GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A recurring theme shouts out the way Tim Davis does at practice when Davis is the subject people are talking about.
The first-year Gators offensive line coach is an imposing figure. He stands 6-foot-7 and during his playing days Davis usually checked in a little north or south of 300 pounds.
Davis lives life big, too. If you are within earshot, you can usually hear him living.
“He’s not a backseat guy,’’ said Pete Davis, Tim’s older brother and position coach in the late 1970s at Chabot Junior College in Hayward, Calif. “He is not going to wait to see how things go. We’ll have a family function and everyone knows where Tim is.”
A call to Davis’ former colleague at Wisconsin, Pittsburgh offensive line coach Jim Hueber, reveals a similar description of the 54-year-old Davis. Hueber is asked what stood out about Davis – other than his height, of course — during their time together on Barry Alvarez’s staff at Wisconsin.
“You mean besides the fact he is crazy,’’ Hueber quipped.
Hueber has known Davis since they went to dinner one night at the Copper Bowl in 1996. Davis was at Utah and Hueber at Wisconsin. Soon Davis joined Hueber with the Badgers and the two colleagues developed a friendship that remains strong today.
Their wives are close friends. Their kids grew up together. They both coach the offensive line, which means in-depth conversations about hand technique, footwork and what makes an ideal left tackle when they get together.
And while Davis may appear to outsiders as a roaring grizzly bear with a whistle around his neck, Hueber knows the man and the coach better than most. Davis has his own unique style, no doubt, but he can coach.
“That’s Tim’s personality,’’ Hueber said. “That’s what they are going to get on the field. And away from football his personality is that way. But the one defining thing with Tim is that there are no shortcuts. He’s not going to take the easy way and he’s not going to allow his players to.
“The one thing that he doesn’t lose in the bluster is his attention to detail.”
Gators coach Will Muschamp hired Davis to replace Frank Verducci in February. Davis’ new players quickly discovered their new coach is as passionate about life and football more than most.
As senior guard Jon Halapio recently walked across campus with some classmates, he heard someone yelling at the top of their lungs at him. At first Halapio didn’t see who it was. Soon, he recognized the voice booming from across the street.
It was Davis. Halapio told his classmates that was his new coach, not some overzealous fan.
“He’s a funny dude,’’ Halapio said. “His level of intensity is out the roof. He can’t even sit in his own seat in the meeting room.”
Sixth-year senior James Wilson is on his third offensive line coach at UF. What does he think of Davis so far?
“He’s crazy,’’ Wilson said. “I love him. His excitement about the game is awesome.”
For good measure, let’s see what sophomore offensive lineman Chaz Green has to say about Davis, a former left tackle who after playing for his brother in junior college, transferred to Utah and lettered for the Utes from 1978-80. Is Davis really as high-energy as Muschamp and others say he is?
“He is real up-tempo,’’ Green said. “We all like him a lot. He gets us going. He’s a fun guy.”
Davis began his coaching career at his alma mater as a student assistant in 1981. He dabbled at trying to play professionally in the CFL and USFL, but once he decided a pro career wasn’t in his future, Davis entered coaching full-time as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin in 1983.
Over the past 30 years Davis has carved out a career that has taken him all over the country, including a season in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2005. It was while with the Dolphins that Davis met Muschamp and the two struck up a friendship based on a shared vision.
While Davis has coached in the NFL, Big Ten (Wisconsin, Minnesota) and Pac-12 (USC, Utah, Arizona), other than serving as Alabama’s director of player personnel in 2008, he has never coached in the SEC. That goal – and Muschamp – was enough to lure him away from his second stint at his alma mater.
His reputation was well-known before the Gators’ offensive line had ever witnessed him knocking chairs over in the meeting room.
“He is a high-energy guy who knows how to motivate his players,’’ Muschamp said.
Davis is what they call a players’ coach. Florida’s linemen get a glimpse of that every time they visit Davis’ office inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
On the walls are large glossy framed photos of Gators. They all play the same position: offensive line.
“I wanted our guys to understand if you’re playing the O-line, we are going to put up your picture,’’ he said. “I’m not going to put up pictures of some painter.”
Davis grew up in a large military family. Both of his parents were in the Marines when they met. His father, Robert, served 30 years and retired as a sergeant major. Davis planned to take the same route after high school.
He and a best friend signed up to join the Marines when they turned 18 but his father had a different plan for Davis, one of seven siblings – four of whom played offensive line in high school.
“I was all set. We went down there to the recruiting depot, signed the thing you could sign as an 18-year-old,’’ Davis said. “I came home and I was all fired up. My dad said, ‘The recruiting depot just called. You’re not going. You are going to get your education.’ ”
Pretty soon Davis – like his brothers Duke and Kevin at different times – was playing for Pete at Chabot. His path toward a coaching career was on its way.
Pete remembers Tim playing then exactly the way he coaches today.
“Tim was good. He was not an all-world player but he was really good,’’ Pete said. “I can picture Tim at 18, 19, 20 years old when he was playing for me, and he always had a forward lean – first guy up, first guy in the mix. There was no backing up for Tim. He’s always leaning forward and looking for it.”
Davis shares the same philosophy as Muschamp when it comes to the offensive line. He wants physical players at the point of attack setting the tone for a pro-style offense anchored around a downhill running game.
They have to be physical. They have to be tough. Most of all, they have to be loyal to each other.
One of Davis’ earliest influences as a coach was Ron McBride, his position coach when he played at Utah. Davis later followed McBride to Wisconsin during McBride’s time as an assistant with the Badgers. When McBride replaced Jim Fassel as Utah’s head coach in 1990, he hired Davis to coach the offensive line.
It was then that Davis began to blossom as a coach, developing a reputation as a coach who maintains a great rapport with his players. Davis credits McBride, whom former Gators coach Urban Meyer replaced at Utah in 2003, with having the greatest influence on his career in that regard.
“You talk about a players’ coach. He really cared about them,’’ Davis said. “It was all about the players and developing them. I learned a ton from him. That is so important to everything we do.”
One of first things Davis did after arriving at UF is to tell Muschamp and strength-and-conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman how important he thinks it is that the offensive linemen work out together in the weight room.
He then started putting those photos up in his office. Davis is loud and proud when it comes to the players he coaches up front, the ones doing so much of the heavy lifting.
“They don’t get enough respect. They are easy to blame and last to be recognized,’’ he said. “We know that. We get all that. It comes with the job, but in our room, we are going to respect one another.”
He uses a favorite acronym to constantly remind them. It’s one he learned from his dad’s time in the Marines: AOI
Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.
“Your whole body of work has to be on that and you have to have some energy to do that,’’ Davis said.
Davis has the energy. Ask anyone who knows him.
“He demands high energy from his guys,’’ Hueber said. “He is going to want to make sure those guys are giving him back what he is teaching them.”