Inside the Bob Davie Investigation

By Daniel Libit

On January 18, 2013, an anonymous letter signed by “Senior Football Players” was sent to UNM President Bob Frank, which raised a series of inflammatory accusations against University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie.

Among its charges, the letter said Davie evinced a racist attitude towards the black players on his team, while showing favoritism to white players. It alleged that the coach had gotten into a physical altercation with a black player during halftime of a game, in which both men ended up on the ground. It spoke of rampant drug use on the team and complained that the drug-testing process had been compromised by Davie. It called out then-Athletic Director Paul Krebs for ignoring issues when they were brought to his attention.

It concluded with a desperate, if ominous, plea: “Please address, it’s to [sic] late for us.”

The letter leaked out into the public three weeks later, just before Spring Signing Day. Frank told the Albuquerque Journal that he had received three similar letters during the previous season, and that the allegations had been investigated and ultimately dismissed.

In a statement, Krebs sprung to Davie’s defense, decrying the anonymous letter itself as “angry” and its claims as “unfounded and untrue.” Krebs suggested that the anonymity of the letter was itself proof that it had no merit.

When asked during a Feb. 6, 2013 press conference about his reaction to the letter, Davie gave a meandering non-denial denial.

“It’s probably the same reaction as it’s been through 35 years of coaching and broadcasting,” Davie said. “There is no way to defend and no reason to defend [against] an anonymous letter. So, my reaction would be: it’s par for the course. I have been in this a long time and there is really no overreaction or under-reaction.”

But now, at least four years after the school was first alerted to potential problems in the program, UNM has hired a former federal judge, Bruce D. Black, to investigate precisely the kind of allegations that it had once dismissed out of hand. As the Albuquerque Journal reported Friday, Black has been paid $25,000 (plus expenses) to conduct an “initial and preliminary fact-finding of certain complaints” against an unnamed Athletic Department employee. Multiple sources have confirmed to NMFishbowl.com that Davie is the primary target of the investigation.

At the same time, UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which handles Title IX complaints, continues its own ever-evolving investigation into Davie. According to sources, the OEO inquiry dates back to early summer: it commenced in earnest after the annual athlete exit interviews were conducted in March, when several outgoing senior football players told faculty members of the Athletic Council of various issues with Davie.

A few months later, a then-current UNM football player wrote a letter to several high-ranking UNM administrators, which spelled out a similar list of grievances about the head coach’s behavior. Sources say that player, who NMFishbowl.com is declining to name, has since quit the team but has been allowed by the school to remain on athletic scholarship.

The dual inquiries have not only put Bob Davie in the crucible, but call into question whether university administrators shirked their fundamental oversight responsibilities. Multiple sources who spoke to NMFishbowl.com said that there has been a pervasive feeling inside the program that Davie has protected status at UNM, no matter his actions.

Indeed, many of the incidents and issues being reviewed now date back since almost the beginning of Davie’s UNM tenure, and one was referenced explicitly in that 2013 anonymous letter: a physical altercation Davie had with former player SaQwan Edwards at halftime of a game against Boise State.

Sources tell NMFishbowl.com that not only did both men end up on the ground, as the letter alleged, but Davie hurt his hand so badly that he required surgery. And rather than taking responsibility for his behavior, sources say, Davie tried to obfuscate and instructed others in the program to keep quiet.

In recent weeks, NMFishbowl.com has spoken to over a dozen sources who have closely interacted with Davie at UNM, including a number of former players and athletic department staffers. Some of these sources have already talked to UNM’s investigators. One former Lobo player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he has had five separate interviews with OEO since the summer, in addition to a conversation with Black last month.

On Tuesday, NMFishbowl.com emailed Davie a detailed list of the allegations that are addressed in this story. In a polite response, Davie said the items presented contain “several inaccuracies and sound more like malicious rumors.” He did not respond to a follow-up message asking him to specify further.

As this website previously reported, UNM is also investigating claims that Davie mishandled the team’s drug testing process. Sources say that this has been a particularly acute focus of Black’s inquiry, although his scope of interest is said to have expanded significantly into areas beyond that testing and player mistreatment charges, since he began two months ago.

The core of his current investigation centers on years-worth of allegations of physical and verbal abuse towards players and staff; racial insensitivity; preferential treatment; and suppressive efforts to keep a lid on it all.

While some who spoke with NMFishbowl.com were inclined to construe Davie’s flaws as the rough edges of an “old school” coach, many others say that his approach defies norms, even in the hard-tackling world of football. Moreover, they collectively raise the point: if this is considered appropriate leadership in college football, what does that say about the sport?

“It does surprise me that (the investigation) is happening, because of the culture of football,” said one former football staffer, who personally liked Davie but acknowledged the strife he created. “I don’t think it’s right but I don’t think he’s an outlier.”

But a number of other sources believe that Davie’s behavior not only merits this formal inquiry, but that it’s long overdue. They describe Davie as a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality whose polished presentation at the podium obscures frequently unhinged and unprofessional behavior behind closed doors.

Among other things, they allege that Davie:

  • Has made numerous racially insensitive comments towards black players.
  • Physically accosted a player while he was undergoing concussion protocol — shoving aside a team doctor in the process.
  • Physically accosted a Lobo Sports Properties marketing employee for the high crime of using the team’s bathroom in the Tow Diehm Center.
  • Stymied an investigation into the team’s star running back, after evidence surfaced the player may have been involved in the burglary of two other players.

Davie, who speaks frequently about the importance of his program’s operating culture,  is criticized for having manufactured a perpetually and needlessly hostile environment. The handful of anecdotes presented in this story represent only a sample of the complaints that have emanated out of the program since Davie took over.

“Players were always hot,” recalled former Lobo cornerback Tayo Adewon, a junior college transfer whose brother also played at UNM. “It was a consistent thing with Coach Davie: players were always upset. You always had somebody fighting Coach Davie.”

Several players said Davie displayed such a high-wire personality, and proved so prone to blow-ups, that they tried at all times to avoid eye contact with him, whether on or off the field.

“If we were walking in the hallway,” said a former player, “I would walk a different way or walk out just so he wouldn’t look at me or say something for fear of what he was going to do. And the weird thing is he actually liked me a lot.”

Sources say that ethical qualms with Davie’s coaching style has directly accounted for a number of staff and players departures over his tenure. Specifically, sources cite the departures of former assistant coaches Jason Lenzmeier and Charles McMillian, respected figures who were regarded as two the staff’s bigger player advocates, as evidence that something is deeply awry. McMillian left UNM this past summer to take a high school coaching job in Houston, an abnormal career move. Sources say that he raised issues about Davie from almost his very first day on the job. Meanwhile, Lenzmeier, a former star offensive lineman for UNM, quit his coaching job last July, mid-way through his contract. Neither coach responded to requests for comment.

Some sources who spoke with NMFishbowl.com more charitably ascribed these issues to Davie’s decade-long hiatus from college athletics, prior to taking the UNM job in late 2011.

“A lot can change in 10 years,” said former Lobo cornerback Cranston Jones, a well-regarded member of the program who served as a de facto emissary between players and the head coach.

“It goes back to the position of power, from where he comes from,” Jones said. “Anytime he talks to anybody, you can feel his power being exerted on you. You can feel belittled in a way…Even for coaches, in a way, he kind of took away their manhood. He comes from a place where you follow authority. That is where he loses a lot of people, because they often don’t come from that perspective. He doesn’t care if you trust him or like him.”

But “old-school” coach or not: Davie isn’t some mere yokel with a whistle. He is, at present, the most highly paid and high-profile employee of the state’s largest institution of higher education. And as Davie often notes, he has had a 35-year career working beneath the bright lights of college football — a profession that requires a coach’s frequent engagement with young, black men.

This week, a wave of national attention has enveloped Lobo football after five UNM players chose to kneel while the National Anthem was played at halftime of Saturday’s home game against the Air Force Academy. The players, each of whom are black, were reportedly the first college footballers to have engaged in the act of silent protest, which started last year in the NFL and has recently become a symbolic front in the national debate over race relations.

On Tuesday, Davie appeared at a press conference with the players who had kneeled, during which he blamed the resulting controversy on bad athletic department logistics and cast himself as a crusader for cultural empathy.

It was a curious space for Davie to occupy, given the ongoing investigation into allegations of Davie’s racial insensitivity.

Several sources recalled a flash point episode that occurred at the end of a practice midway through last season, when Davie thought he had been back-sassed by offensive lineman Reno Henderson. As their argument would be recalled by multiple sources present, Henderson, who is black, at one point said something to the effect of, “You ain’t my n—–.” According to some witnesses, Davie responded, “Did you just call me a n—–?” Other sources remember his response as, “So, I’m a n—– now?”

In either case, the issue was: Davie, a white man, had repeated the un-euphemized n-word to a black man, and did so with no discernible qualms.

“It was kind of a shock,” said a former athletic department staffer, who is white.

“We were kind of surprised, but also not surprised because it is Davie,” said a former football player, who is black. “You get what you signed up for and that is what he is — he is that asshole, he is that coach.”

Reflecting on the incident, Henderson said he felt Davie had gotten caught up in an unthinking moment, and wasn’t trying to be malicious.

“He has a different personality when he gets mad a lot of the time,” explained Henderson, who has spoken to UNM investigators about his experience on the team. “I don’t think he is a bad person, but the worst gets the best of him.”

In isolation, the exchange with Henderson might have been easily overlooked, but it carried heightened significance because of other comments that Davie has made in the past.

“He is notorious for making little racist slurs and jokes,” said Adewon.

One much-discussed incident occurred a few years back in Ruidoso, where the team used to hold its preseason football practices. During an off day, some of the players and coaches went to a local driving range to hit balls.

There, according to multiple sources present, Davie approached three of his black players who were sitting in a golf cart and joked, “What are you doing? Golf’s a white man’s game.”

The players were so taken aback, a team source recalled, that they went to one of the black assistant coaches on staff to voice their concerns. When informed of their distress, Davie apologized the next day. But there would be other such moments.

A few sources recalled with disgust a time after practice when Davie jokingly compared Sam Mabany, a defensive lineman, to the African protagonist in the movie, “Blood Diamond.” Davie thereafter nicknamed Mabany, who is from Sudan, “Sam the Diamond Man.”

“He was really good at hiding this side of him” from the public, said the former athletic department staffer. “A lot of the incidents would happen in the players’ meeting room or the team hotel…You would always hear about a lot of questionable stuff he would say at team meetings or in team hotels.”

Most of those who spoke with NMFishbowl.com said that Davie’s intentions, while thoughtless, never appeared malevolent.

“I think he was trying to be a friend,” said Nik D’Avanzo, a four-year letterman who played defensive line. “He was just making goofy comments, but it was nothing intentional to hurt (someone).”

Said Jones: “He really doesn’t know how to talk to people.”

Jones remembers a time when a black teammate told Davie that he had loved running the ball since he was little. “I know you might have been running,” Davie cracked, “but I don’t know from what.”

“You have to have the relationship to make a joke like that,” Jones told NMFishbowl.com. “Otherwise, that (feels) like a racist joke intended to bring someone down. That is where a lot of the misconceptions come from when you deal with 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old players: they felt attacked from Day One.”

For Tayo Adewon, the most alarming experience under Davie didn’t have to do with which players the coach attacked, but the lengths it seemed he would go to defend.

As Adewon recalls, it was the last day of the 2013 fall break, when he and teammate Donnie White returned to their shared apartment, only to discover they had been robbed. Whoever had stolen their items, they wondered, might have known that they would both be out of the apartment at that exact same time — and therefore, might have been familiar with the Lobos’ weight-lifting schedule.

In the ensuing days, the two players tried to sleuth out who might have been the perpetrator.  Fortunately, they lived next to a warehouse, Adewon says, which had a security camera mounted on the outside of the building that captured the front of their apartment. Adewon said that the owner of the warehouse retrieved for them the relevant security camera tape showing the break-in. In the footage, Adewon said, a car which he recognized as belonging to star running back Teriyon Gipson could be seen pulling up to the apartment. Adewon said he then saw two men, who he recognized as Gipson’s temporary roommates from Dallas, getting out of the vehicle, with backpacks in tow, and using a key to open the front door of the apartment.

Adewon said that he and White went to Davie with the news of their discovery and the expectation that the coach would make this a top priority. Davie agreed to go with the players back to the warehouse to look at the video footage himself. Adewon said that Gipson’s face could not be seen in the footage, but that it was clearly his vehicle.

But Davie, he said, showed little interest in investigating Gipson, his star running back at the time. Instead, Adewon said, Davie attempted to quiet the situation by seeing to it that Adewon and White each got $500 for their lost goods. Adewon said he was unsure where that money originated from, but that he received it in the form of a check.

“Davie told me to be cool,” Adewon said. “That irked me…It’s like, what are you teaching these kids?”

Adewon said that Davie maintained there was not enough evidence to implicate Gipson.

“There was clearly more than enough evidence. We had footage of this man’s car dropping off two associates who live in his house,” Adewon said. Nevertheless, as a preferred walk-on at the time, Adewon said he realized how precarious his on-field situation would be if he protested. He noted that for the rest of the season, Davie repeatedly expressed his appreciation for Adewon being a team player.

“Throughout the whole process he thanked me for being ‘mature’,” Adewon said.

But to many in the program, the episode ratified a growing sense that the coach kept two, distinct sets of rules for his players.

“It ripped the team in half,” said a source in the program. Eight different sources who were on the team at the time of the incident said it was their impression that Davie was committed to protecting Gipson, regardless of whether he was involved in the theft.

“It was hard to swallow and come to practice,” Adewon said. While he said he tried to remain above the fray, the episode occasioned a number of fights between teammates and Gipson.

Adewon said he reported the incident to law enforcement, but that the investigation went nowhere. NMFishbowl.com could find no UNM police documents that referenced Gipson as a suspect of a crime.

Reached this past Sunday over Facebook messenger, Gipson denied his involvement in any incident involving Adewon and White.

“idk what u talking bout,” Gipson replied to NMFishbowl.com, later adding, “Whoever told u that can suck my dick.”

Last January, Gipson was arrested in Dallas on misdemeanor gun and marijuana charges. Nine months later, KOB-TV broke the story of his arrest. The Journal also reported that Gipson had a number of outstanding warrants for traffic citations and failure to appear in court. When asked about the Dallas arrest, Davie said he had been unaware of it until it was reported, but said that discipline would be handled privately.

“All sins are forgiven, as long as you perform [on the field],” said a former player.

It was when things didn’t go right on the field that Davie could be his most menacing.

In a game at Air Force, on October 18, 2014, the Lobos had the ball at their own three-yard line, with a little over a minute to play. They were down four points. Despite needing to make up the full length of the field, the Lobos lined up in the triple-option and rushed three plays in a row, as the clock expired.

In the locker room after the game, according to several team sources, Davie tried to blame the misbegotten play-calling on Offensive Coordinator Bob DeBesse. But a couple of the players who were wearing headsets on the sidelines had heard Davie call the final run plays, overruling DeBesse who wanted to air it out.

When offensive linemen Payton Hightower and Trevon Roy contradicted Davie’s version of events, the coach exploded and kicked them off the team. The two players, who happened to be subjects of the racist golf-cart joke, were eventually reinstated a few games later. (Hightower did not respond to request for comment and NMFishbowl.com was unable to reach Roy.)

“When he gets heated and starts to blow up, I would relate it to someone blacking out,” said a source in the program.

Several former members of the program recalled for NMFishbowl.com a particular speech Davie likes to give about self-restraint, which he puts in the form of an equation: Event + Reaction = Outcome. The sentiment is that regardless of what happens, a person can control the result by how they respond. It’s solid, if simple, advice, but coming from the hot-headed Davie, “everyone thought it was the stupidest thing,” said the former athletic department staffer.

“He is the first person to freak the ‘F’ out and just go ballistic,” said the former player who has been interviewed multiple times by UNM’s investigators.

Indeed, sources say that Davie can be triggered into a full-blown rage by little more than an ill-timed smile. According to multiple sources, it was an unwanted grin during halftime of the 2012 Boise State game that prompted Davie to attack SaQwan Edwards, who was on the injury list at the time.

The fight escalated to such a point, sources say, that a teammate had to pull Edwards off Davie, at a point when some observers thought that player would have been justified to pummel his coach. As it were, Davie’s thumb was injured so badly from the scuffle that he required hand surgery to reattach a ligament.

“I find it hard to believe that Krebs didn’t know what had happened,” said the former athletic department staffer. “In my opinion, they were covering it up. An incident that big, where that many people saw it? I don’t know how Krebs would not have found out about it.” (Krebs did not respond to an email requesting his comment for this story.)

When reached on his cell phone last week, Edwards declined to address the specifics of the episode. “All I‘m going to say is if you hear from certain players the same things, it is true,” he said.

Asked about the incident this week, Davie told NMFishbowl.com, “This situation was investigated already and thoroughly reported on, so it should be easy to find my previous responses.”

But there’s apparently more to that side of the story, as well. Greg Archuleta, who was then the football team’s sports information director, told NMFishbowl.com that following the altercation, Davie showed up to work with a cast on his bad hand and a handful of bad alibis.

When first asked about his injury by a reporter, Archuleta recalled, Davie explained that he had hurt it while running into a pillar in the football offices. He repeated that yarn later in the week to at least one other media member, Archuleta said. But two months later, when the anonymous letter had surfaced, in which the scuffle was invoked, Davie felt compelled to amend his story to something more plausible-sounding — but still deceiving. Davie told KOAT-TV that he had hurt himself while confronting a player during halftime of a game, but suggested their collision had occurred innocuously.

Edwards was not the only injured Lobo who Davie has aggressed.

In the waning minutes of last year’s one-point loss to New Mexico State, UNM tight end Michael Walsh dropped a perfectly thrown pass from quarterback Austin Apodaca. Had it been caught, UNM would have been inside the Aggies’ 30-yard line with a chance to win. After botching the catch, Walsh came off the field looking distraught and possibly concussed.

A UNM team doctor immediately began the concussion protocol with Walsh on the sidelines, sources say, but a fuming Davie had other business he wanted to address.

In full public view, he pushed the team doctor to the ground so he could grab Walsh by either the face mask or collar (sources differ) and yank the player’s head in fury over the dropped pass. Two sources said the Lobo team doctor, Christopher McGrew, was so alarmed by what had taken place that he reported the incident to Krebs the next day, but that no punishment ensued.

When reached by phone last week, Walsh declined to comment, but several sources say that he has spoken with investigators. McGrew did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Davie’s wrath has been known to extend to anyone within the vicinity of the program, whether or not they are technically part of it.

According to several sources, Davie once accosted a marketing employee with Learfield, the UNM sports licensing partner, after he walked out of the bathroom in the Lobos locker room. Davie, sources say, was incensed that someone not on the team had used the team’s facilities, even though the Learfield employee was wearing the necessary credentials.

“Davie physically grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him at least 20 feet and pushed him out of the door,” said the former athletic staffer, who was present at the scene. The marketing employee, who no longer works for Learfield, declined to comment for this story.

Since NMFishbowl.com broke the news of the outside investigation last month, Davie has said he will address the specifics at a later date. Program sources say that he has been consumed in recent weeks with trying to figure out who may be talking with investigators. Former Lobo cornerback Marquez Mackey said he recently spoke with friends who are still on the team, who told him that Davie has also dramatically changed his tone with the players of late.

Said Mackey, “He is covering his ass now because he has his job on the line.”

(Featured Image by Doug Pensinger / Getty)