Bill Little commentary: The crystal clear career
Greg Davis can't remember when he decided he wanted to become a football coach, but every day of his life, he's reminded of why he did it.
It all stemmed from good examples, and good advice.
"I know that my high school coaches and my college coaches all seemed like they were having fun, and it seemed like it was never work. My Dad owned an insurance company, and it was his dream that I would one day take over the business. But to his credit, when I told him I didn't know if that would work for me he said, 'Whatever you do, you've got to get up happy, so if it's coaching, then just go at it.'"
And more than 30 years ago, that's the path Greg Davis took.
Tuesday in Little Rock, the Longhorns' offensive coordinator was honored as the winner of the Frank Broyles Award as the national assistant coach of the year.
Nominated as a finalist for the second time in his eight seasons at Texas, Davis earned the award for crafting an explosive offense, and for helping mold a great athlete named Vince Young into a superior quarterback.
The award, along with the Longhorns' National Championship, helped validate a career that began in high school football, and includes destiny's touch and a commitment to faith and hard work.
Growing up in Groves in the Golden Triangle area of Texas, Davis dreamed of playing football in the Southwest Conference. The Texas Longhorns, under their dashing young coach Darrell Royal, had won their first National Championship while Davis was just in junior high.
"Like every kid in Texas," he said, "I just wanted a chance to play, but I wasn't good enough to get a scholarship there, and McNeese gave me a chance."
He was in his freshman year at McNeese (where he played quarterback in football and second base in baseball) on a cold December day in 1969 when Texas and Arkansas played for the National Championship.
"I remember vividly watching the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game - the Great Shootout," he said. "And I remember going to my first coaching clinics, sitting in the lobby and saying 'There's Coach Royal, there's Coach Broyles, there's Charley McClendon, there's Gene Stallings. I'm sure like young coaches still do today."
Success came quickly to the young coach as he entered the high school ranks. He spent two years coaching in Louisiana, and then returned to his roots at Port Neches-Groves High School.
"We won the state championship in 1975, got beat in the semifinals in '76 and in the finals in '77. Our head coach, Doug Etheridge, called the staff together. He said 'Look, there's a lot of people calling wanting guys from this staff, and I need to know what you want to do so I can help you. If you are interested in being a head coach or whatever, I need to know.'"
When the meeting was over, Davis stayed behind.
"I want to coach in college, and you didn't mention that," Davis recalls saying.
"Best of my knowledge," said his coach, "there are two ways of doing that. One is to take a head job in high school and be successful and hopefully you will get a chance. Or, you can go be a graduate assistant, or part-time coach."
At that time, the NCAA had mandated controversial cuts in coaching staffs. They allowed a "part-time" coach position, which basically meant you worked full time for pay only amounting to the stipend given a scholarship athlete.
"I said 'Coach, I've got a wife and two kids," Davis remembers.
"You asked me, and I'm telling you how to do it," Etheridge replied.
The young coach had always been intrigued by the college coaches who would come by the high school gym office. He would try to pick their brain for ideas, and soon after his meeting with his head coach, he ran into R. C. Slocum, who was an assistant coach at Texas A&M.
"I knew he was from (nearby) Orange, and he was a McNeese guy. I captured him and told him I wanted to coach in college. He said, 'If anything happens, I'll keep you in mind'. Just like they all do," Davis said.
But something about the young coach obviously struck a chord with Slocum. A week later, Davis' phone rang.
"He said they had an offensive part-time position and Emory Bellard, the head coach, would like to interview me. So I drove up there and visited with Emory. As I expected, he said the only thing 'part time' about the job was the pay. At that time, the recruiting coordinator was on the road all the time, and I would get to coach the receivers under the guidance of Tom Wilson, who was the offensive coordinator.
Davis thanked Bellard for the interview, and told him he'd have to go home and talk to his wife.
He called Patsy, who had been his partner since the two were freshmen sweethearts at McNeese, to let her know he'd been offered the job, and obviously there was no money.
When he got home, Patsy Davis was already packing boxes.
"We don't have anything to talk about," she said. "This is what you want to do, so let's go do it while the kids are young."
So in 1978, Davis and his family headed to College Station. Patsy went to work as an administrative assistant to make ends meet, and the Aggies got off to a 4-0 start. But when Texas A&M lost to Houston and Baylor on consecutive weeks, Bellard abruptly resigned.
Davis, who had given up full-time employment for his chance, now was in limbo. But Wilson, who had Southwest Conference roots, was named the interim head coach, then the permanent head coach, and in the space of a week, Wilson hired Greg Davis as his quarterback coach.
His time at Texas A&M would include three and a half years with Wilson and three with Jackie Sherrill. It was at that time that a young assistant coach from LSU brought the Tigers' offensive staff to College Station one spring to study the Aggies' attack.
His name was Mack Brown.
In the week the two spent together, Brown and Davis became friends. It was the season of 1982, and Brown was the quarterback coach for the Tigers.
Two years later, Davis would coach an immensely talented quarterback from inner city Dallas named Kevin Murray. The season Davis worked with Murray, he was named the Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year. He was a great talent, but after Davis left to join Mack Brown at Tulane, he suffered an ankle injury and never returned to form.
"We were trying to a lot of the things with him that we did with Vince (Young)," said Davis. "He was a great athlete with a great arm."
Murray is but one example of the different styles and abilities of quarterbacks Davis has helped mold into tremendously successful players who led tremendously successful offenses.
Davis left A&M in 1985 to join Brown at Tulane, and later served as head coach there, where he was known for a wide open style in a program that was decidedly outmanned. He spent two years at Arkansas, two at Georgia, and two with Brown again at North Carolina before coming to Texas.
Davis never publicly criticizes his players, and has never recoiled at those who have criticized him. With Young, the two developed a well-documented relationship that included discussions of football and life. When it comes to building an offense, his philosophy is simple: you mold your attack to fit your personnel.
"When you go into spring training," he said, "you have to assess what you have. That's when you really begin to formulate, 'okay, this is going to be two back, I formation with four wide receivers on third down, or what. That's what we did with Major (Applewhite) and what we did at Carolina."
When the Longhorns were recruiting Vince Young, his mother asked Davis a pointed question.
"She said, 'Y'all have always been a drop back team, and not that Vince can't do that, but obviously he can do other things.' I told her that the truth is, you always play to what your quarterback can do, and when Vince becomes our quarterback, then things will go to what he can do," Davis said.
It is the same question every parent asks, and Davis has the same answer.
"It's not uncommon, but the simple answer is, you try to assess during the spring and early fall camp, where are the strengths of your team, and how can you play to them?" he said.
If there is one characteristic of Davis that has come shining through during his coaching career it is his patience. Just in his time at Texas, he has handled quarterbacks and criticism, two factors that go with the territory.
Planning an offensive attack based on the respective talents of a quarterback requires a lot of study, and dealing with the various personalities of the quarterback requires patience. The position has, arguably, more responsibility than any other in team sport. And the talents and the personalities of the individuals vary immensely.
Of the four (Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Chance Mock and Vince Young) who have played the most at Texas under Davis, each brought totally different gifts. And quarterbacks, by their nature, usually come in confident they will conquer the world. Channeling their talent and helping them grow is a challenge, with great rewards.
Before Davis came to Texas, the last Longhorn quarterback to take a snap in the NFL was Tommy Wade, 40 years ago. Now, Simms is starting at Tampa Bay, and Young is projected as a top draft choice.
"I think having played the position of quarterback has been a huge benefit, not just in coaching quarterbacks but in understanding that you are only as good as your last play. You're going to miss some open receivers and you're going to throw some interceptions, and you learn to just block it out. I think that was beneficial in my development as a coach as far as understanding that's just the way it is."
As far as pleasing everybody, you just flat can't.
"You understand at a very early age that you're not going to make everybody happy. In this business, you know when you get in it that the highs are going to be really high and the lows are going to be really low. You don't get caught up in the lows, you try to reflect on the highs and get back to work when you have a low," he said.
A prolific speed reader, Davis can knock out a book in the space of several hours, a love of reading he credits to his mom.
"As kids, we were outside all day in the summer, and we came home for lunch, I guess we called it dinner, then. From 12 to 1, you had two choices in my house. You could take a nap, or you could read. And I read. At a very early age, I read at least an hour a day."
Davis reads all kinds of books, but particularly likes books about World War II and autobiographies and biographies of successful people.
"I like to read about successful people and why they think they were successful and what their keys to success are. What you will find is, one of the biggest keys to most of them will be how they treat people."
Davis grew up in a church-going family, and still possesses a strong faith. He has been in demand at various churches, but he is very careful not to "preach" to his kids.
"I had a really good friend when I was a younger coach, and I asked him about the role of a Christian coach. I told him I battled sometimes with what I should say. He said, 'You know, It talks about letting your light shine, but it doesn't say blind 'em. Live your life in such a way that at some point they may ask you about your faith, and you'll have a chance to share.'"
Greg and Patsy Davis have been married for 36 years, and she was with her husband in Little Rock, as was his friend and fellow coach Gene Chizik, last year's winner of the Broyles Award. It's the first time in the award's 10-year history that one school has coaches on the staff who won it back to back.
Mack Brown called, and so did that guy he used to watch walk through the lobby, Darrell Royal.
"If anybody ever deserved this award, it is Greg Davis," said Royal. "When I look at the job he did with Vince it is amazing. He didn't try to change his throwing, he just helped him see things and read things that turned him into a great quarterback."
As Davis stopped by his office Wednesday, he took some time to look at some video. It is, after all, just a little over a month until spring training. And just as the transitions from Richard Walton to Major Applewhite to Chris Simms to Chance Mock to Vince Young have taken Texas to the winningest program in the country over the past eight years, now it's time for another transition.
"Things will have to be tweaked," said Davis. "We try to recruit quarterbacks who are mobile, so some of the same things we have been doing will work. But just as Hodges (Mitchell) was different from Ricky (Williams) and Cedric (Benson) was different from Hodges, each person has different gifts which they will bring."
And as for Davis and his remarkable patience?
"I told somebody the other day," he said, "that the longer the artist paints, the clearer the picture becomes."
And right now, just like the ball on the National Championship trophy, Greg Davis' work is crystal clear.