Jim Davie was a scary, scary man. I mean that in the best way possible.
He was a football coach and part of the job of a football coach is to be scary. Davie got that part right. And every other part, too.
Davie, who died Friday morning in Manhattan at the age of 73, could motivate a team into fever pitch faster than any coach I’ve seen. He was a big man with a big voice and every word that came out of his mouth on the football field or locker room had the force of a jet airplane.
Davie coached the finest high school football team I covered, when he led the 1977 Southeast Golden Buffaloes to an 11-0 record and a second straight Class 5A championship after second-place finishes in 1974 and 1975. In Davie’s five seasons, Southeast was 47-6, including 41-3 in his last three years before he joined Jim Dickey’s staff at Kansas State.
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Southeast has had 25 players named to The Eagle’s Top 11 team in its history. Ten played for Davie: Lacy Guice, Bryan Hanning, Rob Houchin, Kevin Clinton, Doug Hoppock, Kerry Benton, John McCroskey, Floyd Smith, Steve Hobus and Tracy Levy.
None of those guys has probably completely calmed down from the fiery motivational speeches Davie was famous for.
Davie, though, knew when to turn down the heat. He was a compassionate and warm man and the kind of coach former players continue to tell stories about decades later.
Davie, a native of Pennsylvania, attended Southwestern College in Winfield, where he met Dennis Cavalier. They would coach together at Mulvane, Derby and Southeast. It was Cavalier who followed Davie as Southeast’s coach and won two more state championships with another second-place finish.
During the eight-year run of Davie and Cavalier, Southeast was 80-9, won four state championships and finished second three times. It was a dynasty like few others.
But Davie’s coaching career stalled at Kansas State, where Dickey was unable to gain traction after some early promise. Davie left coaching to enter the insurance business.
I got to know Davie when I was a high school student at Derby. Even though I didn’t play football, we connected and he developed an interest in me. Davie was the type to develop an interest in everyone, really.
He knew about my love for sports and thought I might do well in journalism, so he encouraged me to sign up for a class as a sophomore. I learned then that you didn’t tell Jim Davie no, so I got into a beginning class and discovered that I liked to write.
Later, Davie helped me get a job at local newspaper, the Daily Reporter, before he left Derby for Southeast after my senior year in 1973.
After I was hired by the Eagle, I covered Davie’s Southeast teams from 1975-77 and always understood the irony. He was such a huge influence on my life and here I was writing about his teams and depending on his postgame insights for my stories. It wasn’t easy for either of us to adjust to our coach/reporter relationship and there were times he didn’t like what I had written.
I specifically remember a Saturday morning – a very early Saturday morning – when Davie called me at home to question something I had written. The ringing of the phone woke me up and there was no caller ID to help me prepare for the blast furnace of emotion that was to come through my receiver.
Davie talked and I listened. Until I finally talked … and Davie kept talking, drowning me out.
We eventually came to an understanding that morning that while I respected and admired him greatly as a coach, and liked him immensely as a person, I had a job to do. It was the job he nudged me into, I reminded him.
His job was to coach. My job was to be a journalist.
He no longer scared me – at least not like he used to.
Davie had an incredible coaching staff at Derby, and again at Southeast. Cavalier, Harold Brandenburg, Dan Johnson, John Dawkins and Bruce DeHaven were among his assistants on those early Southeast teams. All were or would become coaching legends.
Davie helped Southeast develop an intense rivalry with Kapaun Mount Carmel and Ed Kriwiel during his Buffs years. The two men were as different as they could be – the boisterous Davie and the quiet, calculated Kriwiel. It was fascinating to watch them coach their teams with different styles but similar results.
Davie became seriously ill this week and those close to him knew his time was near. Yet as indestructible and tough as he was, they held out hope that he would bounce back. They thought he might have one more inspirational speech in him.
No more speeches. But the inspiration lives forever.