He has been in "exile'' for almost six years, staying in touch with college football through the prism of a television commentator/analyst.
But deep down Butch Davis is - and always has been - a pure football coach. You can tell instantly with some coaches. Bob Davie was like that after his stint at Notre Dame ended. He went from coaching to the television broadcast booth and he was good at it. But when he looked down on the field, his words said one thing, but his heart said something else.
When the New Mexico job opened five years ago, Davie jumped at the chance. He went through the process of building and fixing things.
Last season, the Lobos broke through and won 7 games and received a bowl bid. They are again bowl eligible this season.
On Tuesday, back in Miami, but 16 years and lots of memories away from his days when he was coaching a University of Miami team that would win 11 games and was a year away from playing for the national championship, Davis, the kid from Oklahoma, was back in South Florida.
It wasn't the U--but it was FIU, Florida International University, a Conference USA school sitting quietly in North Miami, filled with a mixture of dreams and disappointments regarding its football program.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The State of Florida is football rich in talent and ambition. For years, it was the Big 3, Florida, Florida State and Miami. All had their moments in the sun.
Then Miami was hit with probation issues and the coaches--including Davis who jumped to the NFL and the Cleveland Browns after his 11-1 season--rotated through the system.
The power shifted north to Florida and Urban Meyer and west to FSU where Bobby Bowden, and later Jimbo Fisher, were winning games and championships.
And then came another surge in the past 10 years. UCF--Central Florida and USF--South Florida--stepped into the spotlight with programs offering promise.
In the Miami area, FIU and Florida Atlantic, in Boca Raton, tried to fill the gap that Miami's decline had created. It was still small time stuff compared to the aura of the U, of course.
At Florida Atlantic, Howard Schnellenberger, the man behind the creation of the U mystique at Miami, spent 10 years building FAU into a legitimate program in Conference USA. But since his retirement in 2011, FAU has dropped off the screen.
FIU has also been a bottom feeder-- also in Conference USA-- under former Illinois coach Ron Turner, who could never quite climb the hill to respectability, although there were signs of improvement--1-11, -4-8, 5-7.
When the Panthers stumbled out of the gate to an 0-4 start this season, Turner was fired in Sept. by FIU athletic director Pete Garcia.
Garcia, who had worked previously for the Cleveland Browns and at the U, had a plan. The connection was obvious.
So it all came to pass on Tuesday at a press conference which was filled with sunshine and joy and hope and excitement.
Davis went from the Browns back to college at North Carolina. But he was taken down by an academic fraud issue which has still to be completely resolved..
On Tuesday, Davis looked and sounded like a man far younger than his 65 years--he will be 65 on Thursday.
Davis can win at FIU, the way he won at Miami, the way Schnellenberger won at FAU. The talent pool in South Florida, in Florida is deeper than the number of Florida schools searching for recruits. He has a couple of Super Bowl rings--courtesy of his tenure as a member of Jimmy Johnson's staff with the Dallas Cowboys.
He knows how to build, he knows how to coach. He knows what life is like at the next level for kids coming to FIU with big ambitions.
The ceiling is lower because FIU is not a Power 5 conference school. But the bar is also very low--FIU is 3-7 with two remaining games against Marshall and Old Dominion, likely to leave them at 3-9.
But in the next few weeks, Davis and his new staff will put together a plan of attack that could turn the Panthers into predators. It won't be easy and it might not be quick, but Davis will be doing it and enjoying himself.
"I've been coaching 37 years,'' said Davis in emotional press conference on Tuesday, which he treated like a pre-game speech, telling stories about his past and talking about what he hopes to do in the future.
He said he talked to the present team and told them he wanted them to be on a 2-game winning streak going into next season.
Then he talked about the immediate task of making FIU better.""We're going to put the eye black on and get to work,'' said Davis, who will be building and selling and, most importantly, coaching--again.[/membership]