumored among the leading candidates at Oklahoma when Bob Stoops was hired. He has been mentioned during several coach searches at Oklahoma State, where he started his college coaching career as a graduate assistant under Jimmy Johnson.
No one expects any coach searches anytime soon at Oklahoma's three major college football programs. OU, OSU and Tulsa seem pretty stable with their current coaches.
However, Arkansas, which has always flirted with the idea of Davis as head coach, now has the opportunity to hire him.
There will certainly be some concern among some in Arkansas about the details of Davis' dismissal at North Carolina.
"When people look into my situation, they'll understand what happened," said Davis. "I knew when it happened that we had done nothing wrong. But I understand that people had to do what they felt was right.
"I feel like we've done all the right things. We cooperated with everyone that looked into the situation in North Carolina. We've come through all of that, been cleared and I would love to get another chance."
No one can blame Arkansas for being careful. That's understandable. Bobby Petrino's behavior, although not illegal and not in violation of any NCAA rules, was a huge embarrassment to the school.
Davis has none of that type of baggage.
If Arkansas officials do the research necessary, they will find Davis has a clean record at North Carolina and a golden reputation as a coach, recruiter and person.
"I think what hurts the most is that there is a perception out there that goes totally against what I've done throughout my career of playing by the rules and working hard," said Davis.
If Davis is guilty of anything, it would be that he should not have hired Blake.
"What I knew of John was from Sand Springs Junior High when I was his coach and then when John worked with us at the Dallas Cowboys," said Davis. "I certainly had no idea of anything that would have been a red flag."
Blake, the former coach at Oklahoma, was the defensive line coach at North Carolina and was tied to the scandal.
Davis is a special assistant to Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who was hired by Davis as a defensive coach at Miami.
Now, he fills his days working with the Bucs, hoping for a call that will give him one more chance as a head coach.
"I thought I would retire as the coach at North Carolina," said Davis. "That didn't work out.
"I hope I get another chance someday, somewhere."
Perhaps that day will soon come in Arkansas.