|Tuesday, January 30
Davis' lies undo years of hard work at UM
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
The easiest thing in the world to do right now is to jump on Butch Davis for, among other things, prevaricating to University of Miami officials, misleading their top football recruits, betraying a couple of the Hurricanes' premier returning players and generally making fools of the people who've been insisting for the past several weeks that Davis was on the level when he said he'd stay in Miami until the day he retired.
Yep, that's the easiest thing to do, jumping on ol' Butch. You know why it's the easiest thing to do?
Because it's right.
Reality Qualifier No. 1: Sure, he told those recruits he wasn't leaving right up until the day before he left, but he had to do what was best for his family.
Reality Qualifier No. 2: Right, he wasn't entirely truthful about his intentions, but who tells the whole truth anymore in the midst of a secret negotiation? We all know how the game is played, don't we?
Like that. The coach didn't mean to hurt anyone, but it was (a) the opportunity of a lifetime, (b) a move he had to make, (c) a job he couldn't turn down, (d) stop me if you're getting queasy out there.
As you'd expect, there isn't one of these arguments that is worth a bucket of warm spit. Butch Davis said he'd be staying in Miami as recently as Sunday, while in the midst of a visit with a prized recruit. Not 10 days ago, Davis said, "I will have a new contract, and I will be the coach at Miami next year." On Monday, Davis made known his decision to jump to the Cleveland Browns.
Why bother with the qualifiers? Butch Davis lied like a Watergate co-conspirator. This guy shouldn't be able to turn a corner in a hallway; his nose ought to be getting places 10 minutes ahead of him.
You want qualifiers on Davis? I could give you a fistful. Davis, up until now, has enjoyed a reputation as the man who cleaned up Miami football in the wake of the Dennis Erickson mess. Davis went in there and took his licks, endured the NCAA post-Erickson sanctions and yet returned the Hurricanes to national prominence. He deserves every one of the accolades that have flowed his way over the past couple of years of the turnaround.
Not only that, but the Davis family is going to come out ahead financially on a scale that's dazzling even by fat-money standards. His proposed new contract at Miami -- the one that Davis kept telling university officials was all but done, yet repeatedly failed to finalize -- was to pay him upward of $1.4 million per year. Under the Al Lerner Money Machine program in Cleveland, the coach will more than double that: five years, nearly $15 million.
And all together: So what? At what point does the context outweigh the action? Here is Buck Ortega, quarterback at Miami Gulliver High School and a recruit whom Davis visited on Sunday. Interviewed by the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Ortega quoted Davis as telling him this: "I took this job to be my last one. I'm going to stay until I retire."
Remember, that's Butch Davis talking to a high school kid the day before he accepted the job with the Cleveland Browns. Is there anything in Davis' previous six years at Miami, no matter how salutary, that can possibly turn that lie into the truth?
It's a given that college coaches get the worst of it when it comes to trying to bust a move to another job. There's never a good time to leave; someone always feels betrayed. Miami fans now have gone through this twice in a shockingly short span: Leonard Hamilton, a man both well-liked and well-respected, nevertheless bolted for Michael Jordan's Woebegone Wizards shortly after signing a seven-year contract to remain the Hurricanes' basketball coach.
It's usually messy, and sometimes coaches get unfairly smeared for what is, when you get down to it, the basic act of trying to improve their lots in life. But not this time.
Nope, this time Butch Davis got the Miami program to within barely a week of National Signing Day, then left the Hurricanes for an NFL job that he repeatedly said he had no interest in. He left behind 18 oral commitments from high school players, several of whom now say they're wavering on Miami as their football program of choice. He left behind a couple of top-flight collegians whom he practically talked out of the NFL draft by saying they'd all stick around for next season and bring home a national championship together.
Whatever Davis is, whatever he has been and whatever he may yet become, he has spent a good portion of the year 2001 telling lies. It doesn't need to be qualified. It is what it is.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, which has a Web site at http://www.sacbee.com/.