There’s the perception of Butch Davis, and then there’s the reality.
Butch Davis has a 63-43 record in 10 seasons as a college head coach.
Both have changed significantly over the past 14 months since he was fired as head football coach at North Carolina.
And both could change again very soon.
According to sources, Davis, the former Arkansas Razorbacks defensive end from Springdale, has had plenty of support from prominent boosters and trustees as UA Athletic Director Jeff Long surveys the land for a new head coach.
But there’s been a significant hurdle for Davis – one that might be removed in the next few days.
The cell phone war.
North Carolina fired Davis, without cause, in July 2011 amid an NCAA investigation into improper agent benefits and improper tutoring. He was never cited for any wrong-doing by either the NCAA or the school.
However, since then, Davis has been involved in a legal battle with media outlets over his personal cell phone records from his North Carolina days.
His cell phone was used to conduct state business, media lawyers argued, and thus those records should be public. But Davis would not release them, he said, because he didn’t want to infringe upon the privacy of his friends and colleagues.
On Aug. 22, a North Carolina superior court judge ended the battle and signed an order stating that Davis’ cell phone records were public. Attorneys reached an agreement for their release.
The order stated Davis, now an adviser for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would have to turn over the phone records in 30 days.
Friday will be the 30th day since the order, but that doesn’t mean this matter will be resolved then – or even resolved after the weekend.
The reporter covering the story for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., Dan Kane, told Hawgs247 on Tuesday that it could take several more days for the records to be released.
“It may not be 30 days from the ruling because the ruling needed some work done so that all the parties understood what they were supposed to do,” Kane said in an e-mail. “That happened a couple of weeks later.”
Davis has maintained his cell phone records will not reveal anything improper on his part. A UNC review backed him up on that, he said.
"The timing of the dismissal made everybody look like the other shoe was going to drop: 'Why would they do it a week before the start of the season? There's got to be something,' " Davis told The Associated Press in July. "And you can say to people that, 'Well, here's what I know: I'm not going to be named in the allegations when it comes out.' But now it's us sitting here having to wait ... to finally prove in writing what we had been saying all along.' "
If his records do come back clean, would that, alone, significantly repair Davis’ damaged reputation? Probably not, because many believe perception to be reality. And if public perception remains that Davis is a cheater – even when there’s zero proof of that – he’ll be hard for the Hogs to hire.
Does that mean impossible to hire? No.
There are things that could be done to sway popular opinion – i.e. coverage of the release of the phone records, well-timed interviews, saying the right things, and getting backed by the right people.
It doesn’t sound easy, though, does it?
But Davis has been on rough roads before. And until the North Carolina investigation, his reputation was very solid.
Not long after he was hired as head coach of Miami in 1995, the Hurricanes were hit with NCAA sanctions because of violations that occurred under the watch of the previous head coach, Dennis Erickson.
Despite a postseason ban that year and significant scholarship reductions in the coming years, Davis went 51-20 as the Hurricanes’ coach. That included an 11-1 season and No. 2 ranking in 2000, and it included laying the foundation for Larry Coker to coach Miami to an undefeated season the following year.
And the American Football Coaches Association recognized Miami for high graduation rates during Davis’ six seasons.
“I would love to think that the things we've accomplished over 37 years, that this one particular deal (at North Carolina) will not define me as a man nor as a coach,” Davis said to The AP.
Soon, we’ll find out if that’s the case – at least for the immediate future.