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Greg Davis Review, Part 1: Pre-Texas Career

We begin the Greg Davis Review with an introduction of sorts, presented in Q&A format for the convenience of all. (Mostly, for the convenience of me.)

Where did Greg Davis come from, anyway? Did he and Mack play in the same sandbox as kids or what? Where's this all start?

Survivor Says: Learn the Mack Clap.

Gregory Davis hails from Groves, Texas, a small town on the north side of Port Arthur, where he attended Port Neches-Groves High School. A 1973 college graduate of McNeese State with a bachelor's degree in sports administration, Davis began his career in the high school ranks while working toward a master's degree. He coached at Barbe High School (Lake Charles, La.) from 1973-74 and Port Neches-Groves High School from 1975-77, where he helped lead the Indians to the 1975 Texas 4A state title.

So, no... he and Mack were not twinsies at birth. Greg's a born-and-raised Texan who came up through the high school ranks.

Has Greg Davis really coached at both Texas A&M and Arkansas during his career?

Correct. (The especially paranoid may want to note that Mack Brown got his start as QB Coach at Oklahoma.)

Davis got his first college gig in 1978 when Texas A&M hired him as the team's Quarterbacks Coach. He would coach in College Station for seven years, in what was a remarkably unremarkable period in A&M football history. The Aggies finished ranked #19 in 1978 but would not sniff the final AP Top 25 again until 1985... the year Davis left to join Mack Brown at Tulane.

Davis joined Mack Brown as an "Assistant Head Coach/WRs Coach" at Tulane, where the two helped turned a miserable Tulane team (1-10 in 1985) into a respectable 6-6 squad by 1987, with the Green Wave making just their fifth bowl appearance in 40 years.

When Brown left Tulane in 1988, Davis was promoted to head coach, where he remained until his firing in 1991 following a 1-10 season. From there Davis joined the Arkansas staff as Offensive Coordinator/QBs coach.

Davis had some pretty low moments at Arkansas, didn't he?

[Guest contribution from 'TaylorTRoom' of Barking Carnival] We’re all familiar with the Horns offense being shut down in big games. Those aren’t Davis’ worst games. His single worst game as an OC was probably at Arkansas in ’92, when the Hogs lost to D-1AA Citadel at home, 3 – 10. That night, [Arkansas AD Frank] Broyles fired head coach Jack Crowe and promoted DC Joe Kines to head coach. 

It’s demoralizing to realize that to Davis, any Saturday disaster that doesn’t end with him working for the Defensive Coordinator is not such a bad day. 

[PB here again] Even setting aside the embarrassing 3-point showing against Citadel, the Davis-led Razorbacks averaged an unimpressive 16.7 points per game in 1992. The following season was worse - at least on offense - as the Piggies scored just 165 points on the season (15.0 ppg), though they did improve to 6-4.

So... apparently he survived two nondescript years at Arkansas. What was next?

Despite the pedestrian record as Arkansas' offensive coordinator, Davis got his next big break when  he was hired as Georgia's "Passing Game Coordinator" prior to the 1994 season. If the preceding career review hasn't been especially impressive, I think Davis' time at Georgia appears to be noteworthy as a potential step forward. His staff page at especially mentions his successes while in Athens:

While at Georgia, Davis helped lead the Bulldogs to the 1995 Peach Bowl despite injuries to the team's top two QBs. He did so by preparing converted slot back Hines Ward for the starting QB job. Ward set a school bowl game record by completing 31-of-59 passes for 413 yards in the Peach Bowl. Davis also coached first-team All-American Eric Zeier, a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns (1995 NFL Draft). Zeier set UGA marks for passing (3,721) and total yards (5,135) in ‘94.

Always better not to treat press releases as gospel, though, so we turn to Paul Westerdawg of the outstanding Georgia Sports Blog, who offers this take on Davis' tenure in Athens:

At Georgia, Davis tutored under offensive coordinator Wayne McDuffie, who is revered in Athens for his offensive mind. He brought a wide open, balanced passing attack to Athens for the first time in 40-50 years. Though I'm not able to find the source link on this, McDuffie is also said to have been credited by Mark Richt for inventing most of the core schemes of the current FSU and UGA offenses while working under Bobby Bowden.

Unfortunately, the downside of working with McDuffie was the fact that we later learned that McDuffie suffered from severe bi-polar disorder which resulted in him taking his own life in the mid-90s.

Davis also worked with Darryl Drake (former UGA and UT wide receivers coach) while in Athens. I would list Drake as the best wide receivers coach at Georgia possibly in the school's history. Unfortunately for Davis, his head coach (Ray Goff) was more interested in watching soap operas than breaking down game film. The result for Davis: His time in Athens was sort of all over the place.

It's not clear to me how much of UGA's ability to move the ball in 1994-1995 was due to McDuffie and how much due to Greg Davis. In 1994, Georgia had Terrell Davis at running back, but injuries and personality disputes with Coach Goff kept him out of the lineup. With no running threat, the Dawgs were extremely pass heavy.

In 1995, the team lost its top three running backs and quarterback within the first several games. Any offensive production was miraculous for that unit.  As Greg Davis' bio mentions, the mid-season conversion of Hines Ward from wide receiver to quarterback in 1995 was particularly impressive. Watching Ward throw for 400 yards in the 1995 Peach Bowl with a broken hand and sore knee is both a testament to his own athletic ability and toughness as well as the coaching he was getting on the sidelines.

Said differently... I'm not sure how much I can endorse Davis other than to say he faced some large obstacles at Georgia in 1994 and '95 in terms of personnel and coaching culture. Yet, he was exposed to two of the premier passing minds that worked the UGA sidelines. Take from that what you will.

And Mack Brown came calling again after the Georgia years?

Bingo. Greg Davis and Mack Brown were reunited prior to the 1996 season in Chapel Hill. Two years later, the two were celebrating a dominant 42-3 Gator Bowl win over Virginia Tech to conclude the 1997 season, allowing UNC to finish in the Top 10 for the second-straight season.

Unfortunately, the UNC archives only go back through 1997, making a full review of Davis' Tar Heel tenure difficult without access to a better database. Regardless, for now it suffices to say that Mack Brown was hired to Texas for the performance of his defense, which in 1997 peaked behind three All Americans, Dre Bly, Greg Ellis, and Brian Simmons. From the UNC post-season wrap:

Carolina allowed 209.3 yards per game last year. That was the lowest yardage total allowed since the 1948 team gave up just 178.0 yards per game in 10 games. It was the third straight year the Tar Heels gave up less than 300 yards per game and the fifth straight year the defense gave up less yards than the previous season. Carolina gave up 326.5 yards per game in 1992, 322.3 in 1993, 319.3 in 1994, 267.3 in 1995, 225.6 in 1996 and 209.3 in 1997.

What should we make of Davis' pre-Texas career, then?

The rosiest portrayal highlights his tenure at Georgia as a turning point in his career. Without any inside information on his time there, it's impossible to say how much that experience affected him, but the charitable view says that he took a step forward during his time in Athens and performed well enough at UNC to keep his spot at Mack Brown's side in the move to Austin. We do know that Davis' reputation as a quarterbacks coach is strong, and the work he did with Hines Ward in '95 would certainly suggest as much.

The skeptic in me wonders whether Greg Davis' rocky career prior to the breakthrough (or fortuitous positioning - who knows) in Athens may have made him especially grateful to have Mack Brown's confidence. One of the strongest criticisms of Davis is that he simply does Mack's bidding; given his rather rocky career path prior to reunion with Brown, that's certainly not implausible.

Either way, we're not here to praise or bury Greg Davis for that which he did prior to arriving in Austin; the focus is on his tenure at Texas. For now, let's just note that his pre-Texas record is inconclusive at best, uninspiring at worst.

What's next in the Greg Davis Review?

The next post will review Texas' offense under John Mackovic specifically, and pre-Mack Brown generally.