Reports yesterday said that Butch Davis will take over as head football coach at Florida International. Previously, Davis had been the head coach at Miami for 6 years in the 90s where he was successful to the tune of a 51-20 overall record. After that success, he took the job coaching the Cleveland Browns for 4 years and – let me just be polite here – he did not replicate the same level of success in Cleveland that he did in Miami. He did get the Browns in the playoffs one year with a 9-7 record, but overall his teams went 24-35.
After sitting out a couple of seasons, Davis became the head coach at UNC in 2007. At the time of his arrival, the UNC program was in a bad way; the team had a winning record only once in the previous six seasons. Davis turned that around; in his second season in Chapel Hill, UNC went to a bowl game. Then came NCAA investigations.
In 2010, the NCAA began investigating the possibility that some UNC players had had improper contact with a sports agent in Miami and soon after that began, UNC started an internal investigation about some possible “academic fraud” issues involving one of the tutors in the team’s academic support mechanism. Rather quickly, several players were suspended and a couple were permanently removed from the football program and one assistant coach resigned amid allegations that he was involved with things like improper benefits and contact with agents. For a moment, it seemed as if the program had taken a hit but had righted itself and was ready to move on.
Channeling Lee Corso here for a moment:
“Not so fast, my friend …”
The NCAA conducted an investigation of its own and found that there were some improprieties but that the school had found them out on its own and had taken sufficient disciplinary action and sufficient action to avoid such problems in the future. Just when things began to look as if everything was hunky-dory, the news broke about the phony courses and the guaranteed high grades in courses offered by the African American Studies Department. The head of the department was implicated and had to step down from his position and the academic scandal spread like a pandemic. The school actually hired a former governor of North Carolina to head up an investigation into that stink and what he found was not pretty.
All of this put Butch Davis on a hot seat and he was fired in 2011. The entirety of the matter is still not resolved; the NCAA and UNC are at odds over several matters that came to light in the various investigations here. Presumably, that will all sort itself out some day.
Getting back to yesterday’s reports, Florida International is several steps lower on the NCAA football ladder than either Miami or UNC. FIU football history goes all the way back to 2002 when it was a Divison 1-AA program; it only became a Division 1-A program in 2005. The school had early success going to bowl games in 2010 and 2011 but the team has regressed since then. The team has not had a .500 season since 2011.
Coaching success in college begins with recruiting. Butch Davis has shown that he can recruit good players – and coach them up competently – in the past. The difference between his previous gigs and this one at FIU is stature. Miami had a history as a football powerhouse in the 90’s; UNC is an easily recognized athletic program within the NCAA hierarchy; FIU is a johnny-come-lately football program that participates in C-USA which is a backwater of Division 1-A football. I follow college football “overall” but I promise you that I could not name the teams that make up C-USA. All I do know off the top of my head is that this conference provides candidates for my fantastical SHOE Tournament every year; the presence of those teams on that list from year to year has taught me that Rice and UTEP and North Texas and – yes – FIU are members of C-USA.
This is an interesting hiring decision for the school. Davis is 65 years old; so, actuarily, he is not someone that you think of when you are looking at a ten-year growth program that will lead FIU out of C-USA and into an expanded ACC or something like that. At the same time, it is hard to argue that Davis’ record of success brings a lot of focus to the football program there. Truth be told, I cannot name another head coach in C-USA at the schools I know are in that conference – and I doubt that if I went to the C-USA website to see all the other teams in the conference that I would be able to name more than one other head football coach.
I think this will be an interesting situation to watch…
The Canadian Football League is in the middle of its playoff structure. This is a 9-team league where 6 of the teams make the playoffs; because it has an odd number of teams divided into an Eastern and Western Division, one of the Divisions is larger than the other. In order to keep the season “competitive” and interesting as long as possible, the playoff structure for the league allows for a “crossover”.
If, for example the team that finished 4th in the 5-team West Division has a better record than the 3rd place team in the 4-team East Division, then that 4th place West team crosses over and participates in the tournament as if it were the 3rd place team in the East. That happened this year due to a fundamental imbalance between the East Division and the West Division.
In the West, four teams finished above .500 for the season; the 4th place Edmonton Eskimos were 10-8-0. In the East, things were not nearly so pretty; the East Division Champions were the Ottawa Redblacks who posted a season record of 8-9-1. The fact that the East Division was won by a team with a sub-.500 record made it rather obvious that Edmonton would be the “crossover team” for the Grey Cup Playoffs this year.
This weekend will be the semi-finals for those playoffs. Edmonton survived its first-round game and will play Ottawa this Sunday; in the West Division bracket, the BC Lions will visit the Calgary Stampeders. The winners of those two games will play for the Grey Cup the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas favor Edmonton by 2.5 points and Calgary by 7.5 points in these games.
Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald captured the essence of fans’ frustrations with game delays in this comment:
“The Cubs needed 108 years, seven games, a rain delay and extra innings to win a World Series. This whole thing felt like a replay review in football.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………