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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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Davis suspended his leading receiver for the 1996 season. Whatever the outcome of the criminal charges, to which German pleaded not guilty, he had violated team rules by provoking a fight. When German met with Davis, on June 22—after leaving jail on $10,000 bond, with an electronic bracelet on his ankle to monitor his house arrest—he wept with remorse as the coach said he had no choice but to suspend him. It did not help that German had been implicated in the limousine affair. "This is reality," Davis told him. "How you choose to deal with it is going to determine an awful lot about your future."

Nor did Burgess and Taylor escape the coach's wrath. Davis suspended the two defensive players indefinitely, not only because the police were investigating their roles in the Voce affair—each would eventually be charged with one count of burglary and one of battery, and each would plead not guilty—but also because they had shirked their responsibilities as German's teammates. Rather than accompany German to his confrontation with Voce, said Davis, they should have discouraged it.

The week was not over. On June 25 Davis indefinitely suspended Ricky Perry, a 6'7", 330-pound starting offensive lineman who five days earlier had been arrested on charges of beating up a 17-year-old date and, in a separate incident, pressing a loaded gun to the throat of another young woman. And on June 27 Davis suspended Derrick Ham, a 6'5", 242-pound reserve defensive end, after a 21-year-old female Miami student complained to police that he had beaten her twice in six days. (On Aug. 6 the Dade County State Attorney's Office said that on Aug. 21 Ham would be arraigned on seven felony charges: one count each of false imprisonment and attempted strong-arm robbery, two counts of burglary with assault and battery, and three counts of battery. Ham's attorney said he would plead not guilty.) Ham's was the fifth suspension of a player in six days, and it left Davis battered and benumbed.

"I was sitting there and beginning to question myself," Davis says. "Why are these things happening? Are my messages getting through? Marlin Barnes's murder has caused some of the acting out. But that's an explanation, not an excuse."

No one who knows Davis well is surprised by his decisive action and moral rectitude. The coach, who grew up in Arkansas and Oklahoma, is the grandson of a sheriff on one side and a Church of the Nazarene minister on the other. He was named after his father, Paul Hilton Davis, a notoriously hard-nosed but beloved high school coach in two Oklahoma towns, Grove and Bixby.

"I didn't stand for a lot of nonsense," says Paul, who coached football, basketball, baseball and track. "I always gave kids a second chance if they violated the rules, but I don't remember giving anyone a third."

Jim Beauchamp remembers the elder Davis well. Beauchamp was the finest athlete that Davis ever coached at Grove, and he recalls Davis's arrival there in 1952. "He came in like a storm," says Beauchamp, who went on to play 10 years in the major leagues and is now a coach for the Atlanta Braves. "He demanded discipline and respect. He was the first coach we had who didn't turn his head on anything. No smoking. No drinking. No staying out late. No back talk. You were caught, you paid. All I ever wanted to do was make Paul Davis proud of me."

In 1967 Davis moved on to Bixby, where the best athlete he coached was his son, Butch, a 6'4", 215-pound leaper who ran the 100-yard dash in 10.1 seconds, averaged 27.5 points a game his last two years of high school basketball and played fullback and defensive end well enough for Frank Broyles to invite him to play football at Arkansas. Butch enrolled there in 1970, hoping to go on to the NFL, but that dream ended the following year when he shattered his right knee in a spring-practice game. "I had four operations in about 20 months," he says. "I have a lot of empathy with guys who struggle psychologically coming back from injury. I know how hard it is to overcome and how devastating is the finality that you can't play anymore."

Butch Davis ultimately turned, of course, to coaching. He had done six years at high schools in Arkansas and Oklahoma when, in 1979, he became an assistant to Jimmy Johnson, with whom he would stay for 15 years: five at Oklahoma State, five at Miami and five with the Dallas Cowboys. During those stints the Hurricanes won a national championship and the Cowboys took two Super Bowls. Davis was still in Dallas in 1994, working as Barry Switzer's defensive coordinator, when Miami athletic director Paul Dee heeded the counsel of Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno and offered Davis the college job he wanted most of all. "The Number 1 place I wanted to come," Davis says.

He brought with him the upbeat style and winner's swagger he had learned during those years with Johnson: "Maintain a positive attitude at all costs," Davis says. "Don't let negative things permeate." But most of all—X's and O's aside—Davis brought to Coral Gables the world according to his father. A true believer in the virtues of a structured environment, Davis has no tolerance for renegades, no patience with those who lack discipline and self-control. He instituted a travel dress code requiring coats and ties, and he demanded that players be deferential toward waitresses and flight attendants. "Treat them like you would treat your mothers," Davis said.

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