‘Tenacious’ Hubert Davis takes over the Tar Heels

The former UNC player and longtime assistant was chosen as Roy Williams' successor

New UNC head basketball coach Hubert Davis, center, laughs with chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, left, and athletic director Bubba Cunningham following a news conference Tuesday announcing him as the successor to Roy Williams. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Former Tar Heel All-American and longtime Roy Williams assistant coach Hubert Davis will become the 19th head coach in UNC basketball history.

The Tar Heels hired Davis less than four days after Williams announced his retirement. He becomes the first African American head coach in the program’s history and the first coach hired without previous head coaching experience since another longtime assistant Bill Guthridge took over for Dean Smith — also hired with no head coaching experience — in 1997.

“I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this program,’’ Davis said. “I would not be here without Coach Dean Smith, Coach Bill Guthridge and Coach Roy Williams; they taught me so much — and I’m eager to walk their path in my shoes and with my personality.”

The vacancy attracted attention from some of the biggest coaching names in college and the NBA, both those with connections to UNC’s program and those outside the “Carolina family.”

Davis has strong connections to the family. He is the nephew of former UNC and NBA star Walter Davis and played for Smith from 1988 to 1992. After an NBA career and several years as an ESPN basketball analyst, Davis joined Roy Williams’ staff in 2012.

Davis has coached the UNC JV team, which plays prior to North Carolina home games, giving him some experience as a head coach. Guthridge and Williams both got their head coaching start at the helm of the JV team, as did several other UNC assistants who went on to head coaching jobs.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who said at the start of the search that he would take Carolina family connections and head coaching experience into consideration, chose Davis over former Tar Heels Wes Miller, Jerry Stackhouse and King Rice, all of whom have coaching experience, fellow Williams assistant Steve Robinson and a list of candidates that reportedly included Mark Few, Brad Stevens, Billy Donovan and Jay Wright.

Davis was Williams’ choice to be his successor and was rumored to be the coach-in-waiting for the last several years. CBS Sports analyst Doug Gottlieb said on air that Davis would replace Williams in 2016, though he incorrectly predicted that Williams was about to retire at the time. Davis also reportedly had strong support from current and former UNC players.

“Hubert Davis is the best leader we can possibly have for our men’s basketball program,” Cunningham said. “He teaches student-athletes on and off the court. He inspires his fellow staff members. He is strongly committed to family. He has a tenacious, burning desire to be the best he can possibly be; we witnessed that when he was a player, a broadcaster and an assistant coach — and I have no doubt he will ensure that our student-athletes and program will be the best they can be, as well.”

Davis gives the program stability in the transition from Williams. The players on the roster are familiar with his voice and style, and the 2021 recruiting signees — Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn — have already announced that they’re sticking with their commitment following the Davis hire. Davis will also likely retain several Williams’ assistants and other members of the UNC staff.

Davis wasn’t the biggest name in the candidate pool, but he’s used to arriving at Carolina as an overlooked underdog. He had to talk Smith into offering him a scholarship despite warnings from the Hall of Fame coach that he might not play much and would be better served accepting an offer from a smaller school, where he could see playing time.

“I remember telling him in my living room that he might be right, but you won’t know for sure unless you give me that chance and that opportunity,” Davis told ESPN in his first interview as UNC head coach. “He left my house and didn’t offer me a scholarship, and I thought my chance and my opportunity wasn’t going to happen. Two days later, he gave me a call on the phone, and he said, ‘I thought a lot about what you said, and I’m going to give you that chance and that opportunity.’ I committed on the spot on the phone.”

Davis scored 21.4 points per game as a senior, becoming one of a handful of Tar Heels to average 20 points for Smith. He also became an NBA first-round draft pick and played a dozen years in the league.

Now taking over one of the most storied programs in college basketball, Davis will once again look to exceed expectations.