|COLLEGE FOCUS: Similar paths bring Davis, Spurrier to Carolinas|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 11 October 2007 11:15|
Back in the 1990s, both coaches took over probation-saddled programs in Florida and led them back to national prominence before leaving for brief, unsuccessful flings in the NFL. After some time away, they returned to the college game and took over at schools in the Carolinas who compete in the same conferences as their former teams.
Then, in the first nostalgia-filled matchups against those schools, they pulled off remarkable upsets.
``They just have that professional air about them,'' said North Carolina safety Deunta Williams, whom Spurrier also recruited. ``Just winning is what it's about, and I like the attitude.''
But as the visor-loving, confidence-preaching coaches prepare for just their second meeting, there remains a key difference: Spurrier has had a few seasons to get No. 7 South Carolina into the top 10, while Davis - in his first year at North Carolina - has a ways to go before the Tar Heels crack the Top 25.
Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, took over at his alma mater in 1990 after three seasons at Duke. He won over the Florida fans with his ``Darth Visor'' persona - born from his habit of throwing headgear when angered by the play of his quarterbacks - while leading the Gators to six Southeastern Conference titles and the 1996 national championship.
``I've got a lot of respect for him. He's an outstanding football coach and every place that he's ever coached, he's done a great job,'' Davis said.
Good enough to copy, too. When Davis took over a reeling Miami program in 1995, he incorporated some of Spurrier's schemes into his playbook while he studied for a mutual rival.
``You'd watch some of the Florida film and steal some of the things Florida did to play against Florida State, because they would have some good ideas,'' Davis said. ``Steve Spurrier's reputation (is) for throwing the football. He's clearly one of the best offensive coaches that have coached in college football.''
They coached together just once, joining Nick Saban at the 2000 East-West Shrine Game - ``That was an interesting week,'' Davis quipped. Their only game as opponents came in the post-2000 Sugar Bowl, a game won 37-20 by Davis' Hurricanes. It's a matchup perhaps best known for the pre-game Bourbon Street brawl that reportedly involved as many as 40 players.
Spurrier said at the time that the fight was a sign ``the rivalry is back.'' But the Sugar Bowl was Davis' final game with the Hurricanes - he left before the next season for the Cleveland Browns. Spurrier joined him in the NFL a year later with the Washington Redskins.
In the pros, both got lessons in humility. Spurrier went 12-20 in two seasons with the Redskins, and Davis was 24-35 with the Browns before stepping down in 2004.
Spurrier was out of football during the 2004 season. There was talk he might return to Florida after the Gators fired Ron Zook, but he ended up at South Carolina after Lou Holtz retired. Once North Carolina fired John Bunting last year, Davis was the immediate front-runner to take over in Chapel Hill.
``They should do well there,'' Spurrier said of Davis and his staff. ``North Carolina has always done very well recruiting. That's a pretty nice place they have there. Lot of money at the University of North Carolina. You look at their endowment, it's right there among the best in the country, I think. Facility-wise, they've got a lot of things going for them.''
Both coaches made significant statements by winning their first matchups against their former teams. Spurrier's Gamecocks stunned then-No. 12 Florida 30-22 two years ago in Columbia, S.C., and last week Davis' Tar Heels took a 27-point halftime lead over Miami and held on to beat the Hurricanes 33-27 in Chapel Hill.
For Davis, now comes the tough part - replicating that success against a coach whose path to the Carolinas mirrors his own.
``You have to hope that successes that you have continue to build some confidence,'' Davis said. ``It's difficult at times to build that confidence when you're not rewarded with actual victory.''
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.