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.
August 18, 1996
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."
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
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. The players
learned soon enough that they were all equal hands sailing a
tight ship. Davis had inherited a program in which players who
cut class were punished by being made to run extra laps. "That
wasn't changing their behavior," he says. "They run laps
anyway." So he began to keep the truants in civilian clothes on
Saturday afternoons, taking from them what they valued most.
"Class attendance went up," Davis says.
When safety Tremain Mack was a few minutes late for the team bus
to catch a plane for a game against Boston College last
November, Davis's secretary called him at the airport to ask if
he would hold the charter. Or did he want the young man put on a
later flight? "No," Davis answered to both questions. "He missed
the bus. He stays home."
K.C. Jones, the best offensive lineman on the team, had started
28 consecutive games and was shooting for the Miami record of 48
straight when he arrived five minutes late to a team meeting in
October. On the morning of the Hurricanes' next game, against
Rutgers, Davis called Jones in to tell him he would be benched
for the game's opening series.
"I'm sorry," Jones pleaded. "I had a flat tire."
"This is the way we run the program," Davis said. "You were
late. I've got to do what I've got to do."
That was "one of the most horrible days of my life," says Jones,
who returns for his senior season this fall. "But Coach has a
job to do. I totally agree with it. The players all like it.
They all respect it. We know we walk a fine line with him."
Jones has not been late to another team meeting.
Nothing more vividly conveyed Davis's attitude than the way he
handled the incident involving German, Burgess and Taylor. "I
attribute two Super Bowls and one national championship to the
strength of the character of the football teams," Davis said,
preaching his favorite gospel on the day he announced the
suspensions. "I'm not going to dance around the issue. It's
gonna be this way or the highway."
For years, as the Miami football program orbited beyond the pull
of the laws that govern the university community, the Hurricanes
had been a source of embarrassment to the faculty. Some
professors are encouraged by what Davis has done. "In the past
it was win, win, win at whatever the cost," says Michael K.
Phang, a professor at the College of Engineering and its faculty
representative to the athletic department. "Not anymore. I am
comfortable with this coach."
But can the Hurricanes continue to win, win, win now that
they're on Davis's short leash? "We did it right last year, and
we won," says Coley, the linebacker. And if some coveted
recruits have been put off by Miami's lawless image, as has been
reported, Davis now stands a better chance of persuading them to
come to Coral Gables. This year, with only 12 scholarships to
offer, Davis has lured some strong defensive linemen, including
Damione Lewis of Sulphur Springs, Texas, a 6'4", 250-pound
tackle rated the best in the country.
And Davis, despite the pressures inherent in building a winning
team within the NCAA's rules, feels at home at Miami. Last
summer, before he had coached his first game with the
Hurricanes, someone asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
Davis thought about that a long time. "That he did it with
class," he finally said.
So far, so good.