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Greg Davis: History buff, speed reader…and 38 years of coaching

[ 2 ] June 11, 2012 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The new guy in Iowa’s football complex has a national championship ring, three former quarterbacks starting in the NFL, and is a friend of former Texas coaching legend Darrell Royal.

He’s a history buff — with a Masters Degree in Administration. He’s a speed reader, and he taught a young Hawkeye coach Cowboy boot etiquette during a recent Texas back roads drive.

But bagging a bear?

“I’ve done a lot of stuff,” Greg Davis said during an hour-long interview recently, “but I’ve never hunted bear.”

Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, left, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis are pictured during a practice in March. (Benjamin Roberts / Iowa City Press-Citizen photo)

In this instance, quarterback James Vandenberg is one-up on just the second offensive coordinator Kirk Ferentz has hired in 13 seasons at Iowa, a respected veteran whose play calling starts Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Davis, 61, is a grandfather. He’s religious, but he doesn’t lace interviews with his beliefs. He’s seen it all – the good and the not so good — during 38 years in football coaching, but he could only listen in amazement when told the story about how his passer killed a bear.

“He comes back from his trip and tells me a story about being up in a tree with a compound bow, and this bear gets to the tree, rises up, puts his big claw in the tree, and pulls himself up,” Davis said.

“James said he was not in a position where he could shoot, and I said “well, you had your pistol ready,” and he said he didn’t have a pistol. I said you’re not as smart as you thought you were.”

The affable Davis laughed and shook his head as he recounted the story, one of many he told during the get-to-know-you interview.

“That’s coach Davis,” said Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who ran Davis’ offense at Texas between 2006-09. “He loves a good story.

Dec 27, 2007: Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy (12), left, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis celebrate after 52-34 against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. (KIRBY LEE / US PRESSWIRE

“He’s a great coach, and even better, he’s a great person. He’s going to do great things for (Iowa) on the field. Off the field — I wish all Iowa fans could sit down and listen to some of his stories.”

*****

Like the day Davis, whose 13 years on Mack Brown’s Longhorn staff included winning the 2005 national championship, showed new Iowa linebackers coach LeVar Woods the finer points of recruiting in Texas.

It was Cowboy Boots 101.

“We were a long ways between high schools, which happens sometimes when you’re in Texas,” Davis said. “LeVar asked me about boots, and I told him I had a bunch of pair of ‘em.

“I wear them all the time, but I told him that you don’t wear them when it’s hot, and I told him you don’t wear boots to the airport, because nowadays you have to take them off.”

Woods learned something else – besides the name of almost every football coach in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Coach Davis knew it was going to rain one of the days we were down there, and he had cowboy boots on,” Woods recalled. “I was like “What the heck?”

“He said “LeVar, when you’re out in those fields in Texas and it’s going to rain, you wear your boots.” I had loafers on, and he was right — it was a mess.”

Iowa offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Greg Davis watches his team during the open spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 14, 2012. (DAVID SCRIVNER / IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN PHOTO)

*****

“When Kirk hired me, he asked about taking Iowa’s run game and blending it with my passing game,” Davis said. “He talked about no-huddle and tempo. He said he’d like to look at it a little, but that he didn’t want to become a no-huddle team, but he wanted to have some of it.”

*****

Davis played quarterback at McNeese State between 1970-72 – when not working towards becoming a history buff.

“I took a history course in college from a great teacher, who made learning about history interesting,” Davis said. “I was hooked.

“Three summers ago, my wife and I and a couple other couples spent five days in Paris and five days in London.

“Everyone picked a trip. . .one was the Louvre, for example, but mine was Normandy and the bunker where Churchill ran the war.”

He knew about that by reading between 350 and 375 words per minute, which is rapid, according to various speed-reading websites.

He reads so fast that when working at Texas, Brown had his top offensive assistant read books and highlight what was significant.

“Mack is not a big-time reader,” Davis said. “A lot of times, he would come in and ask me to read something and highlight it — basically giving him a book report.”

Davis developed his reading passion as a kid.

“The rule at our house was that you had to come in for lunch, and you could not go back out of the house until 1 o’clock,” he said. “You had two choices — take a nap or read. I didn’t want to take a nap, so I read.”

*****

“Our fans will see some no-huddle, zone and the stretch,” Davis said. “They’ll see hopefully some great play-action. We’ll probably play from the shot gun a little more. We’ll probably play with (up) tempo a little more.”

*****

Davis got into coaching because he couldn’t speak French.

“When I went to college, I was going to be a lawyer, and I took a foreign language course,” Davis said. “I walked into class one day, and the teacher asked how many of us spoke French in our home, and quite a few people raised their hands.

“The teacher asked how many of us took French at least two years in high school, and I still hadn’t raised my hand.”

So Davis said au revoir to French, and howdy to football’s sidelines — initially as an assistant at Port Neches (Texas) Groves high School, where as a player he broke his father’s quarterback records.

Then one day, Davis mentioned to the school’s head coach that he wanted to coach in college. The coach told him that he’d have to start at the grass roots level.

“He said I needed to be a graduate assistant, but I had a wife and two kids,” Davis said. “I had a chance to go to Texas A&M (to be a GA), and my dad said that I should take the job, but leave Patsy (his wife) and the kids with him.”

Davis went to the Aggies – with wife and children — where he worked for a salary equivalent to a scholarship.

That started a process that led to Davis replacing Brown as the head coach at Tulane, and then eventually joining Brown at Texas, where they beat USC for the BCS championship seven seasons ago.

“We flew back to Austin the next day, and coach Royal is across the aisle from me,” Davis said. “We’re about to land, and he leans over and says that I’d checked off the last thing on the list.

“I said what, and there was a slight pause. He said I’d been part of a national championship, and then he said something I’ll never, ever forget:

“He said “now let me tell you this, Greg:

“When this plane hits the ground, they’re going to give you another list.”

“Does that not sum up this job?”

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Recruiting Texas

One of the first things Greg Davis learned after joining Iowa’s football staff was that Texas is just a couple hours away.

“That was attractive to me,” Davis said. “You hop on a plane in Cedar Rapids, and the next thing you know, you’re in Texas.”

It’s a quick trip to a state that once produced a plethora of Hawkeye football talent – compared to just three Texans on the 2012 spring roster.

“We would like to tap into some of that,” said Davis, who spent most of his coaching life in that state.

Iowa had a Texas pipeline in former coach Hayden Fry and a staff that included coaches who knew the Longhorn state.

“We don’t have a bunch of Texans on the staff, but there are some players there,” Davis said. “Obviously you recruit where you have ties.”

According to linebackers coach LeVar Woods, Davis has ties. He learned that during a Texas recruiting trip with Davis.

“Everywhere we went, every person knew Greg Davis,” Woods said. “His reputation is very good down there. Everywhere we went, people were excited to see him again.”

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Davis on Criticism

“It goes with the territory, but after all these years in the business, it still continues to be an amazing phenomenon to me.

“If Team A throws a long touchdown pass over Team B, the response is “can you believe Johnny got beat?”

“If a play doesn’t work, the response is “can you believe he called that play?”

“It’s not going to change.”

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About Davis

He has a major in English and a minor in Speech, “which was not smart, as I found out later. There’s only one speech teacher in every school, and that wasn’t going to a coach.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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