UNC's investment in Davis in the red

Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2010 

— In the most technical sense, Butch Davis never has a bad game day.

When you get paid $2 million a year win or lose, it's all good.

Add 'em up, and the North Carolina football coach gets paid more than $165,000 a trip just for getting to the ballyard 12 times a year.

But even when the money's sweet, the on-field taste can be bitter. That's exactly how Saturday afternoon ended for Davis and his team in Kenan Stadium.

A 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech dropped North Carolina to 0-2 overall, 0-1 in the ACC and opened the possibility that the season could get away from Davis just as far and fast as his offseason.

Unlike a 30-24 opening loss to LSU on Sept. 4, the Heels should have won this one.

Even with 12 players still on suspension for possible cheating and/or dealings with agents, UNC got enough offensive production from quarterback T.J. Yates, running back Johnny White, receivers Zack Pianalto and Erik Highsmith and an improving offensive line to at least put a momentary cap on the misery that began to spew during mid-July.

"It's frustrating, just very frustrating," Yates said. "We let it get away from us."

A pair of second-half turnovers and numerous missed defensive assignments on the perimeter against Tech's options flipped the game after UNC took a 24-17 lead on a 4-yard White turn early in the third quarter.

The winning coach Saturday was Tech's Paul Johnson, a 53-year-old Newland native that North Carolina could have hired for a relative bargain when Davis landed the job after the 2006 season.

Johnson's offense produced 30 points off only four passes. Three of the four were completions by quarterback Joshua Nesbitt for 76 yards, including a 23-yard scoring strike to Roddy Jones.

The win gave the 2-1 Jackets a 1-0 ACC start in pursuit of the league championship Johnson's Tech team won last season and improved his overall record at the school to 22-7 and 13-4 against the league. He was voted ACC coach of the year in 2008 and '09.

Those Johnson results are similar to what North Carolina had in mind from Davis, who had won big at Miami in the late 1990s before going to the NFL and then taking a couple of years away from the sport.

After a couple of 8-5 finishes the past two seasons, 2010 was to be the breakthrough year for Davis' program.

Now, it's could turn into a break-back season.

Ten games are left, of course. And as Davis pointed out several times Saturday, there was improvement over the performance against LSU.

But the dreams of a top-10 finish and a big bowl appearance are all but gone after two games.

Oh well, maybe money can't buy happiness after all.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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