The Florida International University football program has struggled since its inception in 2002. The Panthers have had just two winning seasons in that span. FIU was in desperate need of a spark after they fired head coach Ron Turner after three losing seasons. So the Panthers decided to bring in a high-profile name for their next coach: Butch Davis.
Davis was the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys team that won Super Bowl XXVIII. He is best known, however, for his stint as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1995–2000. Davis inherited the job while Miami was dealing with sanctions from the NCAA for rule violations. Despite losing multiple scholarships, Davis led the Hurricanes to a 51-20 record. Like he did at Miami, Davis will be responsible for rebuilding the FIU program.
“I think one is the fact that the president, Mark Rosenberg, has a great reputation and his passion for this school was just absolutely off the chart," says Davis when discussing why he took the FIU job. "He loves the school, he really wants an outstanding football program. I think its location and access to high school athletes made it very attractive, and it has a great reputation from an academic standpoint.”
Davis is off to a fast start — his first recruiting class includes seven players who earned at least a three-star rating. The group is also notable for its versatility, a trait Davis focused on when he looked for potential Panthers.
"We wanted to try to build some depth for not only this coming season, but certainly in the future with the defensive line and the offensive line," Davis says. "We wanted to look for guys that had speed, some guys that could really maybe change the complexion of a ballgame. We found some good running backs and some guys that play wide receiver and the defensive backs that we think are going to really enhance the speed of the entire team. I love the character and the work ethic of them, they're really good kids.”
In terms of recruiting, Florida is one of the most competitive states in the country. Along with having some of the best prep players, the state also boasts some of the best college programs. Davis has to compete with Mark Richt, Jimbo Fisher, Charlie Strong, and Lane Kiffin for local talent. And that's not to mention that Davis has a history as a top-notch recruiter himself.
“There is always going to be a lot of really good coaches recruiting in this area, so you're going to have competition for all the good players," Davis says. "You just have to find unique things that really attract the kids that we're going to try to recruit and why should they come to FIU.”
Davis has orchestrated two turnarounds at Miami and North Carolina, meaning he knows the keys to improving a program. Davis said that it starts with the people you put around the players and the locker room culture that creates.
Certainly, being back in Florida is an advantage for Davis as he tries to complete yet another rebuild. Given his track record, there’s no reason to think he can’t guide FIU to its first winning season since 2011. It will be a challenge for Davis, but if he can pull it off, it might just be his best coaching job yet.
(Photo credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)