Davie’s Forgotten History, Remembered

By Daniel Libit

“I don’t really feel a need, quite honestly, to stand up and defend myself. I don’t say that from an arrogant standpoint. I don’t say that from the standpoint that I’m above being questioned. I say it from the standpoint that the truth is the truth, and I don’t think you have to defend the truth. And I say it from the standpoint of how consistent I have been in everything I’ve done, really since I entered this profession.”

 —Bob Davie, September 19, 2017 press conference

“Fuck you,” Bob Davie told Joe Moore. And that was the last thing Davie would ever say to the legendary Notre Dame line coach.

It was December 1996, and Davie had just been promoted to replace Lou Holtz as the head coach of the Fighting Irish. In one of his first acts, he went to the home of Moore, the program’s beloved assistant, and told him that he would no longer be part of the staff. The reason? Moore, 64, was just too old.

“At your age, I can’t count on you for five more years,” Davie said.

Later that day, Davie told the team’s offensive linemen, the players Moore had recruited and been responsible for, that their position coach was retiring. When word got back to Moore, he was incensed. Two days later, he tracked down Davie in the Notre Dame football offices and confronted him about the lie. In a heated encounter, Moore asked Davie why he would make up such a tale: Moore had certainly not retired and he had neither the means nor the desire to do so at that point.

As the exchange would later be recalled in court testimony, Davie remained cool and collected as he stood up and, walking out of the room, told the man responsible for bringing him to Notre Dame to commit the anatomically impossible act.

Within a month, Moore had hired a powerhouse Chicago employment attorney named Richard Lieberman and filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit against Notre Dame. The ensuing courtroom drama attracted media attention from around the country and Lieberman would later memorialize his version of events in a book, “Personal Foul.”

That was not the first time Davie’s actions would invite legal consequences. The exchange with Moore called to mind a strikingly similar episode that happened 13 years before, when Davie was the newly hired defensive coordinator at Tulane.

“Fuck you,” Bob Davie told Gerald Materne, then a Tulane graduate assistant. “You’re the asshole who got caught and I’m not helping you to find anything.”

As Materne would later claim in a lawsuit, Davie had instructed him to conduct a spying mission against Mississippi State ahead of the teams’ 1983 season-opening matchup — and then deceived Materne into falling on his sword when the plot went south.

In both cases, Bob Davie’s employers would pay a price for his unscrupulousness.

Materne received a quick settlement of $27,000 from Tulane in exchange for dropping his suit. Notre Dame, meanwhile, lost to Moore at trial and was forced to pay nearly $650,000 in damages and opposing attorney fees. The school’s athletic director, Mike Wadsworth, later resigned under pressure and executive vice president, Rev. E. William Beauchamp, was stripped of his athletics oversight duties.

And yet Davie somehow survived the wreckage of his own making, just as he had done from the very start of his career.

In 1980, at his first assistant coaching job at the University of Arizona, Davie was indicted on seven criminal fraud and conspiracy charges for falsifying travel receipts. The unearthing of the scheme, which included several assistants and head coach Tony Mason, would ultimately win the Arizona Daily Star a Pulitzer Prize. Shortly after his indictment, Davie left for a job at the University of Pittsburgh, later mailing a check for $1,285 as a restitution payment to UA. (The charges were eventually dropped.)

Questioned years later about the travel-receipt incident, during a deposition for Moore’s lawsuit, Davie said: “I learned a valuable lesson at a young age — that you’re responsible for your own actions…This was a great lesson to me in life and I tried to take what was a negative when I was 24 years old and turn it into a positive.”

Having a hand in major controversies at three previous schools, Bob Davie has once again invited scrutiny. As NMFishbowl.com reported last week, UNM recently initiated an investigation into allegations that Davie has mistreated players and compromised the school’s drug-testing procedures. Davie has so far declined to address the investigation, other than to inferentially acknowledge its existence.

During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Davie noted the “elephant in the room,” but doubled down on a previous statement that now was not the right time for transparency.

If so, maybe it’s time to rewind the tape and see if we can ascertain exactly what constitutes the “truth” about Bob Davie.

After all, Davie’s pockmarked past is probably news to many Lobo fans. Just like former basketball coach Steve Alford, who luxuriated in Albuquerque for six years without once being confronted about the Pierre Pierce rape scandal at Iowa — which Alford was then asked about at his very first UCLA press conference — nary a word has been spoken or written about Joe Moore, Gerald Materne or the double-billings in Arizona. One wonders if those who hired Davie knew about these incidents and, if so, how they were accounted for in the decision to hire him.

“I do know UNM used a search firm to help vet all candidates as did Notre Dame when they hired me as head coach in 1997,” Davie wrote NMFishbowl.com in an email Tuesday evening.

In response to a series of questions about his past travails, Davie noted that they took place decades ago and had “all been previously well researched and documented by the universities of which I was employed at the time. They have also been extensively written about publicly.”

He added, “Obviously there is no reason for me to comment further.”

But the reality is that Davie has been a beneficiary of sports writing’s collective amnesia when it comes to its favorite stock in trade: the Overcoming Narrative.

A decade in the ESPN broadcast booth and a rehabilitative coaching stint at New Mexico has yielded more than enough lime to whitewash Davie’s checkered, if instructive, past — even from the media outlets that ought to know better.

In 2015, the Arizona Daily Star wrote a flattering story about Davie’s career lift-off at UA, neglecting to mention those scandalous details from its own past, award-winning reporting.

That same year, the Chicago Tribune phoned the coach for a piece whose headline hailed Davie “doing things his way at New Mexico.”

But alas, it made no mention of the embroilments that played out in the Chicago sports pages from 1997 to 1998.

Since his arrival at New Mexico in 2012, there has been an emergent genre of Bob Davie redemption lore, extolling his crafty deployment of the triple option, while conspicuously failing to note his previous misdirections.

However, according to several university sources, Lieberman’s book is now making the rounds at UNM’s South Campus, as questions about Davie’s recent behavior have intensified.

Last week, I met Lieberman for coffee in downtown Chicago, where he still maintains an office after having retired from his law practice. Until I mentioned it, he was unaware that Davie had resumed his college coaching career — but he still very much remembered the man he had confronted on the witness stand some 19 years ago.

“F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no seconds act in American life. He was wrong,” Lieberman told me in a subsequent phone conversation. “In a way, it is profound in terms of what it says about our values as a country that put so much stock in celebrity and achieving something, even if it is in a superficial area, and the willingness to forget.”

While the defendant in the Moore lawsuit was Notre Dame, Davie was the prime subject of scrutiny in the case.

“Looking back, I really saw him and continue to see him as an extremely ruthless man who didn’t seem to care about the other people he worked with,” Lieberman said.

According to Lieberman’s book, Lou Holtz had initially been reluctant to hire Davie from Texas A&M, which had been sanctioned by the NCAA in 1988 and 1993, while Davie was on staff.

“I was never involved, implicated or reprimanded for anything in my nine years at Texas A&M,” Davie told NMFishbowl.com. “I know for a fact that Lou Holtz was excited to hire me.”

But Davie only got the job as Notre Dame defensive coordinator in 1994 because Moore — who had worked with Davie at Pittsburgh — lobbied Holtz again and again to give Davie a chance, according to the Lieberman book.

Two years later, Davie repaid that favor with walking papers.

At the trial, Notre Dame’s defense against Moore’s suit was that he had not actually been fired because of age, but because of his abusiveness towards players.

In his book, Lieberman writes of his initial discussions with Moore, after Notre Dame’s attorneys telegraphed their plans to paint him as a menacing bully if the case went to trial. Specifically, they invoked an incident a few years before, where Moore slapped a player during halftime of a game.

Notre Dame’s general counsel “says your approach to coaching is inconsistent with their standards,” Lieberman told Moore, according to the book.

“Standards, what standards?” Moore supposedly replied. “Davie has no standards! He’s been in all kinds of trouble during his coaching career.”

Moore then listed for Lieberman Davie’s missteps at Arizona and Tulane.

Davie had claimed that Moore’s verbal attacks against players had been a major strike against him, but on the witness stand, was forced to admit his own predilections for foul language.

Lieberman writes of how he used a series of video-recorded deposition clips (a relatively new courtroom technology at the time) to circumvent Davie’s efforts to hedge and evade, and ultimately force him to come clean with the real version of events.

“The last thing I said to Joe Moore was, ‘fuck you,’ and I left,” Davie acknowledged before the eight-person jury. That was the gold watch Moore received after nine years of loyal service at Notre Dame, including a National Championship in 1988.

Throughout the book, Lieberman repeatedly notes how composed and unflappable Davie seemed, even when facing the crucible of interrogation.

Recalling a scene from Davie’s pre-trial deposition, Lieberman conjures Davie as almost a matinée idol: “His hair was blow-dried and carefully styled, he wore a perfectly tailored blazer over ra starched white button-down shirt and rep tie.”

At a dinner the night before Davie’s pre-trial deposition, Lieberman had asked Moore what Davie was really like.

“He’s always trying to figure out what’s best for him,” Moore said. “He makes friends with people he thinks can help him — everything is based on what will get him ahead.”

Continuing, Moore recalled a time where Davie, then an assistant, spoke of possibly converting to Catholicism in order to better position himself for the Notre Dame head coaching job.

“That is not an unbelievable thing,” Gerald Materne told me earlier this week. I caught him on his cell phone as he was driving between Florida and Mississippi.

Materne had only spoken twice before to reporters about the spying scandal at Tulane, but he was somehow expecting a call — perhaps from another lawyer, like Lieberman —  in the wake of the latest Davie news.

In 1997, at Lieberman’s urging, Materne consented to a three-hour deposition in support of Moore’s case. There he recalled the story of how Davie had once concocted and then tried to cover up a misbegotten plan to spy on Mississippi State’s football practices. Materne didn’t know Joe Moore, and he was far removed from football at that point, but as he heard about Davie’s latest antics, it struck a nerve.

“It was me versus three Notre Dame lawyers,” Materne said. “Here is the reason why I was able to shred them. They had a bunch of lies (from) Bob and I had something that is, most of the time, invaluable: it is the truth.”

The snooping plan had been signed off on by Tulane head coach Wally English, but Materne says that Davie was the real mastermind. He still keeps a copy of the instructions Davie had written for him, before sending him off on a recon mission to Starkville, Miss.

Davie Notes
Gerald Materne’s copy of Bob Davie’s handwritten notes from “Wallygate”

“It was a stupid thing to do but I wanted to break into coaching,” said Materne, who had driven Davie’s car from New Orleans to Mississippi.

The plan fell apart almost as soon as it began: within hours of his arrival at Mississippi State’s campus, Materne was spotted hiding behind the bushes near the football team’s practice field, snooping with binoculars. A couple of Mississippi State trainers promptly tracked him down and called campus police; facing arrest for trespassing, Materne confessed his reasons for being there and was released.

When he returned back to Tulane, Materne huddled with Davie and English, who both encouraged him to take the fall in order to protect the entire staff from being fired over the ordeal. Materne said his bosses promised to find him work if he voluntarily resigned, and later directed him to join them at a college coaching convention in Dallas.

Before that, Materne said, he had gone to the school’s athletic director, Hindman Wall, and told him what actually happened — he even showed Wall the copy of the notes with Davie’s handwriting. But Materne was convinced that his sacrifice would be honored by the men whose careers he had protected. He was mistaken. At the coaching convention, Materne said that Davie avoided him entirely. When Materne finally confronted him on the final day of the event, Davie’s only offer was a four-letter farewell.

In response, Materne filed a civil lawsuit, naming Davie, English and Tulane as defendants. The school quickly settled with Materne, but the story of “Wallygate” had already become national news and an albatross around the program.

Materne, a former player at LSU, says he barely follows college football these days. He learned that Davie had gotten the head coaching job at New Mexico from one of his sons.

“Bob Davie is not really a very nice guy,” Materne told me. “He is calculating to the point that he wants what he wants and he will step over, step on, destroy anybody to get what he wants.”

Still, Materne says he harbors no personal anger towards his former boss. He is glad he didn’t end up a football coach. He’s made great money in an investment advisor and hasn’t had to deal with the likes of the Bob Davies’ of the world.

The Moore trial cast a pall over Notre Dame. Players had been made to testify against their coaches. Skip Bayless christened the program the “Infighting Irish.”

After three inconsistent years at Notre Dame, Davie appeared on his way out until he saved his job in 2000, with a surprising 9-3 season that earned him an extension through 2005. But just one year later, a losing record triggered his firing and a $1 million buyout. (Sound familiar, Lobo fans?)

In 2003, Moore died after a battle with throat cancer. In 2015, a new college football award, given for the nation’s best offensive line unit, was named in his honor.

(Featured image by Matthew Stockman / Getty Sport)