Nine words. That’s all Tracy Wolfson got out:
Coach, how would you assess what you’ve seen from …
And then, boom, verbal dynamite, stopping her dead in her tracks. Hubert Davis is hoarse, but man is he hollering. “Pretty fun game, isn’t it?” the North Carolina head coach calls out. (An apt observation, midway through the national championship game against Kansas.) Then, a second later, the line that’s lingered since April: “It’s live action, Tracy! It’s live action out there!”
Wolfson’s reaction? The same as anyone else watching, be it in a Chapel Hill sports bar or courtside in the Caesars Superdome: shock. “Did not expect to see that out of him,” Wolfson says now, chuckling as she recalls the viral moment. “I never saw that energy from him in one of our (pregame) meetings.” Nor had North Carolina fans during the first six months of Davis’ tenure.
Because, on a day-to-day basis, Davis isn’t that worked up. What Wolfson saw in her week-of conversations with Davis, what she heard in phone calls with his friends, was a common characterization of the man: how gentle he is. There’s a golly-gee-whiz gusto about him. “Always calm, cool and collected,” Wolfson adds. “The kindest guy that you could be around.” Assistant coach Jeff Lebo, who played alongside Davis for a season at UNC, says he used to call Davis just to chat — and frequently hit him while Davis was cutting his lawn, riding around on his motorized mower. “Just a regular guy,” Lebo jokes. Davis says this summer, in his pockets of down time, you could find him lounging by the pool with his wife, Leslie, or taking his kids fishing or tubing on nearby Lake Jordan. The man never curses, same as his old college coach, and giggles hysterically at just about any joke. Roy Williams, Davis’ predecessor who has known him since high school, doubles down on Wolfson’s sentiment, but with a much broader frame of reference: “Absolutely the nicest person I’ve ever known.”
That is the Hubert Davis we all know. Mostly from seven public-facing years as an ESPN analyst, but also from nine seasons as Williams’ assistant. But here’s the thing: Just because we didn’t see the demanding, “Live Action” side of Davis’ personality … doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Because it always has been, if you ask folks closest to the 52-year-old. UNC director of recruiting Pat Sullivan saw that side firsthand when they were Tar Heel teammates. “He was the talking junk guy, you know, but on the rated-G variety,” Sullivan says. “It would almost make you more mad.” Assistant Sean May, the 2005 Final Four MOP, remembers the first time he saw Davis’ “button get pushed” in practice last summer, a month or two after he’d gotten the job. Guys weren’t listening, or weren’t playing hard enough — Davis’ top trigger, his staff agrees — and his resulting rip into the team so changed the intensity of practice that even May stood up a little more, “kinda on my toes.”
Usually, the aftershock of these outbursts is Davis pacing by himself, symbolic smoke still steaming out of his ears. That’s the competitive streak Davis usually keeps contained, only letting it out inside the lines.