The point involved Anthony Hopkins and a grizzly bear. Standing in a suit adorned with his new employer’s colors, Butch Davis paralleled Florida International’s climb from the depths to the college football with Hopkins’s Alaskan wilderness escape from a deadly grizzly bear. “(Hopkins) made the statement, ‘If one man can, so can another,'” Davis said.
“If one school can, why not us?” he continued. “If Northern Illinois, if UCF, if Houston, if Boise, if this year’s version of Western (Michigan), if they can get in a January 1 bowl game, why not us? Why not us? They’re going to give us the resources, we’re going to hire the staff.”
Davis built one of college football’s most terrifying superpowers of its era just nine miles from his new home, but that Miami juggernaut won its title in 2001. Many of the players Davis will recruit for Florida International weren’t even born in 2001. That’s part of the reason Davis says he’ll build a staff that will become the envy of college football.
“I’m looking for guys that are passionate, I’m looking for guys that are loyal, guys that are hard-working. They’ve got to have the same beliefs,” Davis said. “They’ve got to love the kids like I do. They’ve got to want to see those kids graduate…. I want guys here that, people across this country, they want to steal. They want them to come and be their coordinator, their head coach because they respect how well they coach, how well they recruit, they’re good fathers, they’re good mentors, they’re respectable in the community. Those are the things that I’m looking for.”
A former Miami, Cleveland Browns and North Carolina head coach, Davis has spent the past six years on football’s periphery. Davis spent a couple years as an adviser for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and passed the past few years as an analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM Radio. Davis enjoyed the jobs, he said, but compared the trips he’d take interviewing coaches and players to a chocoholic touring the Hershey and Nestle factories but never getting to taste the product. He missed the players, and he wanted a chocolate factory of his own to run.
“The motivation to take this job had to do with kids. I love kids. I love coaching,” Davis said. “I love the competition aspect. I love being in the locker room and the weight room. I love visiting with their parents, sitting in my office and talking about five years from now, the degree that they have. That’s why you coach. If you don’t coach for the kids, you shouldn’t coach at all.”
Of course, there is something about this job that Davis sees, and it’s the same thing every coach sees when they land at Miami International Airport. “All I know is the last time I came here in in 1984,” Davis said, “we could pull off any road on I-95 and I swear there’s somebody in high school there that runs a 4.5.”
There’s a reason Davis was standing in Miami and not huddled in a Bristol studio preparing to analyze some other coaches’ teams. Aside from a 2-year run in 2010-11, Florida International hasn’t posted a winning season since launching its program in 2002. You might say the Panthers are stuck in the college football version of the Alaskan wilderness right now, running for their lives.
Except instead of Anthony Hopkins, the guy that grizzly bear is chasing runs a 4.5.