TAMPA — Having been fired by the University of North Carolina and coming away empty in the latest wave of coaching hires, Butch Davis went to an NFL power brokers for advice in plotting his next career move.
During his consultation with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Davis — a former Cowboys assistant — wanted to gauge the market for his skill set.
"I hope to get a head-coaching job again, but if I didn't, I was brainstorming with Jerry about whether there would be organizations that would value someone who's got 37 years of coaching experience, somebody who's been a part of Super Bowl teams, national-championship teams and been a head coach," Davis said.
"Jerry said, 'Absolutely. I think it'd be a great idea.' ''
So did Greg Schiano.
Having accepted an offer to coach the Bucs in January, Schiano wanted Davis' expertise on his staff.
"Lo and behold, a couple of weeks later, Greg gets the job here and called," said Davis, who says he did not speak with Schiano before the Bucs hired the coach.
His title is special assistant to the head coach. But, as Davis detailed in a 30-minute interview last week, that can and often does, mean just about anything.
He's enjoying the role, one that allows him to remain around the game, even if not in his preferred capacity.
In the meantime, he's helping a friend; Schiano was a member of Davis' staff at the University of Miami. The role changes frequently, using the spectrum of his talents.
"Initially the main emphasis was Greg hiring the coaching staff, so I was vetting some of the (candidates) and talking about the chemistry, sitting in on interviews," said Davis, who turns 61 on Nov. 17. "Then, for the coaches who had never been in the NFL, I tried to bring them up to speed. Then it was (offseason workouts), minicamps. I feel like every month we turn the calendar there's a different set of challenges."
And they are different challenges than Schiano experienced at Rutgers. Davis also made the daunting jump from college to the pros, leading the Browns from 2001-04.
"The competitive level of the NFL makes it so that you better turn over every stone," Davis said. "Other teams are doing that to try to find ways to win every game. In college, recruiting is, in some respects, put on the backburner. It's got its seasons. Here, every week injuries occur, it's the waiver wire, the practice squad or something else and you're constantly being pulled in those different directions."
And now that the season is in full swing, Davis is putting his defensive talents to use. The one-time Cowboys defensive coordinator has been particularly useful to Bucs coordinator Bill Sheridan, peeking ahead at future opponents.
"He does a great job of analyzing the upcoming quarterbacks we're playing," Sheridan said. "How they move in the pocket, how they scramble, who they like to throw the ball to, what kind of play actions (they use); He does a great job with that. These are all things that he's done in other places and he's sharing them with us."
Davis isn't pulling levers on gameday because he's not technically coaching. And he misses that. But he said he feels a part of something.
He takes pride in watching the development of the young Bucs roster with emerging stars such as Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy. And it all feels familiar.
"I look back at those years with the Cowboys," Davis said. "Everybody thinks we walked in and won the Super Bowl. We went 1-15 and then 7-9. But you could see in every practice the willingness and commitment to buy in from Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman and those guys.
"You can see very, very similar parallels here."
But nothing's like coaching.
"There's a certain element that with me not coaching, you can never satisfy," he said.
Which is why it's no guarantee Davis will occupy an office at One Buc Place for long. In fact, he says that's why he's not coaching here.
"The reason I didn't want to take a coaching position with Greg was the fact that I didn't want to become a part of the staff and, nine months later, an opportunity comes along and now I've got to leave," Davis said. "That's taking away from his momentum. I told him I think I can help more by not coaching and just being the eyes."
Despite being tainted by academic and improper-benefits scandal that led to his firing at North Carolina, Davis clings to the hope provided by a February NCAA report that does not cite him in any wrongdoing.
"There was nothing that came out later in the report that wasn't known in the first 60 days of the investigation in 2010," Davis said. "Nothing was new except for this ongoing academic issue that they've got that's been going on for over 20 years. The thing that probably was detrimental to me getting a job last year was that the NCAA hadn't had its final ruling until February. They did a 256-page report and my name's not in it once."
Davis' resume figures to get him a look. He spoke with great pride about the 104 college players he has coached who played in the NFL and his decades of measurable success.
"I've been a part of national championships and Super Bowls and rebuilding the Cowboys and totally resurrecting the Carolina program," he said. "… Hopefully somebody will recognize that and give me an opportunity."
And if not, there's plenty to do in Tampa.
"Who knows?" he said. "I may be here for 10 years and love every minute of it."