From Play-Action to Legal Action: Rick Davis

Former Alabama safety Ricky Davis recalls his career at Alabama and his decades representing players and coaches in the legal realm
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Bobby Bowden. Orel Hershiser. John Franco. Bill Clark. Sylvester Croom. All are former athletes and/or coaches, and all have at least one other thing in common:

They have all been clients of former Alabama safety Rick Davis.

Davis was born in 1953 in Bessemer, Ala., a city just west of Birmingham. Starting from the fifth grade onwards, Davis developed a love of football, primarily the quarterback position.

Growing up in Bessemer, home of the now-famous restaurant The Bright Star that was frequented by University of Alabama football coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, Davis leaned towards playing for the Crimson Tide once it was becoming time to put his playing days at Jess Lanier High School behind him.

However, Alabama had some competition: in-state archrival Auburn.

“Auburn recruited me harder than anybody else,” Davis said. “But if you grew up in Alabama every Sunday afternoon at four o’clock during the fall was coach Bryant’s show. Four o’clock was coach Bryant and five o’clock was coach [Ralph ‘Shug’] Jordan, and I’d be in front of the TV every Sunday and watch coach Bryant’s show. I just loved coach Bryant.”

Despite his love of watching Bryant on his living room television, Davis was torn between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers. While Jordan and Auburn were recruiting him as a quarterback, Alabama and offensive backfield coach John David Crow never specifically mentioned that they had him in mind for the position.

“Somebody in Bessemer I think got word to Tuscaloosa that I was considering going to Auburn,” Davis said. “I wanted to play quarterback and Pat Sullivan was a junior that year so my freshman year would’ve been where freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity team so going to Auburn I would have been a freshman and Sullivan would have been a senior and that was kind of what their sales pitch was. Coach Bryant didn’t say ‘We’re recruiting you as a quarterback’ or ‘We’re recruiting you as a defensive back.’ He just said ‘We’ll put you where we think you’ll help the team the most.’”

Courtesy of the Paul Bryant Musem

Heading into signing day in December of 1970, Davis was still pondering his decision when he got a phone call.

“Two weeks before the Saturday of signing day I’m getting dressed to go to school and my mom knocks on the bedroom door — it’s about seven o’clock — and says ‘Ricky! Ricky! Coach Bryant’s on the phone,’” Davis recalled. “It was seven o’clock so I thought ‘Yeah sure.’ He had never called me. John David Crow was the coach and he had been in charge of recruiting and coach Bryant did all the business and stuff but he had never called.

“I thought it was someone from my high school — one of my buddies just calling me to give me a hard time. Well I pick up the phone and it’s obvious. The first words that he said was ‘This is coach Bryant.’ He didn’t have a whole lot to say. He just said ‘Hey I just wanted to touch base with you and like to let you know we would like for you to come down here and if you want to be part of something special, come on down here. If you don’t best of luck to you and you can go somewhere else.’ That was his sales pitch.”

Bryant’s sales pitch was all that Davis needed, and the young quarterback soon found himself moving to Tuscaloosa to join Alabama.

However, his hopes of playing his favorite position soon faded on his first day at practice.

“I got down there and I ended up on defense and it was like ‘Well shoot,’” Davis laughed. “I had dreamed of being the next Joe Namath but that didn’t work out.”

After four-consecutive SEC championships and a 1973 coach’s poll national title later while playing at the safety position, Davis graduated with a degree in marketing and set out on his next pursuit: the NFL. Davis was drafted in the eighth round by the Cincinnati Bengals, and soon afterwards moved to Ohio.

However, even during his days in professional football, Davis felt law — more specifically his former Alabama teammate Robert Fraley — calling his name.

“We had talked about us going to law school,” Davis said. “Law school was just one of those things where I didn’t know anyone that was a lawyer in Bessemer, but Fraley and I talked about it and it sounded good. You know, like Perry Mason the TV show.”

Davis accepts the Paul W. Bryant Alumni-Athlete Award on behalf of Croom in 2015

After four seasons in the NFL with the Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two years with the Kansas City Chiefs, Davis decided to hang up his cleats and enter the legal world.

“While I played in the NFL Robert would continue to call me and say ‘When you’re finished playing go to school’ and he did,” Davis said. “When he finished playing he went to law school at Alabama and we stayed in touch. I had taken the LSAT the summer before I went to camp — the last camp I went to Kansas City — just to think about it.”

When the NFL season ended in December of 1978, Davis began to attend Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham the following January.

When graduation approached, Davis decided to join Fraley and start a practice down in Orlando, Fla. The two had a rough go of it at first, but soon landed their first major client.

“I graduated from law school in December of ’82, loaded up the car and a U-Haul trailer and drove down to Orlando and we worked out of Robert’s house for a little while until we got our office space built out,” Davis said. “Coach Bryant retired after the ’82 season and coach [Ray] Perkins came in as the head coach. Robert and I didn’t know Ray but we knew we wanted to do some sports stuff.”

Despite just starting out in the field of law, both Davis and Fraley were able to convince Perkins that he would receive better representation by working with two former Crimson Tide athletes.

“Ray had a lawyer in California that was representing him so we got an audience with Ray and convinced him that he’d be better served with two former Alabama players representing him than some California lawyer even though we had no idea how to do anything,” Davis laughed. “It was just one of things where we were like ‘We can figure this out, this isn’t brain surgery.’”

Davis and Fraley soon began signing additional professional athletes and coaches at both the college and pro level. It was also while in Orlando that Davis would meet his wife, Robin.

While serving on the board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes down in Florida, fellow member Doug Scott set up Davis on a blind date. Davis wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, though.

“It took me about a year to go out with her,” Davis recalled. “I told him ‘Doug, I’m 30 years old. I don’t need a blind date buddy thank you very much.’”

Soon Davis caved and went on a date with Robin. Robin worked at Disney World in Orlando, where she was a cast member who portrayed Snow White. The two hit it off and were soon married.

“Guys give me a hard time,” Davis chuckled. “They say I married Snow White and she got one of the seven dwarfs.”

After four years in Orlando, Rick and Robin Davis moved back to Birmingham to continue his practice representing athletes and coaches. In recent years, Davis continues to represent coaches but no longer accepts athletes as clients.

“I still do some work in the business,” Davis said. “No players. I got out of the player business. I didn’t like the direction that was taking with a lot of the stuff that’s going on in getting players. It’s just kind of a dirty business and I didn’t want to go down that road.”

Davis currently works at the firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt. Still representing coaches, Davis talked about the changing times in college athletics, particularly on the economic side of things.

Courtesy of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt

“Coaches having representatives has gotten from where no one used to do it,” Davis said. “Coach Bobby Bowden is/was a client of ours for years and you know he was the first coach to make a million dollars. That was back in the ‘90s when that happened and now you’ve got coordinators making two-and-a-half million dollars. That’s more than the most successful head coaches were making.”

Davis and his wife still live in Birmingham and they couple have two daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine. Elizabeth attended the University of Alabama on the Paul W. ‘Bear’ Bryant Scholarship, while Katherine attended New York University.