By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
FIU has a new football coach, and he is no stranger to South Florida.
Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia announced on Nov. 15 that former Miami and North Carolina head coach Butch Davis signed a five-year deal to become the new head coach for FIU football starting next season.
Davis, 64, leaves his position as a television analyst at ESPN to become the fifth head coach in program history.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Davis said at a press conference at FIU Stadium. “I love this opportunity and I am grateful to be here, to be the football coach at FIU. I look at this challenge as one that has no limits.”
After spending the past several weeks speaking with people around the university, Davis was attracted to the passion of FIU’s community; the opportunity to return to coaching in Miami; a huge alumni network in South Florida; and the amount of football talent that makes South Florida one of the hottest recruiting grounds in the country.
“There is unbelievable passion here. It was contagious and it made me want to be a part of it,” Davis said.
Most football fans in South Florida will remember Davis from his time at the University of Miami, where he was an assistant under Jimmy Johnson during the 1980s and head coach from 1995 to 2001. During his six seasons as the head coach of the Hurricanes, Davis amassed a 51-20 record and led the program to four bowl game victories.
In his final season with Miami, he guided the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record and a win in the Sugar Bowl before taking a head-coaching position in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns.
The Hurricanes won the national championship the following season with many of the players Davis recruited.
After four seasons with the Browns, where he led the team to its last playoff appearance in 2002, he returned to college football in 2006 as the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The program only had one winning season in six seasons prior to Davis.
After a 4-8 season in 2007, the Tar Heels went on to post three consecutive 8-win seasons and three bowl appearances under Davis.
“This is a game-changer. And not just for FIU football, but for FIU Athletics,” said Garcia, who worked with Davis at Miami and Cleveland. “He is a coach who will take this program to new heights.”
Interim head coach Ron Cooper, who took over midseason after former head coach Ron Turner was fired following an 0-4 start, will coach the Panthers through the final two games of the regular season.
The Panthers have failed to put together a winning season since 2011 under former head coach Mario Cristobal, who was a graduate assistant under Butch Davis while he was at UM.
But Davis feels that there is an opportunity to build something special here at FIU and experience the kind of success several other schools outside of the “Power Five” conferences have enjoyed in recent years.
“If one school can, why not us?” Davis asked. “If Northern Illinois, UCF, Houston and Boise State can get into January bowl games, why not us?”