State of the Hogs: Butch Davis

Maybe some thought Butch Davis came to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club to hype the college football playoff and that was covered, but what was on his heart was area youth sports. And, the Arkansas graduate proved it on the way out the door.

Butch Davis told about collecting an autograph from Lance Alworth and jerking a chin strap off Loyd Phillips’ helmet. It was typical stuff from someone growing up in Springdale worshiping the Arkansas Razorbacks.

There was also more than just nostalgia for his time in the area playing youth sports during his appearance Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. He mentioned team names that were legendary in youth baseball and football circles around Springdale and Fayetteville.

"Get involved in youth sports," he said. "If you can, coach or help as a volunteer. If you can't, give $25."

Then, he practiced what he preached. Davis directed his speaker's fee to be split between the Springdale Youth Center and the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club.

And, in case anyone was confused about his thoughts on ever becoming head coach at Arkansas, Davis said it was all about wrong timing.

“I would love to have coached at Arkansas,” Davis said. “Every single time it was open was not right as far as timing.”

Maybe the closest Davis ever came to becoming head coach at Arkansas and the only time he actually interviewed for an open position came in the winter of 1991. Jack Crowe, trying to rebuild one of the worst defenses in school history, flew to Dallas with permission from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to offer Davis the coordinator job and title of assistant head coach, a job eventually taken by Joe Kines.

“Something was mentioned like coach in waiting,” Davis said. “But that was not a good situation.

“When Houston (Nutt) was removed, I had just been at North Carolina 18 months and was in the middle of a $150 million campaign to upgrade facilities. It came down to loyalty, but I found out that loyalty was not a two-way street.”

Davis was probably more comfortable talking about the Arkansas-Alabama matchup this weekend or the college football playoffs. After all, that’s what he does in his current job, a college football analyst for ESPN. He spent time at Alabama during fall camp, saw the Tide last weekend against Ole Miss (where his son is a walk-on) and follows Arkansas through the eyes of old friends in town and on the coaching staff.

The Tide whipped the Hogs by identical 52-0 scores the last two years and that would suggest a big mismatch again. Not so, says Davis. He thinks the Hogs have a fighting chance.

“I do believe so,” he said. “Alabama has flaws. They were horrible on special teams last week against Ole Miss. They didn’t cover kickoffs very well.

“I don’t think the Ole Miss secondary is great, but they did a phenomenal job of covering Amari Cooper. Alabama has taken a lot of shots down the field with Cooper, but Ole Miss made Alabama run the ball.

“With the way Arkansas runs the ball, I think they have a chance to win this week.”

The keys are always the same.

“First and foremost, Arkansas can’t turn the ball over,” Davis said. “They have to play really good in special teams. They have to run the ball and that will help create some explosive plays in the passing game. They have to be careful with Cooper and not just on passing plays. (Offensive coordinator) Lane Kiffin does a good job of finding ways to get Cooper the ball. You can’t let a 3-yard play turn into 80.”

In short, Davis said this might be a time when Alabama “is vulnerable.” It was clear Davis is pulling for his alma mater. He is proud to be in the Frank Broyles coaching tree as a former player and assistant. He considered it an “honor” to be recruited by Broyles.

Davis paid tribute to Broyles and former Springdale High School coach Jarrell Williams. There was also mention of his friends on the Arkansas staff: offensive line coach Sam Pittman, linebackers coach Randy Shannon and defensive coordinator Robb Smith.

Pittman, offensive line coach at North Carolina under Davis, was called “the best” and “a complete package” at teaching both technique and recruiting.

About Shannon, Davis said, “We go back 30 years, from when he was coming out of high school. We recruited him to play at Miami and then he played for us with the Cowboys. He coached linebackers for me at Miami. Randy and Sam are two of my favorites.”

Smith was linebackers coach last year at Tampa Bay under Greg Schiano. Davis served as special assistant for Schiano, mostly sitting in on defensive meetings.

“I only know Robb from one year, but he’s smart and is a good fundamentals coach,” Davis said. “Give him good players and he’ll have good results.”

Concerning the college football playoffs, Davis sees some of the good things, but he's always worried about what would happen to the bowl system. The jury is still out on that.

Davis has SEC teams high on his list as the most likely to make the four-team playoff. If he had to pick today, he'd go with Auburn, Florida State, Michigan State and Ole Miss. On the bubble, he's got Mississippi State and Georgia.

"Michigan State has a complete team," he said. "They have a balanced offense that's very good, a great defense that allows about 60 yards a game rushing and great special teams."

Davis is a football playoff advocate, dating back to when his Miami team was left out of the national title game in 2000.

"I was adamantly against a playoff until then," he said. "Then, I became a huge proponent. But I'm a traditionalist and I had a fear that the bowl experience could go away. I would hate it if 8,000 to 10,000 (college football players) would not have a bowl game. That worries me."

Davis is still hopeful to get back in coaching. What would be his style of play?

"I'd be in a 4-3 defense," he said. "I'm a firm believer of the 4-3. I'd want lightning fast linebackers and fast defensive ends. I think in a 4-3, there are fewer issues (against passing teams) when you go to a nickel or dime. You just play.

"I was transitioning to a pro style system like what Tom Brady and Troy Aikman ran, but you have to be able to run the ball. If you can't run it, your defense can't stop the run."

The quarterback must have some running ability.

"You need someone who can extend the play," he said. "Russell Wilson is the best. He can create some magic. I think when you looked at Troy, he could, too. When something went wrong, Troy could scramble for 6 yards and not get sacked. Third-and-1 is better than third-and long."

Defensively, Davis said the key was having the speed to get the quarterback off his trigger spot.

"It's remarkable what happens if you let him stand on that spot," he said. "You can design schemes to get the safety or a cornerback to that spot. But if you can run a boot, or some other things with a mobile quarterback, you can't do that."

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