Ohio State had a massive hole to fill when Luke Fickell departed to take the head coaching position at Cincinnati.
Fickell had been with the Buckeyes as an assistant coach for over a decade — with a one-year stint as interim head coach mixed in — and it wasn't going to be easy for anybody to just step right in and replace him as Ohio State's linebackers coach.
Urban Meyer knew he had the guy he wanted, however.
Bill Davis, a longtime friend of Meyer's, spent all of the 2016 season as a volunteer in Columbus and when Fickell departed, Meyer opted to bring Davis on full-time. He had 20-plus years of coaching experience in the NFL and had been a friend of Meyer's since college, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
“We started out playing college ball together at Cincinnati. He had just finished with the Braves and was walking on because he was a professional athlete," Davis said Tuesday after Ohio State's third spring practice. It was his first meeting with reporters since being hired officially as a full-time assistant Dec. 21.
"We had a lot in common and we both knew we’d get into coaching eventually so that was a bond right from the get-go for us. We just became good friends and as we went on he was ahead of me a little bit. He went out and started coaching and I was still playing. Eventually, I caught up and went the coaching route.”
Davis was the best man in Meyer's wedding so their friendship goes well beyond the game of football. But Meyer clearly trusts Davis, and that's precisely why he handpicked him to replace Fickell on the Ohio State coaching staff.
Below are a few other interesting tidbits from Davis' first public comments since he was hired by Meyer.
- This is Davis' first-ever college coaching job. He coached in the NFL for over 20 years, but has never coached full-time in college before. "The age group is different and that’s probably the biggest thing: the age difference. The schoolwork they have to do, too, where the NFL they don’t have that," Davis said of the transition. "But what a great group of young men we have here. They’re fun to work with and it’s been exciting to see the big bright eyes and wide open guys that are more of an open book that you find in the NFL.”
- As a guy with tons of NFL experience, Davis was asked if the way Meyer runs the Ohio State program is similar to that of an NFL franchise. “As much as it can be," he said. "The difference is the classes the young men have to go to we don’t have in the NFL. The structure of the work is a little bit different, but what separates the Ohio State guys is the total growing of the man. I’m really in awe of how Coach Meyer, the staff and system grows a human being and not just a football player.
- Davis said Ohio State players are NFL-ready when they leave college. "What we’ve found in the NFL is when Ohio State guys come, their mental toughness — because they go through this system of the grind of hard — they come in so mentally tough that it’s tough to trip up Ohio State guys," he said. That’s why you see the young guys succeeding in the NFL."
- Davis said he did have "other opportunities" to return to the NFL but declined because he wanted to try out coaching in college football. "I had a year where I was under contract with the Eagles and didn’t find a spot so the volunteer position was one where I could learn about college football with no intentions and just seeing what was going to present itself," he said. "Had it not presented itself I’d probably be in the NFL with one of the linebacker jobs that I had an opportunity.”
- Davis has never recruited before. This is the first time he's ever had to do it, which is obviously a big portion of college football. "I’m attacking the recruiting trail like the rest of the staff is,” he said.
- A big transition for Davis, schematically, is how to stop the quarterback run game in college. "That conversation about the quarterback running doesn’t exist in the NFL," he said.