IT'S OFFICIAL. Butch Davis is a genius. I told my wife, a couple of years ago, when the University of North Carolina head football coach hired Everett Withers as his defensive coordinator (and to coach the defensive secondary), that Butch Davis was a genius -- if he knew what he was doing. I said it rashly because I knew only one pertinent fact about Coach Withers: Withers was coming to UNC after one season as the University of Minnesota's defensive coordinator -- where the Golden Gophers football team had the worst defense in Bowl Subdivision football.
Personally, I thought, that's not whom I would hire. (Actually, I thought “who I would hire” -- but let’s keep that between you and me.)
Apparently Butch Davis doesn’t think like me – or, perhaps, Davis had read more of Withers' resume than I had. For one thing, Davis may have noticed that the Gophers also had one of the worst defenses in the nation before Withers arrived there for his single season.
Davis might have noticed that Withers spent six seasons with the NFL's Tennessee Titans from 2001 until 2006 where their defense greatly improved during his stay.
Davis also appears to have noticed that prior to working with the Titans, Withers was defensive secondary coach under former Tar Heel coach Mack Brown at Texas from 1998 until 2000, where the Longhorns pass defense improved from 75th in the nation in 1997 to first in the nation in 2000.
Davis may have noticed that Withers was the defensive coordinator at Louisville from 1995 to 1997 and that his 1996 defensive unit ranked fourth nationally in both total defense and rushing defense and led the NCAA in turnovers forced.
Here’s the story now. UNC’s defense, through 11 games, is ranked twelfth in the nation in points allowed, fifth in tackles for a loss, ninth in turnovers gained, sixth in interceptions made, and is tied for first in interceptions returned for touch downs. And, in what is the best measure of total defense, yards allowed, is fifth -- behind only Alabama, Florida, Texas and Texas Christian, four undefeated teams -- all with really good offenses.
(For those uninformed on football calculus, a good offense makes its team's defense look better since while your offense is on the field the other's team's offense ain't.) Of the 120 teams ranked in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, Alabama ranks 30 in total offense, Florida 15, Texas 17, Texas Christian 5 -- and UNC a lowly 113.
To illustrate how good UNC’s defense can be, consider the last UNC football game, a game against a Boston College team that was still in the running for a berth in the ACC championship game. UNC won almost entirely on the stout backs and sticky fingers of its defense.
For the contest, BC's offense had an anemic 198 total yards. UNC's defense almost matched BC's offense with 171 yards on six returns (five interceptions and one fumble). In the game's second half, BC’s seven offensive possessions consisted of 19 offensive plays which gained a total of 50 yards. They never crossed the mid-field line.
For the game BC's offense was outscored 14 to 13 by UNC's defense (even giving no credit for an interception UNC’s defense returned to the one-yard line.) For most of the game, UNC's best offense consisted of kicking to BC.
And so, yes, it is now official that Butch Davis is a genius. (And Everett Withers probably ain't far behind.) It is also official that I am a moron -- for ever doubting that Butch Davis was genius.
But I’m learning. Here’s my current advice to Coach Davis. Hire Timm Rosenbach to be the Tar Heel’s new offensive coordinator. Rosenbach has been that position for one year at New Mexico State. You can’t go wrong -- the Aggies are last in the Bowl Subdivision in total offense.
Gary D. Gaddy is hoping the Tar Heels are invited to the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl in Nashville, where he’ll treat his wife to her dream combination of bluegrass music and Tar Heel football.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday November 27, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy