The Columnist Safety Net

So, you are a columnist for a local newspaper covering the Miami Hurricanes and you really need to write a piece about Miami playing former coach Butch Davis for the first time since he left the program seven years ago.  You could write one about Davis and his relationship with his former players whom he will not face except there are not any left since it has been over five years. How about examining the Davis-Randy Shannon connection?  Nah, everyone is doing that.  Since Miami is playing in Chapel Hill you cannot talk about the return of Butch Davis to Miami and since it is the last season of the Orange Bowl for the Canes that would have been a nice fluffy article to write.  No, in light of the limited options a columnist must think outside the box to produce something really insightful and that something is a column based almost entirely on hypotheticals!  And bringing us such a pointless exercise is Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post:

What if Butch Davis were in his 13th season as head football coach at the University of Miami instead of his first at the University of North Carolina?

What if Davis were taking the Hurricanes to visit the Tar Heels at noon Saturday in Chapel Hill instead of waiting for them to arrive in Kenan Stadium for an Atlantic Coast Conference game?
More on the Hurricanes

What if he never had left The U?

“I try not to go there,” Davis said Wednesday morning during a teleconference call.

He tries, but sometimes fails.

You can tell by how quickly Davis recites the answers – football answers beyond the “wonderful friends” the family made during those tough and terrific years – when asked about his fondest memories at UM, where he first cleaned up a dirty program and then turned it back into a force.

At the conclusion of his six years at Miami, on the other hand, Davis already had steered the Hurricanes through the worst times (the loss of a bowl appearance at the end of his first season and the elimination of scholarships that shackled him in his rebuilding process). The victory against Florida in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his final UM season, in fact, came against the backdrop that the one-loss ‘Canes – not a Florida State team Miami had beaten – should have played Oklahoma for the national title that season.

Couldn’t he have won the national championship Miami won in what would have been Davis’ seventh season with the Hurricanes had he stayed? Larry Coker led the ‘Canes to that prize with Davis’ players, and then played for another national crown the next season.

And would the Hurricanes have gone through the assortment of troubles – from bowl-game fisticuffs with LSU players in a tunnel to the Orange Bowl brawl with Florida International to numerous incidents, tragic and otherwise, in which players were involved away from the field – had Davis been in charge rather than Coker?

Is there any reason to think Davis, who was 51-20 in his six Miami seasons, couldn’t or wouldn’t have matched Coker’s 60-15 record in six more seasons? And there’s no way Davis, with a dozen years served, would have been ushered out at UM as unceremoniously as was Coker no matter what happened on or off the field last season.

Davis won’t go there, either.

“When my coaching career ends,” he said, “I’ll look back at my whole body of work.”

Most fondly, almost certainly, in review of a Miami era that was shorter than he probably now wishes.


Don’t you just love speculation like this. This is the second such article UNC has seen in relation to an opponent, the “what if Frank Beamer” article preluded the Heels game at Virginia Tech last week.  Now, we have this guy tossing out all sorts of hypotheticals and at least two points presumes to tell us that (1) Butch Davis “fails sometimes” when “he tries not to think about it” based entirely on how quickly he answers some questions and (2) that Davis “probably” wishes he had stayed at Miami longer. Perhaps Stoda should think about a side job as a mind reader or profiler since he is so discerning.

As for the whole litany of “what ifs” and “could have beens” who cares?  It is impossible to know how those events would have turned out because changing one factor seven years ago infinitely alters the course of several other events in it’s wake.  In fact let me take a shot at this.

  • What if Davis had stayed and won two national titles then went to coach another NFL and was successful this time and is now in his fifth season as their head coach?
  • What if Miami fans did not have their heads so far up their rear ends as to demand a coach with a 60-15 record be shown the door?
  • What if the Miami coaching staff actually showed some backbone and maintained control of their players instead of allowing them to nearly get in a fight with Louisville and did get in a brawl with FIU?
  • What if columnists actually found meaningful subject matter to write about and stopped mailing in speculative garbage like this?

Maybe I am being a bit harsh here but this kind of stuff drives me nuts.  Talking about the past is only helpful if you are learning from it going forward.  Talking about a past that never actually happened through a series of “what if” statements is a waste of time.   There are enough real issues in life to work through without throwing away your time and energy thinking about speculative ones.

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