Davis gets chance to rebuild Browns

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The Associated Press

BEREA – Butch Davis rebuilt a once-proud football program in shambles at the University of Miami.

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Email newsletter signup

BEREA – Butch Davis rebuilt a once-proud football program in shambles at the University of Miami. Now, he’ll have a chance to do the same thing for the Cleveland Browns.

Davis, who in six years brought the Hurricanes back from ruin to national title contenders, resigned Monday to become head coach of the Browns.

”I’m excited,” Davis said Monday night. ”It’s a great opportunity, one that I felt for me and my family I couldn’t pass up.”

Davis will be introduced Tuesday at the club’s suburban training facility, Browns president Carmen Policy said.

”I think he’s going to bring a combination of excitement, energy and a new view,” said Policy.

Both Davis and the Browns had spent the past few weeks rejecting rumors that he would come to Cleveland, and Policy said only a series of developments during the weekend led to the hiring.

The Browns have been looking for a coach since Jan. 11, when they fired Chris Palmer after a disturbing and injury-ravaged 3-13 season.

Davis’ agent, Marvin Demoff, said after arriving in Cleveland that his client had not yet signed a contract with the Browns but the sides were ”in serious discussions. It’s pretty close.”

An NFL source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Davis was seeking a five-year deal in the $13-15 million range.

Kansas City recently signed Dick Vermeil to a comparable three-year, $10 million contract.

”He’s a solid coach and a great pick,” said Browns guard Jim Pyne. ”He’s a high-energy guy who has a lot of enthusiasm and fire. He’s a tough disciplinarian and that can only help a young team. I’m really happy he’s coming.”

The Browns had one of the league’s youngest rosters last season, and Policy had hoped to hire a coach who could relate to young players. Davis was tough but popular with his teams at Miami.

For weeks, Davis denied he would leave Miami, where he inherited a program racked by scandal and under NCAA sanctions in 1995. He had been working on a contract extension with the university.

The Browns also denied having had a secret meeting with Davis in Florida.

But something made Davis change his mind about Cleveland, and money could be one of the biggest reasons.

Davis’ contract with Miami paid him $900,000 annually and the school’s new five-year offer was said to be worth about $1.3 million a year.

Palmer made about $1 million a year with Cleveland and, when he was dismissed, the team made it clear that billionaire owner Al Lerner wanted to pay him for the three remaining years on his contract and then some.

Davis told the Hurricanes’ players of his decision Monday morning. His departure comes at a difficult time for the school with just one week left before the end of the college signing period.

”I’m disappointed,” said Miami athletic director Paul Dee. ”I think coach Davis had a lot to give UM and I’m pleased at the success we had.”

Dee chose offensive coordinator Larry Coker as interim head coach.

Just last week, the Browns said they were focusing their search on NFL assistants, all but ruling out the possibility of hiring Davis, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops or Washington coach Rick Neuheisel.

Lerner even shot down reports Davis was coming to Cleveland, saying, ”There is no Butch Davis.”

Well, he’s now the Browns’ 10th full-time coach in club history and second in three years.

The 49-year-old Davis, who interviewed for the expansion Houston Texans’ head coaching job, had reportedly lost interest in pursuing a job with the Browns because he would not have full control of football operations in Cleveland.

Dwight Clark is in charge of personnel decisions with the Browns, but Davis’ hiring could indicate a reshuffling in the team’s front office.

The Browns’ coaching search is ending just when it seemed to be picking up steam. The club was set to speak with Super Bowl defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis of Baltimore and John Fox of the Giants this week. Both coaches had scheduled visits to Cleveland.

”It’s a little bit discouraging,” Fox said. ”The rules do penalize guys that make it to the Super Bowl.”

The Browns interviewed three assistants last week, including defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, but were thought to be leaning toward Lewis, now the front-runner to replace Wade Phillips in Buffalo.

Davis turned around Miami’s troubled program after it was hit with numerous NCAA violations that stripped the school of scholarships and banned the ‘Canes from bowl appearances.

This season, Davis led Miami to an 11-1 record and a 37-20 rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.

Davis, known as a strict disciplinarian, also served as a defensive assistant coach, then coordinator for Dallas under Jimmy Johnson from 1989-94, when the Cowboys won two Super Bowls.

Davis inherits a team that went 5-27 in its first two years back in the league.

The Browns ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories in 1999 and 2000. They were shut out four times last season in losing 12 of their last 13 games.