History mixed at UNC

Staff WriterAugust 27, 2009 

Starting his third lap at North Carolina, Butch Davis is on track to rate as the best football coach in school history.

Hold the drum roll, though.

Davis might also be the new Dick Crum.

In relief of Bill Dooley after 1977, Crum initiated a decade-long run in Chapel Hill by going 5-6, 8-3-1, 11-1 and 10-2. The joint jumped back then. They even billed it as "Krazee Kenan" during the disco music era, if you can dig that. Later, the beat slowed.

Crum was bought out of town at the then-bargain price of about $800,000 after going 5-5-1, 5-6, 7-4-1 and 5-6 when it became apparent he had no prayer of matching the recruiting hauls delivered by Dooley.

Then 52, Crum left with a record of 72-41-3 (38-24-1 in the ACC). That was slightly better than Dooley (69-53-2, 38-28-2) and Mack Brown, who went 69-46-1 overall and 40-35-1 in the ACC after he was hired to restock Crum's hopelessly depleted talent bin.

Davis, 4-8 in his first season and 8-5 in 2008, inherited more talent from John Bunting (27-45, 18-30) than did Dooley and Crum combined. But it's far less than awaited Crum, whose first two teams included Amos Lawrence, Kelvin Bryant, Ron Wooten, Rick Donnalley, Lawrence Taylor, Donnell Thompson, Darrell Nicholson, Buddy Curry, Ricky Barden, William Fuller, Jeff Hayes -- darn near a decent NFL roster.

Since Carolina began fielding football teams in 1889, there's been a short shelf on its coaches, for various reasons.

Brown, for example, left for a bigger pasture (Texas) and Dooley for wider job freedom as athletic director/head football coach at Virginia Tech.

Davis will turn 58 on Nov. 17, three days after this season's game against Miami. As coaching tree rings go these days, that's still plenty young enough to make another career move.

Dooley was 43 and Brown 47 when they left Carolina, but the coaching profession was ruled by a different dynamic in those days.

Assuming Davis stays and continues to produce on his current progression during the era of 12-game regular-season schedules, he should move past Crum on the win list before turning 65.

But through all these years, Carolina never has found just the right fit at just the right time for just the right situation in football.

Near the end, Crum and Dooley had lost much of their popularity, and Brown was exasperated up to his graying Tennessee temples with a basketball-first culture that framed him as a ne'er-do-well when he was going 10-2 and 10-1.

In a way, Davis has become the latest -- maybe greatest, certainly most expensive -- Carolina football experiment. On all of those fronts, the 2009 season will provide a key reading.

ctudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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