Like grandfather, like grandson: Matt Davis ’13 prepares for career in coaching

May 7, 2012
Contact: Maryville College Office of Communications
865.981.8207; communication@maryvillecollege.edu

Maryville College junior Matt Davis ’13 is a third-generation student of the venerable institution and intends to follow a path similar to that of his grandfather, beloved and respected football and wrestling Coach John A. “J.D.” Davis ’30.

The younger Davis also wants to be a collegiate football coach, although he arrived at the decision by a different path than his grandfather, who died before he was born. Matt, who is majoring in physical education/health for K-12 teacher licensure, said he knew he wanted to be a teacher since he was in the second grade, but after playing football, he became interested in coaching, as well. To Matt, both vocations blend well together because coaching is teaching.

“I’ve always wanted to make an impact, and [coaching] is the best way I can make one,” he said.

By contrast, J.D. Davis, a gifted athlete who earned 12 letters during his college years (1926-1930), developed a strong bond with his coach and mentor, Lombe Honaker, and later returned to work for him as an assistant coach in 1940.

Good role model

In 2007, Matt played football during his junior year at William Blount High School and briefly at the College before he decided he wanted to focus on his studies.

“Right now, I have a 3.5 [grade point average],” he said. “I feel like you should want to get a degree, because even if you’re playing at a high level in college, you’re not going to be playing forever.”

Though his playing days were limited, Matt stayed involved with the football programs, filming and assisting in other ways. During the 2010 football season, Matt served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Heritage High School football team. Ironically, his grandfather started his coaching career almost 80 years earlier at Everett High School, Heritage High’s predecessor.

“The thing about Matt is that he’s really hard working,” said Adam Hendricks ‘07, then the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator. “He pretty much did what we asked him to do.”

Matt, who worked closely with the kickers and punters, devoted a great amount of his free time to the program, said Hendricks, who’s also an MC alumnus. Matt volunteered with the program both during spring practice and the regular football season, which meant six and seven days a week and staying after school sometimes until 9 p.m.

Matt was a good role model for the high school student-athletes because he was only a few years older and was in college, Hendricks added.

“They figured out that you could do both things and that you could be successful at school and at athletics,” he said.

This spring, Matt is volunteering as an assistant coach with the football team at Carpenters Middle School.

Preparing for the future

Dr. Danny Pierce, Matt’s academic advisor, said most students are not reaching out for these types of opportunities so early in their collegiate experience. By working with students of different ages, Matt will gain additional training to be a physical education teacher, he said.

“That really shows his initiative and ability as a young man,” said Pierce, the College’s associate professor of physical education, health and outdoor recreation.

Matt will also benefit from working with several coaches and observing a range of styles, from his own time at William Blount High School to Heritage High and now, Carpenters Middle, Pierce said.

After he graduates next year, Matt plans to attend graduate school. He has applied to both Kent State and the University of Florida and hopes to join the coaching staff as a graduate assistant at one of those schools. The contacts and experience of working with either of those football teams would further his ambitions of someday coaching at the college level.

Pierce said Maryville College has had much success in students being accepted into graduate school and then being prepared for the advanced coursework due to the College’s structure of building foundational knowledge through progressive classes, a required Senior Study and a final comprehensive exam. The Senior Study is a particularly valuable tool when applying to graduate school, Pierce said.

One of the distinctive features of a Maryville education, the Senior Study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is guided by a faculty supervisor. According to the College’s catalog, the Senior Study program “facilitates the scholarship of discovery within the major field and integrates those methods with the educational goals fostered through the Maryville Curriculum.”

Matt has not made a final decision about what his study will focus on, but he said he is considering a case study of the four local high schools and how weight lifting impacts field performance. For now, he’s focused on his current studies and the spring practice at Carpenters.

Stories – and lessons – from another Coach Davis

Although Matt never saw his own grandfather coaching, he has heard a piece of advice that J.D. used to give his players when they were facing a tough opponent and didn’t want them to be intimidated. He would tell them that their competitors “put their pants on the same way; they tie their shoelaces the same way.”

J.D. coached at the College for 31 years, but before working there, he coached in Hickory, N.C. After he returned from serving in World War II, he coached at Central High School in Knoxville, where Honaker served as J.D.’s assistant.

J.D.’s son, Dillon Davis ’79, said the two men weren’t concerned with hierarchy.

“It didn’t make a difference,” Dillon said. “They just coached, and they just enjoyed being together.”

The stories of the two coaches are College lore, and Dillon can rattle off some of the funny anecdotes about his father, who died in 1978, when Dillon was a senior at Maryville College. Coach Davis was chewing out the football squad during practice for some infraction. When he turned around, he saw English professor Jessie Heron standing behind him. She was a loyal football fan who made regular appearances at practices and at games, and he hadn’t realized she had come out to watch practice. J.D. blew his whistle, ordering his team to the other side of the field, where he continued his dressing down – out of her hearing range.

When J.D. was inducted into the Maryville College’s Wall of Fame in 1976, the man who inducted him was a former player. Dillon said the man told a story about missing a tackle that resulted in a touchdown for the opposing team, Carson-Newman College. The player said Coach Davis started reprimanding him as soon he came to the sidelines.

In accepting the Wall of Fame honor, Davis, showing his own quick wit, corrected his former player: No, he didn’t wait until the player was off the field but started scolding him while he lie on the ground.

J.D.’s legacy is stamped on the College. The J.D. Davis Award was established after he retired in 1971, and its purpose is described on the College’s website: “to honor senior student-athletes who exhibit leadership, athletic ability, Christian values, and academic achievement. These are all characteristics for which J.D. Davis is remembered.”

Connected to – and through – the College

When Dillon started at Maryville College, he initially played basketball, but knee injuries sidelined his hoops aspirations.

“Daddy was tickled to death that I decided to go [to Maryville College],” Dillon said. “He supported me in whatever I did. I think it would really be special to him that his grandson is following in his footsteps.”

But back then, J.D. didn’t want his son to become a coach because the salaries were so low. Dillon has his own concerns about Matt pursuing a career in college coaching because of the intense pressure and high stress level that now goes with the job, but he is confident his son will figure out how to deal with it.

“He really enjoys coaching,” Dillon said. “He’s getting to do what he wants to do.”

Whatever the future holds, Matt is sure to follow the example of excellence set by his grandfather.

“I’ve always thought that it would be neat if he came back to Maryville College to coach,” Dillon said of his son’s coaching future. “I think that would have tickled Daddy. The College was special to him. He was really devoted to Maryville College.”

This story was written by Bonny Millard, a freelance writer for the Office of Communications.