From: The Miami Herald
By: Barry Jackson
August 18th, 2016
Butch Davis and Jonathan Vilma will forever be linked during two critical times in UM football history.
A Davis recruit, Vilma played for an 11-1 UM team in 2000 before Davis left, the start of a three-year run that featured only two losses and the most talented teams in Hurricanes history. They were intertwined again late last year, when Vilma was named to an advisory committee to help select UM’s next football coach, and Davis was a finalist for the job.
Now the two have been reunited for a third time. ESPN is expected to announce next week that Davis and Vilma will paired as studio analysts on ESPN2’s college football coverage on Saturdays this fall, alongside host Chris Cotter. Vilma, new to ESPN, replaces Fox-bound Robert Smith.
“I’m very excited about it; I love college football,” Vilma said. “I still remember when Butch first recruited me. I remember seeing Butch for the first time, and he was bigger than I thought: 6-4.
“I think back to that time and everything has run its course. Now I get to sit alongside the guy who recruited me to UM and jump- started my career. We can’t have a Canes love-fest (on the air). It will be a lot of fun to talk football with him.”
Though the mark they left at UM came around the turn of the century (mostly before, in Davis’ case, after in Vilma’s), both figured prominently in this offseason’s coaching search.
Davis badly wanted the job and was immensely disappointed he didn’t get it. He said recently that he has moved on and voiced no complaints about the process.
“I would have loved the opportunity; I have a lot of affinity for them; it was a very memorable place for me,” Davis said. “We [helped] rebuild the program and gave it back its character and integrity and put them in position to play for three national titles. It didn’t work out. The things I had accomplished weren’t what they were looking for.”
He presented his specific vision to UM during his interview and said he told UM that if he had gotten the job, he believes he would “have won a national championship in four years” because “we were not going to lose 31 scholarships in four years” as he did (no fault of his) during his tenure at UM.
Davis said he’s not sure how close he came to getting the job, and that’s up for debate.
One former UM assistant coach said he was told specifically by the top of the UM administration that Davis would have gotten the job if Mark Richt didn’t become available. But a prominent Board of Trustees member said UM had concerns about how Davis explained his hiring of assistant coach John Blake, who was later barred from college coaching for three years for taking money from an agent, and that Davis wasn’t UM’s second choice.
What does Davis think of the Richt hire? Don’t expect effusive praise.
“I have no familiarity with him,” Davis said, even though Richt has been on a prominent national stage for 15 years. “I never coached against him. If you ask him, I’m sure he would say his record stands for itself.”
(The view here: Davis would have done a good job here and he deserves a chance to coach again. But Richt was the safer choice; he has been in the game more recently than Davis, who hadn’t coached since 2010 and at 64 is eight years older than Richt.)
As for Vilma, you have to admire the initiative he took in helping get the former players a voice at the table in the coaching search.
Three years earlier, Vilma “rocked the boat,” so to speak, during his battle with Commissioner Roger Goodell over his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints Bountygate controversy. Vilma vehemently denied any involvement; his NFL suspension was twice overturned but his defamation lawsuit against Goodell eventually was dismissed.
So it wasn’t surprising Vilma was the ringleader in efforts to get players input in the UM coaching search. He reached out to two dozen former players, called athletic director Blake James and several Board of Trustee members and eventually landed a coveted spot (with Vinny Testaverde) on the six-member coaching advisory committee.
“What made me want to do it,” Vilma said, “was watching” former players give opinions on social media and wanting to unite and galvanize them. “We were all so fragmented,” he said. “I said I knew we would have a stronger voice if we talked behind closed doors [and not on] social media.”
Before going to James, “I first wanted the blessing of every era that you can think of that went through UM before saying I am going to speak on behalf of the players,” Vilma said. “I said, ‘Hey look, this is a group effort.’ We all care about UM, though we show it in different ways. For us to be involved in a productive manner was the emphasis.
“I spoke to Blake and I spoke to some of the board members. They thought it made sense not to alienate some of players who felt they were alienated. There has to be interaction between former players and the current players in as legal a scenario as possible. We love the university and we want to make sure we see it successful again. Having everyone come together in a productive manner was the first step of many to get back to where we want to be.”
Though Vilma declined to confirm whether he sat in on any interviews, he said he “was given input.”
He said “it’s not wrong for people to think” that he wanted Davis to get the job, but added the players “wanted the qualities that Butch represented when he was the coach. He instilled discipline and toughness and recruited well. We wanted someone with those qualities. We felt it may or may not be Butch.”
Vilma, a former first-round draft pick of the Jets who retired in 2014 after a nine-year NFL career, was fine with UM hiring Richt: “He’s a very good coach. His resume speaks for itself. It doesn’t ensure future [success].”
He doesn’t believe UM necessarily would have gone wrong with any of the four finalists: Richt, Davis, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen or ex-Tampa Bay and ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
“But you never know until three or five years from now,” Vilma said. “We don’t know if Dan Mullen gets fired [eventually].”
Whether Vilma’s involvement in UM administrative decisions continues remains to be seen. He hasn’t asked James for any input since the coaching hire.
“Always my philosophy is let the coaches coach,” he said. “I love to come by. It’s not my job in my 10 minutes to think I have all the answers.”
As for these Canes, he says this could be a top 25 team but “we’ve looked on paper for many years at the talent we’ve had and we all assumed we would put out good teams and for some reason we didn’t.”
Davis, who still hopes to coach again, didn’t study the UM roster in depth before his interview with James and said he doesn’t know enough yet about the personnel to assess Miami’s chances. But he said quarterback Brad Kaaya “is a terrific kid and a great player. He has outstanding mobility, good arm. The unanswerable question is the offensive line and does he have supporting cast, which I have no idea.”
Davis wishes he could have been coaching Kaaya this fall.
Incidentally, ESPN senior coordinator producer Lee Fitting said: “It’s cool that he and Butch have the connection to Miami, but that wasn’t the reason for hiring Jonathan. We hired Jonathan for the commentating and analyzing skills he demonstrated in the last couple of years, in addition to the potential that we see in him. Furthermore, he was a prominent figure in the sport for a long time, both in college and in the NFL. Adding that all together, it made a ton of sense.”