Coming home moved Butch Davis to tears.
He returned to South Florida and his chosen profession on Tuesday when FIU introduced him as the school’s fourth full-time head coach. Davis will replace interim coach Ron Cooper starting next season. Cooper took over when Ron Turner was fired on Sept. 25 after an 0-4 start.
“The motivation to take this job had to do with kids,” said Davis, who last coached at North Carolina from 2007-10. He was fired in the summer before the 2011 season while North Carolina was under NCAA investigation.
On Tuesday, he sounded fired up: “We’re gonna tape our ankles, put the eyeblack on and get to work.”
Davis led Miami (Fla.) back to national prominence during the 1990s, including an 11-1 record in 2000 capped by a 37-20 Sugar Bowl victory against Florida and No. 2 ranking in the final polls.
He compiled a 51-20 at Miami and left for the NFL in 2001 to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He was fired after a 24-35 record in four seasons, but he led the Browns to their only playoff appearance (2002) since returning to Cleveland in 1999.
North Carolina hired Davis in 2007 and he led the Tar Heels to three bowl games in four years before his dismissal. Davis, currently an analyst for ESPN, reportedly agreed to a five-year deal. He turned emotional as he talked about his return to coaching.
“I’ve coached because I’ve loved the players,” he said. “I want to help them grow, I want to help them mature.”
Davis takes over a program with two winning records in their 15 seasons, the past four in Conference USA. The Panthers, who play Marshall Saturday on ASN, are 3-7 this year and were 10-30 under Turner.
“I had an opportunity to talk to the team and somehow, some way as a coach you always get a little bit of a vibe — they’re hungry for success,” Davis said. “They want to win. They want to be a part of something special. They want to do it the right way. We want to be known as a football team and a football program filled with character, integrity, passion.
“And I told them we want to be on a two-game winning streak when this season’s over.”
The coach who led the Hurricanes to the Sugar Bowl and the Browns to the NFL playoffs set the bar even higher.
“If Northern Illinois, UCF, Boise State and this year’s version of Northern Illinois (Western Michigan) can get into a Jan. 1 bowl game,” Davis said, “why not us?”