Wearing a gold and blue tie, new Florida International University head football coach Butch Davis stood in front of gathered media Tuesday afternoon and laid out his plan to make them relevant in the college football conversation.
“I can’t visualize a better opportunity to get back into coaching than at FIU,” said the 64-year-old Davis, who’s been out of coaching since being fired by North Carolina in 2011.
“I want to thank [FIU athletic director] Pete Garcia…we’ve had a relationship for over 20 years and I am grateful for his role in bringing me here. I love this opportunity and I am grateful to be here and be the head coach of FIU.
“There are no limits to the ceiling here,” Davis added. “We want to be known as a football program with integrity and character. I want the kids to leave here prepared for everything that they are going to face.”
Davis is legitimately the highest-profile football coach the Golden Panthers have ever had. He’s most recognized for his time serving as a coordinator and assistant to Super Bowl champion and college national championship coach Jimmy Johnson as well as his time leading the Miami Hurricanes – being credited as the architect of UM’s 2001 National Championship team.
Ron Turner, who was fired in September and whom Davis is replacing, spent time in the NFL as a coordinator and position coach, as well as a seven-year stint as the Illinois’ head coach but Turner’s resume, pales in comparison to Davis’.
So what was it that drew Davis to Southwest Miami?
“There’s unbelievable passion,” Davis admitted during his introductory speech. “I spent time talking to people and it was hard not to get excited about FIU. You can feel their energy and it was contagious…it made me want to be a part of it.
“There are 200,000 FIU alumni in Miami-Dade and Broward County and we have to connect those people. We have to get the alumni and the current undergraduate students excited about Golden Panther football.
“I told Pete, ‘We have to double-deck this stadium because it’s not going to be big enough,’” Davis said.
Attendance has been a problem for FIU this season; so much so that the stadium had even began offering incentives to students who attended home games. The Golden Panthers have only won one home game this season (a 33-31 win over in-state rival FAU) and will play its home finale against Marshall Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Davis said he addressed the team shortly before his press conference and encouraged them to finish the season strong.
“I spoke to the team, they’re hungry. They want to be a part of something special.
“I challenged them, I said, ‘I want you to win these next two games. I want us to go into the offseason on a two-game winning streak,’” Davis said. “I also know final exams are coming up, so I told them to take care of business in the classroom too.”
The best way to increase game attendance and galvanize the fan base would be to produce wins on the field.
Looking at their 3-7 record, one would think FIU’s roster is devoid talent. However, that claim is vastly far-fetched given that the program sits in one of the deepest high school football talent pools in the country – South Florida.
And Davis knows that he’s going to have to tap into the area high schools in order to bring in the best the area has to offer.
“Driving on I-95, whip off any road here and there is a kid that runs 4.5…doesn’t matter which high school you go to,” Davis said. “We have to keep local kids here and make them excited to be a part of FIU. And we’re going to build a staff that they’re going to love playing for.
“I have to spend time reconnecting with high school coaches across the state and we need to put a fence around South Florida.”
Building a coaching staff is the next thing that Davis must do. He said that he plans on sitting down with the current coaches – including interim head coach Ron Cooper – before making any moves.
Davis did give some requisites for anyone that will serve as an assistant on his staff though.
“I’m looking for guys that are passionate, loyal and are in it for the kids,” Davis said. “I want to have guys that other programs around the country want to steal.
“I do it for the kids. If you don’t coach for the kids, then you shouldn’t do it at all.”
Still, the task ahead of Davis is a daunting one. Remember, FIU has only been a Division-I football program for 12 years. The Golden Panthers have appeared in just two bowl games in that time and they will always be cast in the role of “little brother” to the University of Miami.
Davis said he wants to debunk all of that though.
“If they can, why not us?” Davis asked rhetorically during his speech – pointing at “mid-major”, non-traditional football powers like Houston, that have found national success and played in major bowl games. “The school is going to give us the resources to succeed.
“For 37 years, I’ve coached because I love the players,” Davis said. “I’m going to be there for them. I’m going to help them grow and mature. I’m looking forward to filling that stadium up and looking forward to uniting the FIU community and making FIU respected around the country.”