Bob Davie tackles rebuilding project as coach at New Mexico

Jim Polzin
The Wisconsin State Journal
In this Oct. 20, 2017, file photo, New Mexico coach Bob Davie walks on the field during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Colorado State in Albuquerque, N.M.

The note arrived in 2012, when New Mexico coach Bob Davie was at the ground floor of a major rebuilding project.

"Bob," University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez wrote. "Keep the blinds closed when you go into the fetal. Don't flinch. Barry."

That short-but-sweet message is so meaningful to Davie that even now, six years later, it's still posted right outside a door that leads to a meeting room where Davie and his assistants often convene.

If anyone could relate to the challenge facing Davie, it was Alvarez, who inherited a shipwreck when he arrived at UW following the 1989 season. By 1993, Alvarez had built the Badgers into a Big Ten Conference champion.

But the beginning – particularly a 1-10 record in Alvarez's first season — was rough.
"You know you're not very good and you've got to go into a staff meeting or meet with your players," Alvarez said this week, relating a story he's told many times over the years. "I used to come and I'd crawl up in a fetal position because you're hurting so bad, but you couldn't show them a sign of weakness."

Davie, who will lead the Lobos (1-0) against the No. 5 Badgers (1-0) today at Camp Randall Stadium, took over a New Mexico program that went 1-11 in three consecutive seasons from 2009 to '11.

It's been a struggle to climb out of that hole for Davie, who is 31-45 in six-plus seasons.

In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, New Mexico State kick returner Jason Huntley fumbles the ball as he is hit by Arkansas defender Micahh Smith on a kickoff return in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fayetteville, Ark. For the first years under coach Bob Davie, the Lobos averaged 14 turnovers a season, among the best in the country. Last year, New Mexico committed 29.

After back-to-back bowl appearances – including a 9-4 mark in 2016 – the Lobos dropped to 3-9 last season and a controversial offseason ensued.

Davie served a 30-day suspension, beginning in February, following multiple investigations into treatment of players and an allegation he interfered with criminal or misconduct cases involving his players.

The Lobos were picked to finish last in the Mountain West Mountain Division this season and are 34 1/2 -point underdogs against the Badgers.

UW is no stranger to Davie. In between a failed stint as Notre Dame's coach and his hire at New Mexico, he spent a decade working as a color analyst in the ESPN broadcast booth.

He called a lot of games involving the Badgers during that time, one of which he remembers in particular: UW's meeting with Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, which was Alvarez's final game before handing over the program to Bret Bielema.

Davie attended both teams' practices that week and was blown away by Auburn's athleticism. He admitted earlier this week it was easy to underestimate the Badgers, who weren't as fast or flashy than the Tigers.

Big mistake. Final score: UW 24, Auburn 10.

"I've got great respect for their football program," said Davie who, like Alvarez, grew up in western Pennsylvania. "The continuity that they have. The brand that they have. The atmosphere there. All of the above."

Davie even has a longtime Alvarez aide on his staff. Kevin Cosgrove has been with Davie from the start at New Mexico, including the past five seasons as the program's defensive coordinator.

Cosgrove also was there from the start with Alvarez. The two had developed what Alvarez called "healthy respect" after going head-to-head on the Big Ten recruiting trail and working clinics together.

When Alvarez was forming his first staff at UW, he got a call from Cosgrove, who played at UW-Oshkosh and was coming off a 10-2 season as an assistant at Illinois.

"Being a linebacker coach myself, I was very picky about who I was going to hire as a linebacker coach and his beliefs were very similar to mine," Alvarez said.

Cosgrove eventually was promoted to defensive coordinator and ended up spending 14 seasons at UW, a run that included three Rose Bowl titles. He left following the 2003 season to help Bill Callahan at Nebraska, opening up a spot for Bielema in Madison.

Two seasons later, Alvarez stepped into the athletic director role full-time and turned over the Badgers to Bielema.

"It changed things," Alvarez said of Cosgrove's departure. "It changed the dynamics. Maybe I don't leave when I left. Maybe I don't retire then."

Alvarez and Cosgrove still keep in touch, and they'll no doubt meet up on the field before the game Saturday. Cosgrove's defense, which allowed 566 total yards in 62-30 victory over Incarnate Word to open the season, will have its hands full against the Badgers.

It'll also be an interesting test for the UW defense. New Mexico's new-look offense produced 680 total yards last week under the direction of first-year coordinator Calvin Magee.

After years of running a triple-option attack, Davie brought in Magee to incorporate the same up-tempo, spread attack that helped Arizona finish third nationally in rushing offense and 12th in total offense last season.

Davie opened his weekly news conference by stating the obvious story line: Going from Incarnate Word to the Badgers will be an eye-opening experience for the Lobos.

"It's a heck of an opportunity to go play in a big-time atmosphere," Davie said.