Vol Vent Line
Tennessee has tabbed North Carolina coach Butch Davis as the leading candidate to replace ousted football coach Phillip Fulmer, multiple sources have told the News Sentinel.
Whether UT can secure Davis remains to be seen. Davis has said publicly that he is happy at North Carolina because of the family environment in Chapel Hill and the opportunity to rebuild a program that has long struggled.
If UT can't get Davis, Mike Leach of Texas Tech and Brian Kelly of Cincinnati will become strong possibilities. Tim Brewster from Minnesota will also be considered.
As for Davis, UT will offer better facilities and more exposure than North Carolina. UT will also offer the chance to coach in the SEC.
That could be perceived as a pro or con. While the SEC is a much higher-profile conference than the Atlantic Coast Conference, it also is widely believed to be a more difficult conference to win and subsequently compete for national championships.
Davis, 56, turned down advances from Arkansas last season. He played defensive end for the Razorbacks before a knee injury curtailed his playing career. Davis became a volunteer coach and graduated in 1974.
Davis has turned around the Tar Heels in just his second season. North Carolina is 7-2 after finishing 4-8 in 2007.
Before Davis' arrival, North Carolina was 44-63 in the previous nine seasons under coaches Carl Torbush (17-18 from 1998-2000) and John Bunting (27-45 from 2001-06).
Davis went 51-20 at Miami from 1995-2000 and helped assemble a supremely talented team that won the national championship in 2001 under Larry Coker, who replaced Davis when he left for the NFL to coach the Cleveland Browns.
Davis struggled in Cleveland, going 24-35 and only making the playoffs once in four seasons.
Davis' greatest success came under Jimmy Johnson at Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys. Davis first coached with Johnson at Oklahoma State in 1979.
Davis followed Johnson to Miami as a defensive line coach where the Hurricanes won a national championship with a perfect 12-0 record in 1987. That coaching staff then went to Dallas and won consecutive Super Bowls with the Cowboys in 1992 and 1993.
Following Johnson's departure, Davis was elevated to defensive coordinator under coach Barry Switzer. That team reached the NFC Championship game, losing to the eventual NFL champion San Francisco 49ers.
Davis then returned to college football to rebuild Miami.
Different aspects of the coaching transition were a topic of conversation during UT's semi-annual board meeting on Saturday morning.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said the search process is "very, very active" for UT's next coach and that feedback from potential candidates has been positive.
Hamilton said the buyouts for UT's assistant coaches will be $3.6 million if no one accepts other jobs before their contracts are complete. Coordinators' contracts run through June 2011. Assistants are covered through June 2010.
That figure will almost assuredly not be reached considering most coaches on UT's staff will secure employment elsewhere.
UT is responsible for the difference between a coaches' future pay rate and his UT contract. That payout is mitigated by any job, football related or not.
Hamilton said that much of UT's support staff will be retained and possibly reassigned.
As for the effect of UT's coaching change on donations, Hamilton said he is unsure how the change will affect giving.
While there is certainly reason to believe that optimism in UT's new coach could spur donations, it's also possible some who have supported Fulmer will pull donations.
Faculty member Deborah Welsh said UT's academic support system is aware of the challenges during this emotional time for UT's players.
"They're helping to keep them motivated and moving in the right direction," she said of UT's academic support staff.