Just shy of ten years from the day he was dismissed as the head coach of Notre Dame, Bob Davie will be heading back to the sidelines, accepting the head coaching position at New Mexico. Davie replaces Mike Locksley, who failed to last three seasons amidst a turbulent run in Albuquerque that included sexual harassment charges, fist-fights with assistant coaches, and 26 losses in 28 games.
Davie’s return ends a decade long sidebar where the former Irish coach went from in-over-his-head to talking-head, spending the last ten years becoming one of ESPN’s prized football analysts. That he’s landed at New Mexico — arguably one of the toughest spots in college football right now — is a testament to Davie’s desire to get back into coaching, and New Mexico’s potentially radioactive status in the eyes of other head coaching candidates.
In retrospect, the hiring of Davie at Notre Dame can only be seen as disastrous. Selected by the Irish administration over names like Dave Wannstedt and Gary Barnett (choices that very well could have been just as mediocre), Davie spent five seasons learning the ropes at a time when college football was in the midst of an arms race. After taking the Irish to a BCS bowl on the back of an opportunistic defense (also known as smoke) and an offense that didn’t make mistakes (better known as mirrors), Davie got a five-year contract extension, only to be fired a season later when the Irish stumbled to 5-6.
“I felt we were in a place that I could no longer say that we could actually stand up and say that we were putting together a program in place that could contend, if not win, the national championship,” athletic director Kevin White said. “I really believe we need to restart this thing.”
That restart is a process that’s still ongoing… a decade later.
Looking back at a slew of articles from the days after Davie’s firing takes you back to a far different time, but one with striking similarities. Even then, Irish fans thought they could lure Bob Stoops to South Bend, just a season off a national championship. Even then, Tom Coughlin — not a Super Bowl winning coach yet but a man with complete control of an NFL franchise — was seen as the perfect fit to many media members and Irish fans, even though the man had the Jacksonville Jaguars at his fingertips. (He even had a hand in hiring the secretaries.) And of course, who could forget the love affair known as Jon Gruden, Part One.
There’s no need to take people down that rabbit hole, but how it ends up isn’t pretty. In picking Davie, Notre Dame chose a first-year head coach at probably one of the most inopportune times to do so, sticking with the status quo when the game was changing around it.
In choosing George O’Leary, and then firing him because of inaccuracies on his resume, the Irish were forced to pick the second man who would say yes to the job, a far cry from Kevin White’s second choice for the job, as some inside the Irish program spun it.
But we come not to bury Davie, but to praise him. After five years in the Notre Dame pressure cooker, Davie got incredibly comfortable in the booth, able to provide viewers with enough Xs and Os amidst his football colloquialisms. He even got to a point where he was able to question other coaches clock management skills and playcalling abilities, deficiencies that once had Irish fans banging their collective heads against walls watching Davie struggle with the same things.
Again, this post isn’t to rip Davie, it’s to marvel at what’s to come for a man that’s been out of college football for ten years and is ready to re-enter a game that’s night and day different than the one he left. I for one am excited to see what Davie can do with the spotlight off of him and Notre Dame in the rear view mirror. It’s not Slippery Rock, but the once revered defensive coordinator will finally have a whistle back in his mouth as he gets set to coach some “footbaw.”
(Enjoy a greatest hits column from the old Blue-Gray Sky — the many faces of Bob Davie.)