By Tim Reynolds
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI – When Butch Davis started putting together a staff of assistant coaches for his new job at FIU a couple of months ago, he was facing a bit of a conundrum.
He needed recruiting help quickly, yet didn’t want to make hasty hires. Luckily for Davis, his boss was willing to essentially start working for him.
Davis and FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia have been joined at the hip for much of their football lives, and are again now. Davis’ first class of FIU recruits will be unveiled Wednesday, and he got plenty of help from Garcia in putting it together – just like at Miami two decades ago when they lured star after star after star to the Hurricanes.
“He is invaluable,” Davis said. “Would it have been a deal breaker had he not been here to help? I don’t know.”
He didn’t have to answer. If Garcia wasn’t at FIU, Davis almost certainly wouldn’t be there. When FIU decided to fire Ron Turner midway through last season, speculation immediately centered on Garcia – who has made splashy hires before, like Isiah Thomas as basketball coach several years ago – bringing Davis back to South Florida.
They got the deal done, and now the 65- year-old Davis is tasked with breathing life into a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2011.
“I will say this: He is working harder today than I’ve ever seen him work in his life,” Garcia said. “He’s enjoying every single minute. I’m telling you, he starts texting me at 5:30 in the morning and we’re still talking on the phone past midnight. He is seven-days-a-week, nonstop. His staff works so hard. But the head coach outworks everybody.”
Garcia and Davis first teamed up at Miami; Garcia was heavily involved in recruiting when Davis arrived, and the pair clicked quickly. When Davis left the Hurricanes for the Cleveland Browns, Garcia came along with him. They’ve remained close since, and when FIU hired Turner in 2013, Davis was among the few advisers that Garcia relied upon during that process.
“We developed a relationship,” Davis said. “He was passionate. He was relentless. He made sure we didn’t waste any time on kids who had no chance of getting into school.”
When Davis needed recruiting help in this job, Garcia actually had to take the NCAA test that would permit him to recruit off-campus. Now that Davis has a full staff, Garcia’s role has been limited to on-campus visits.
“We both have the same vision for players,” Garcia said. “Coach and I, we’ve been at this for over two decades. We see the same things. Very seldom – very, very seldom -do I bring him a player that he doesn’t want”
The expectation around FIU is that the class that will be announced on Wednesday will plug several holes right away. It wouldn’t be the first time Davis authored a turnaround.
Davis went 51-20 at Miami from 1995 to 2000, taking over a program decimated by sanctions and scholarship losses and putting it in position to win the 2001 national title. By then, Davis was with the Browns – yes, he does regret leaving Miami, but he remains the last coach to take Cleveland to the NFL playoffs.
He was coaching North Carolina from 2007 through 2010, then got fired in 2011 as part of the fallout of an NCAA investigation in which he was never implicated. Davis most recently was an analyst for ESPN but always hoped for a chance to coach again.
To him, it seems right that he and Garcia are together for this chapter.
“He’s always thought outside the box,” Davis said. “If you’re going to have an athletic director, you need somebody who’s constantly looking for advantages and ideas, and I love that. I loved it then, I loved it at Cleveland and I love it here.”