Butch Davis the program builder

I know this isn’t directly FSU related, but it involves the career of a man who was the head coach of two of our rivals at different times, so it’s a historical perspective post, so to speak.

How phenomenal is Butch Davis as a program builder? This question popped into my head when I saw Bruce Feldman tweet that UNC had 3 of the top 7 senior NFL prospects according to the National Scouting service, a group of actual NFL scouts who assign preseason grades to senior prospects (the same service that had Ponder as the top senior QB going into the 2010 season). Given the amount of NFL talent that has come through UNC since Butch Davis returned to the college ranks in 2007, UNC fans have to wonder "what if". From 2008-2012, UNC had 20 players drafted, including 10 in the first 3 rounds. By comparison, during the same time period, FSU had 14 total drafted, and only 5 guys in the first 3 rounds. This is despite a much bigger football budget and higher recruiting rankings. If the 2010 team hadn’t been overwhelmed with suspensions and scandal, you are probably looking at a NC caliber team (9 players drafted in the ’11 draft, including 4 in the first 2 rounds, some of whom sat out the year).

When you compare Davis to Nick Saban, you actually see a very similar career up until the UNC scandal. Both guys built powerhouse programs before jumping to the NFL. Both returned to the college ranks after mixed success in the pros. Both took schools that had little talent, and re-built championship caliber teams. That fact that these guys did it at 2 different schools is what is so impressive. What is really impressive about Davis is that the 2000 and 2001 teams, which he did not coach (but certainly recruited and developed every starter), are ranked as two of the top teams in the history of the sport. According to Bill C’s Estimated S&P+, the 2001 Miami team ranks #6 all time, and the 2000 Miami team ranks #54 all time. Some would subjectively consider 2001 to be the most talented team in history. Saban’s 2003 LSU team ranks 22nd all time. Nothing has been calc’ed past 2010 to see where the latest Bama teams rank.

My explanation after the jump:

One reason I think that Davis has done so well I think, is that he was one of the early innovators of "roster management" in the college ranks. It’s been explained anecdotally to me (but I’m too lazy to do research on it, if you know a different history of the rise of roster churning) that two things led to the aggressive cuts and "oversigning" that Davis helped invent. Butch Davis took the HC job at Miami ’95. First, in 1994 the NCAA moved scholarship limits all the way down to 85, where they remain today. Prior to that, churning the roster was much less important, as teams had an extra 10 scholarships to play with, and prior to the 80’s they had 105 scholarships to play with. Prior to ’72 scholarships were unlimited. Davis started his HC career at a time when a huge resource restriction was put on major college programs. Second, after less than a year on the job, the NCAA hit Miami with a loss of 30+ scholarships over the next few years. This meant that in order to compete, Davis needed to figure out a way to get more than his allotment of scholarships without breaking any rules. Enter cutting bottom players every year and oversigning. This has changed college football ever since. Almost every top program does this to a degree now (oddly, UF never did during their success runs) and it is a part of the game. As an analogue to the business world, Goldman Sachs, the most successful investment bank in history, annually fires their lowest performers, regardless of budget, even partners. It’s ugly, but if the players/employees buy in, it works.

When you look at the amount of NFL talent that Davis has developed at a) a school with no resources and b) a school who doesn’t care to give any resources to its football team, you have to be impressed with him as a program builder.

As to the question of whether or not he is as good of a program builder as Saban, no I don’t think so. Saban’s innovation on support systems and total player development changed college football in their own ways. And this helped Saban never get burned like Butch did at UNC. But I like to think about it like this. There are great coaches and there are important coaches. Occasionally, a coach is both. Great coaches manage to operate at the top of the profession for a period of time, creating great teams. Important coaches through some innovation or new way of doing things, change the landscape of college football. I think guys like Jimbo or Muschamp have the potential to be the former. I think guys like Bryant, Bowden, and Saban, are both great and important. Butch Davis might just be an important coach, but not a great one. He brought new ways of building programs and talent pools to the CFB world that are now almost universal, and before his ouster, he showed that he could still do it well even when others had caught on. He probably doesn’t qualify as a great coach because he never seemed more than an average game day coach, and was a mediocre hire/teacher (his coaching tree is pretty mediocre). I also think he was bad at the politics/leadership stuff, which is important for anyone wanting to be considered a great leader of organizations.

But for someone who was a great rival of FSU’s for so long, I tip my hat to him.

Oh yea, and 47-0.

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