He played at Arkansas before starting his coaching career in his home state of Oklahoma, latched on to Jimmy Johnson and followed him from stop to stop before getting his shot to run a team. Those stops included Oklahoma State, the University of Miami and the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, where Davis was part of a staff that helped the Cowboys to consecutive Super Bowl wins.
Davis still wears his championship ring from Super Bowl 28, when Dallas beat the Buffalo Bills for the second consecutive season. He said he does not wear the ring to help motivate anyone, but to help remind him what and who it takes to get to the top of the sport.
"I use it as a reminder to me of how many people it takes to become a champion - trainers, strength coaches, secretaries," Davis said Thursday at Conference USA Media Days. "Every time I look at I think, 'How did you go from 1-15 in Year 1 in 1989 (with the Cowboys) with Jimmy (Johnson) to the Super Bowl years, back-to-back?' It's just a constant reminder to respect everybody that helps you become good.
"I was blessed for 15 years - I coached with Jimmy Johnson. We went in and took over the Oklahoma State program and it was really down. There were a lot of scholarship sanctions and probation. Our first year we went 7-4 and couldn't go to a bowl game, and watching Jimmy for those years rebuild the Oklahoma State program, he went to Miami and would take over for Howard Schnellenberger and kind of rebuild and refocus that program, and then you go to Dallas."
Now Davis is the head coach at Florida International, where winning seasons have been hard to come by in the Panthers' recent history. His resume is littered with reclamation projects, and FIU falls squarely into that category.
The Panthers went 8-5 in Davis' first season, then last year went 9-4. Now, with FIU picked second in C-USA's East Division for 2019, the veteran coach wants to take the next step. He said he sees parallels between some of the places he has been and where he is now at FIU.
"The building process is something that I have kind of enjoyed," Davis said. "You can create the culture and environment that you want, recruit the kind of players that you want and it's the same thing at FIU. You come in there and they had not had much success the previous years, and hopefully year after year after year we get better.
"It took us at Miami about five years to really get good, and in year five we beat Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl and beat Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic to start the season. The next season we went 11-1 and then they went 12-0 and won the national championship (the year after Davis left to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns). It takes a while. You can't snap your fingers and flood your locker room with great players. I enjoy it."
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Coming off a C-USA championship in 2017 with the league's preseason offensive and defensive players of the year in tow, Florida Atlantic appeared to be poised to rule the league for the foreseeable future. The Owls were picked to win the East Division in 2018 and some even considered FAU to have an outside shot to sneak into the Group of Five's spot in the New Year's Six bowl games.
Then the whistle blew, and the Owls not only failed to live up to those lofty expectations, they were far from it. FAU went 3-5 in C-USA play on its way to a 5-7 overall record. Instead of crashing the party for the big-time bowls, the Owls were left out in the cold for the postseason.
"Last year everybody had us picked first with both preseason conference players of the year and we obviously didn't handle that very well and play up to that," FAU coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "I said a year ago at the time that it's not always good to have all of that, because that creates a lot of problems when your players think about and you have people talking about going go (big) bowls games at this time of year. It causes a lot of problems. As soon as you don't perform well, players go, 'Well, we can't go there anymore.' It creates a lot of problems."
Kiffin said 2018 could be a learning experience for his Owls. He thinks the talent is there for FAU to be very good, it's just a matter of putting it together on a weekly basis in 2019.
"I think last year was very humbling for them," Kiffin said. "I think besides the Oklahoma game, we were ahead (at one point) in every single game we played. That shows you that the talent is there to be really good, we just didn't put it together - especially in the fourth quarter of games."