Today, Davis is still in the coaching business as an assistant for his son Derrick, who has kept the Wildcats on or near the top in District 5-AA football for 12 years.
After moving to Benton, Davis spent his formative years at Benton Elementary and Polk County High school playing baseball and football before graduating in 1962. Football would eventually be the catalyst for nearly 40 years of coaching success.
“When I was a sophomore, I played eight positions. I was the 12th man in everywhere but at center and the two tackles. My last two years, I was a tailback. We ran the old Single Wing,” he said.
From there, Davis moved on to higher education at Middle Tennessee State College, which became Middle Tennessee State University while he studied health, physical education and recreation.
The future coaching legend said being on the sidelines is something he had in mind even before he reached Murfreesboro.
“I think I left high school wanting to be a coach on account of Bill Baxter, my high school coach. That was in my plans, I think when I left to go to college,” he said.
One year after leaving MTSU, Davis landed a coaching job at Copper Basin High School where he stayed for a season before being offered the head coaching job at Polk County High School.
“Superintendent Kenneth Green offered me the head job at Polk County with one year’s experience. I didn’t hesitate. I said, ‘Yes.’ I guess if I had hesitated and thought about it, I wouldn’t have jumped on it that quick,” Davis said with a chuckle. “But, I did. I spent 27 years as head coach of the Wildcats.”
When the now assistant coach at PCHS took over at the old high school, things were very different. The team had been through four years of losing seasons before Davis began turning the program around.
“We had a good core of players coming back. We ended up 5-4-1 my first year,” he said, recalling.
The coach said things were very different in those days. The changes in equipment and coaching style are worlds apart from what they were and game planning is a totally opposite study from what it used to be when he and longtime friend and fellow coach John Dixon ran the show.
“John Dixon and I came in together and he was with me most of those 27 years. He went into administration toward the end, but we won our share of football games. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed, as I still do, working with the kids. It was different then. We did a lot of hollering, a lot of conditioning and a lot of working people. And it paid off. Derrick (current head coach and son of Larry) does a lot more Xs and Os than we did. That and the spread offense are the two biggest changes since I was the head coach. That spread offense drove me crazy. We didn’t see that much of it, but I had a hard time defending it.”
He also pointed out the significant difference in the number of coaches roaming the sidelines now as opposed to when he and Dixon worked together as a tandem.
“I had two on my staff, John Dixon and Reeves Bingham, who helped a couple of years. He was a big factor in helping us get our feet on the ground,” said the coach.
It didn’t take long before Davis realized he had found his niche in life. But, as it is with most everyone in today’s labor force, there comes a time when a change of scenery feels like it might be in order. The same held true for Davis, who in 1981 decided it was time to get off the sideline and move in a different direction.
“I tried (selling) insurance in the winter of ’81, but I didn’t like it very well,” he said, recalling.
Fortunately for Davis and Polk County, his old job was still open and he stepped out of the office and back onto the football field.
“They didn’t replace me and hired me back. I really never did give any thought to any other type work,” he said.
Davis stayed in the head coaching slot until 1993 when he stepped aside once again and handed the reins over to Jeff Williams who directed the Wildcats for six years.
Fortune again smiled on Polk County when it became time to make another change in the Wildcats’ head coach position. Derrick Davis, who was at Morristown at the time, returned to his alma mater with his father as an advisor.
“We talked about it and he asked me if I would come back and help a couple of years,” Davis said with a laugh. “I said I would. Now, it has been 12 years. We were coming off an 0-10 season and that was a good time to come in.”
The elder Davis had mixed emotions about seeing his son take over as head Polk County coach. Although he realized his son had the talent and desire to turn the program around, his fatherly instincts told him it would be a tough row to hoe.
“Well, the daddy in me knew what he was getting into. I knew it was going to be a job but yes, I was glad to see Derrick come back home,” he said with a smile. “I was. They always say it’s hard to come back home, but both of us have. It’s worked for us.”
Naturally, with two strong personalities on the sidelines, particularly with the same blood, there will be disagreements on how things are managed during a game. But, the Davises have figured their way through the disagreements and have helped keep the Wildcats on solid footing.
“There were more disagreements early on. Not so much lately. We argue a little bit, but it’s all smoke,” the Polk offensive coordinator said with a smile. “Early on, we might have argued more so than now. My wife thought we would get so mad we wouldn’t talk to each other again. But, that’s not going to happen.”
Davis, who when he isn’t passing his abundant football knowledge on to a new generation of Wildcats, spends a great deal of time piddling on his farm. He is an avid beekeeper and raises cattle to keep busy. Also, grand kids play a major role in his life nowadays. Davis and wife, Rebecca, have five grandchildren to chase when not feeding cattle or robbing hives.
“The beekeeping has been a hobby for years. You stick your head into a hive of bees and you can forget about the problems of coaching,” he said, laughing. “You have to concentrate on what you are doing right now.”
As much as he enjoyed being a head coach, and as much satisfaction he finds in helping his son, finding time to retire is low on Davis’ list of priorities. For now, he is content to raise cattle, keep bees and help keep Polk County football at a high level of quality.
“As long as your son is the coach, it is hard to find a quitting point. Everybody should work for their son at some point,” said the coaching legend. “I haven’t thought about it (quitting), really. As long as my health will stand up and I feel like I am contributing, I will continue. I know I don’t contribute as much as I used to, but I still enjoy it.”