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Shame, Butch; you had us convinced


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001

Never, through all the Schnellenberger / Johnson / Erickson championship seasons for University of Miami football, was my approval so universal as during the Butch Davis remodeling of Hurricanes who'd gone bad.

He was devout about cleaner methods. Pushing for better academics. Demanding more gentlemanly behavior. Cheers! Butch dug the 'Canes from an NCAA gutter, herding them almost back to the No. 1 mountaintop.

In the beginning, Davis paid heavy NCAA penalties for sins of predecessors. UM fortunes temporarily dimmed, the 'Canes falling to a 5-6 record. On the Coral Gables campus, at the Orange Bowl stadium and beyond, there were screaming pleas for a return to the victorious 'Canes past, even a reverting to the old attitude laced with arrogance.

Butch refused. Hoorah!

But now the preacher goes bad. Nah, there's nothing wrong with income multiplication. It's okay to chase glitzier dreams. This is America. Free enterprise. Still, it is right to now boo Butch Davis for scrambling his long-avowed scruples.

Four-letter nastiness: L-I-A-R!

Butch said he wouldn't go to the Alabama Crimson Tide. That was truth. Said he wasn't mesmerized by 10-gallon, seven-figure possibilities with the NFL's expansion Houston Texans. Again, the truth.

By mid January I was convinced Davis was staying at UM. All along, he vowed, "I want this to be my last job." There came the rare 'Canes jubilation of smacking the Florida Gators, a Sugar Bowl conquest that left Butch's guys No. 2 behind Oklahoma.

A lot happened in the 25 days after New Orleans. Davis told his UM assistants not to worry, that status quo reigned. Wink-wink. Paul Dee, the beefy but efficient 'Canes athletic director, was flossing the figures and charming the clauses of Butch's new $1.4-million-a-year deal.

Davis kept recruiting hard, assuring athletes that his UM stay was unquestionably ongoing. Then, nine days before the dynamic date high-school studs can sign college scholarships, Butch drops a morning-after-Super-Bowl bomb, fleeing to the Cleveland Browns at a $3.5-mil rate.

Liar. It's such a penetrating, ugly word. Edwin Pope, a Miami Herald sports columnist since the '50s, said people around Butch did become suspicious regarding his reliability when "he would evade the truth about so many little things." Like an injury to a fourth-string player. "You couldn't help from wondering," Pope wrote, "if he was lying about bigger things."


Surely, there will come repeated, perhaps tearful, explanations from Davis, perhaps apologizing for misleading human beings so dependent on Butch at UM, those who banked on his word. Just as we heard "I'm so sorry!" from Bill Clinton, Jim Bakker and Henry Lyons.

Butch's legacy, ongoing works.

Cleveland, his new judge.

Reality is, the 21st century will not see a lot of Joe Paternos, Bobby Bowdens and LaVell Edwardses, who coach and excel while sticking with the same university for 30, 40 or 50 years. Economics have erupted. When a guy wins a lot, temptations now come more quickly and spiced with banksful of money and more perks than Maxwell House.

Steve Spurrier may be the end of a college coaching breed. He's now 55, a major success at the University of Florida, embracing near-annual NFL chances that would pay even sweeter numbers than his NCAA-high salary of $2.1-million. But the Gator fellow, while being truthful each January by saying "my door is not totally closed to the pros," does keep staying in Gainesville.

How much is enough?

As Davis gives up Biscayne Bay for Lake Erie, I would prefer to be celebrating Butch's enormous achievements with the Hurricanes rather than decrying his obvious falsehoods. He earned that, no matter the foul odor of the departure.

Seven months ago, I played golf with Butch, as his summer UM promotional/boosterism swing made a Tampa Bay area stop. He talked about 2000 having extraordinary promise, maybe even a run at the school's fifth national championship in 18 seasons.

While endorsing Butch's verve, goals and approach, I didn't believe the Hurricanes were quite back to such a heroic plateau. Davis was right. No lie. His kids were special. As good as anybody, including the Oklahoma Sooners.

But now he's off to the Browns, with movie-star paydays and a larger, even more intense stage. Cleveland knows the feeling of being football-flim-flammed, having lost its NFL team to Baltimore and seeing it evolve into Super Bowl champion Ravens.

Right now Butch needs a soul-cleansing, swearing to operate with honesty and class, and meaning it. Backing it up. Apologizing, not so much to us as to those he short-sheeted at UM.

Since the Browns were rechristened as an expansion franchise, their two-year record is 5-27. Davis takes on a different sort of construction. His foundation should be fine, with quarterback Tim Couch.

I don't know. Maybe everything was changed by an 11th-hour Davis involvement with an NFL power agent, Marvin Demoff, who represented Miami Dolphins icon Dan Marino.

Perhaps when Butch said all those post-Sugar Bowl things, to his UM players and coaching allies and media, he truly meant the words. I hope so. Before getting a golden NFL prod from Demoff. Doing a 180-degree turn. Do we really know what to believe?

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