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William Nack
August 19, 1996
Coach Butch Davis aims to save Miami football no matter how many players he has to suspend
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August 19, 1996

Though Love

Coach Butch Davis aims to save Miami football no matter how many players he has to suspend

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Butch Davis was on vacation back on June 21, during the only two-week break his frantic schedule would allow, when the kind of trouble he had been fearing most—the kind he had avoided since becoming coach of the scandal-tainted Miami football program—found him where he least expected it. It blindsided him just after he arrived at his in-laws' house in Tulsa. The telephone rang, and Davis heard the voice of Pete Garcia, his director of football operations, intoning grimly from back home: "Coach, we have a problem."

Taking that snap, Davis's mind dropped back two months, to April 13, when one of the most popular leaders on the Miami football team, junior linebacker Marlin Barnes, was found beaten to death in his campus apartment along with a female friend from his high school days, Timwanika Lumpkins. So Davis thought when he heard Garcia's voice: Did another kid die?

"There's been an altercation," Garcia continued. "Jammi German has been arrested, he's in jail, and there might have been a couple of other players involved." German, an All-Big East wide receiver as a junior, was a player whom Davis was counting on to keep the team alive this fall. "One of the two or three best players on the team," Davis says. Feeling at once "angry and disappointed, frustrated and sad," Davis cut short his vacation, gathered up his wife, Tammy, and their three-year-old son, Drew, and caught the next plane for Miami.

For 17 months, since the day he was hired from the Dallas Cowboys to lead Miami's football program out of the brambles of its history, Davis had been exhorting his players to make sane choices and to avoid even the scent of trouble. When the coach arrived, the team was facing certain NCAA probation. With financial-aid and drug-testing scandals, with boosters run amok and players having been arrested over the past decade on charges ranging from arson and assault to burglary and battery, Miami football was perceived as a program on the brink—a buzzing honeycomb of permissive coaches, of predatory agents on the make and of renegade athletes on the muscle and on the take.

No wonder that, by the end of his first season last fall, Davis felt a sense of sweet relief. After a horrendous 1-3 start, the Hurricanes had knuckled down and gone 7-0 the rest of the way. "Coach made practice so hard, the games were easy," says senior linebacker Tony Coley, explaining the turnaround. "We had a drill against a running play, and he had us do it six times. He kept telling us, 'I want this full speed! Take his ass to the ground!' He got us to watch more film, and guys started coming in on their own and doing extra stuff. He showed us what hard work is really like."

There were no embarrassing public incidents, on or off the field. Class attendance by football players climbed. Grade point averages rose "close to a point," says Neil Brooks, the assistant athletic director for academics. And on Dec. 1, when the NCAA finally slapped its long-awaited sanctions on Miami football—a three-year probation, that included a one-year ban from postseason bowls and the loss of 24 football scholarships over the next two years—the 44-year-old Davis found solace in viewing the punishment as an act of cleansing and closure: the end of the old era and the start of the new. "It was the period and the exclamation point," Davis says. "Now we could go forward."

By mid-June only two potential problems still flickered on the screen. First, the state of Florida, which licenses all agents, was still investigating the so-called "limousine caper," in which an agent allegedly paid for a two-day limo rental last winter for German and two teammates, wide receiver Yatil Green and running back Danyell Ferguson. Second, crisis-intervention counselors were warning Davis and his assistants that they could expect some football players, in their grief over the death of Barnes, to act out their anger and confusion with physical violence. But by the time Davis reached Tulsa, only 30% of his football team remained on campus for the summer break. Davis figured he could deal with the issue of grief when all the players returned for August drills. Then Garcia called.

What Davis did next had not been done in Miami football since it rose to power in the early 1980s—since the Hurricanes won their first national title, in 1983, under Howard Schnellenberger, and piled on three more under Jimmy Johnson (1987) and Dennis Erickson (1989 and 1991). Erickson had lost his grip on the program, with the inmates often running the asylum, and Davis had been hired to reassert institutional control. On June 21, when he returned to Miami from Tulsa, Davis left no doubt that a new sheriff was in town.

He interviewed witnesses and police officers and learned that German and at least six accomplices, including teammates Jeffrey Taylor and James Burgess, both starting linebackers, had marched into the campus apartment of the former captain of Miami's track team, Maxwell Voce, to confront Voce about rumors that he had been telling people German was gay. Voce, according to the police report, claimed that German entered his apartment "without permission" and assaulted him and that Taylor, Burgess and several others then struck him repeatedly. (German's lawyer, Joe Rosenbaum, acknowledges that his client punched Voce in the face but says the blow was struck "in self-defense.") Voce suffered a cut nose and bruises on the nose and left cheek. The police arrested German on charges of burglary (unlawful entry) and simple battery.

Davis did not bother to go to jail to get German's side of the story. The coach's sources, who included Taylor and Burgess, had told him that German had provoked the confrontation with Voce and struck the first blow. "I felt it was important to make a statement," Davis says. "Something needed to be done immediately."

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