Former Tech QB Donnie Davis is finishing what he started

Donnie Davis hated Georgia Tech. He wouldn’t go to a game, wouldn’t set foot on campus. Whenever he drove past – and living in Atlanta, he did often – he’d feel sick to his stomach.

On this spring day in 2009, Donnie Davis sits in the Edge Center, headquarters for Tech sports. He has come from a class in business law. At his feet is a backpack bearing the embroidered letters “GT.”

He’s talking about the future – he’ll graduate with a degree in business management in December – and also the past. Donnie Davis was once the biggest name on the campus he came to despise, but now he’s back, and he’s older (age 36) and wiser and far more forgiving.

“I don’t want to present the case that I was the victim and Georgia Tech was the villain,” he says. “I wholeheartedly believe that nothing was directed at Donnie Davis. I just happened to be the guy in Locker No. 13.”

He arrived at Tech in 1991, a Parade All-American from Burlington, N.C. Recruited by Bobby Ross, Davis was seen as the successor to Shawn Jones, who had led the Jackets to the 1990 national title.

He redshirted in 1991 and sat behind Jones in 1992, but by then Ross was gone to the NFL and Bill Lewis was coaching Tech. Davis started at quarterback in 1993, when the Jackets finished 5-6, and even after two off-season shoulder surgeries he assumed he’d remain the starter.

“It wasn’t up in the air,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d done so badly that they’d bring in somebody who hadn’t even been here.”

At the end of spring practice, Lewis told Davis he was No. 1 no longer. The Jackets would go with Tommy Luginbill, a transfer from a California community college. As Davis recalls it, Lewis said he would deploy both quarterbacks but that Luginbill gave Tech its best chance to win.

The 1994 Jackets won one game. Davis played at wide receiver and on special teams, but not until the North Carolina State game, Tech’s fourth of the season, did he get a real look at quarterback. He scored a touchdown on an option keeper and led a drive to a field goal at the end of the first half. He didn’t play in the second. For him, and for others, that tore it.

Davis: “I’m thinking, ‘We aren’t winning. We aren’t even close to winning. And I’m not even close to getting on the field … This has to be bigger than me.’ ”

It has been speculated that Lewis’ choice of Luginbill splintered the team along racial lines. (Luginbill is white.) In the cold light of hindsight, Davis won’t call the decision racially motivated: “I don’t think it was that clear-cut, the white-black thing. But people were questioning the coaches’ motives, and that was the only thing they could grasp … ‘It’s because the guy’s black – what else could it be?’ ”

Lewis, who now works for the Notre Dame athletics department in community relations, declined to revisit the Davis-Luginbill issue. “I don’t remember those things,” he said this week. “Let’s just let it lie.”

Lewis resigned with three games remaining in the 1994 season. Luginbill transferred to Eastern Kentucky. Under new coach George O’Leary, Davis started at quarterback and led Tech to a 6-5 record in 1995. Then, his eligibility completed but three quarters short of a degree, he left and didn’t look back.

He played for the Arizona Rattlers and was MVP of the 1997 Arena Bowl, in which Kurt Warner was the losing quarterback. He had discussions with Canadian teams but never signed a contract. Soon he was back in Atlanta. He played for the Georgia Force in 2002 and 2003. Eric Zeier, a former Georgia rival then employed by HomeBanc, helped Davis get a job in mortgage banking. But something was missing.

“I’d left with a bad taste in my mouth,” he says. “I had nothing good to say about Georgia Tech. But I hadn’t finished [college] and I didn’t like Tech … I was handcuffed.”

He tried once to return to Tech but found the red tape too daunting. He was taking online courses from Penn State when Joe Hamilton, the former Tech quarterback, introduced him to broadcaster Wes Durham, who introduced him to Wayne Hogan, an associate AD who offered to facilitate. In 2008 Davis re-entered the Institute, taking his classes and serving an internship in the athletics department.

Today Davis is a de facto ambassador. He waves to everybody. He invited several former teammates to Tech’s spring game. He thinks he can stand as a case study: “I’m an example of how not to handle things, and I’m also an example of coming back to finish what you started.”

He wants to work for a “multi-national organization in international marketing,” and he has his graduation targeted. “It’s Dec. 12, 2009, and I should walk across the stage at 9:37 a.m.”

He laughs. “I might even ask to make the speech.”

114 comments Add your comment

Reid Adair

May 15th, 2009
2:24 pm

What a great story, Mark.

While I think Bill Lewis probably remembers plenty about the situation, I am glad to see that Donnie Davis is graduating and getting back involved with Georgia Tech.

Crazy4GT

May 15th, 2009
2:31 pm

Kudos Mark! I really enjoyed this column. Bill Lewis definitely was a disaster. I’m glad that Donnie is back and proud to be a GT yellowjacket!

ndadome

May 15th, 2009
2:40 pm

Nicely done, Mr. Bradley. Good story. And I had forgotton that Bill Lewis currently has a gig at Notre Dame. . .community relations. . .sounds about right.

Ted Striker

May 15th, 2009
2:40 pm

I’m glad to see Donnie Davis get his degree. It also speaks well of Wayne Hogan, Wes Durham and the too maligned Joe Hamilton. I’m a dyed in the wool Ga guy but darned if I see any point on taking shots at guys like Hamilton. (And you Tech guys who always pile on Reggie Ball & Chan Gailey, it’s just not classy. Reminds me of animals that devour their young.)

Buzz'n

May 15th, 2009
2:46 pm

Hayseed Dixie

May 15th, 2009
2:58 pm

Great story. Good for Donnie, and I like Wes Durham even more. I don’t think I could like Joe Hamilton any more than I already do.

I still feel bad for Bill Lewis. I can only imagine the stress he must’ve had to resign mid-season.

YouKnow

May 15th, 2009
3:05 pm

Great to hear. Davis was a different QB under Freidgen. If only he had enjoyed a full career under Ralph’s tutelage……….

Buzznhard

May 15th, 2009
3:27 pm

I had two classes with him but couldn’t figure out which past player he was. He showed up late all the time.

chad

May 15th, 2009
3:38 pm

Bill Lewis says it all. He is a complete da. Never knew what he had in Donnie just a shame

KG

May 15th, 2009
3:52 pm

DD is a stand up guy, and just one of many players that Lewis managed to alienate while at Tech. Their are dozens of stories like this one involving Lewis. Maybe “m” should change his post every now and then and include”THE” worst coach in Tech’s history. Best of luck to DD in the future and THWG!!!

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
3:59 pm

Thanks for the kind words, folks. And, in case you didn’t know or hadn’t guessed, Donnie Davis is a terrific guy.

Mac

May 15th, 2009
4:11 pm

I was working in Burlington when Donnie was a high school star. Great kid that Donnie. Seems like he grew up to be a good man.

Al

May 15th, 2009
4:14 pm

YouKnow,
Donnie never played a down under Ralph Friedgen. Ralph left with Ross after ‘91 season and did not return until spring of 1996. He played under Lewis and then O’Leary’s first OC Pat Watson.

Mike GT

May 15th, 2009
4:17 pm

as a tech fan and grad Congrats to you Donnie Davis and we all want to forget that one coach who almost killed Tech Football

JustMyOpinion

May 15th, 2009
4:21 pm

Donnie Davis was so talented in high school. If I remember correctly, it was Eric Zeier, Heath Shuler, and Donnie Davis. You could pick the order. But I think that this is more impressive. Good Job Donnie Davis, Jr., and this was well written Mark.

Dannyboy

May 15th, 2009
4:26 pm

First, I would like to say congratulations to Donnie Davis. I remember following his recruitment when I was in middle school. His High School stats were eye popping. It’s a shame he never got the opportunity to develop into the talent everyone thought he would become when he left high school. I’m happy he found his peace with GaTech and now he’s part of the “family” again.

To Ted Striker, that was very classy of you. I never understood the people who skewered Reggie Ball and Chan Gailey, either. Reggie was just a student athlete that gave everything he had when he put on that uniform. He wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t the best player to put on a GT uniform, but he sacrificed his body to help his team win and stayed out of trouble off the field. Chan Gailey wasn’t the best coach to coach at GaTech, but he was far from the worst. Although he didn’t win as much as the fans would have liked, he never had a losing season, and he didn’t embarass the program. I cringe when so called “fans” get on these blogs/boards and skewer the players. I have no problem with fans criticizing the coaches…they get paid very well, and that’s part of the job. But these kids that bleed and sweat for the program for 4-5 yrs and sacrifice being a normal student don’t deserve all the bashing and negative comments.

The irony of college football is that the same students who boo their classmates at games have every opportunity to try out for the team if they think they can do better. How many of them end up doing that?

Ralph

May 15th, 2009
4:26 pm

Bill Lewis was worse than Gailey. At least with Gailey, we had chances to win.

All I'm Saying Is...

May 15th, 2009
4:29 pm

Great story, Bradley. Kudos to you! (Now, proceed to update us on what ever happened to Bucky Shamberger, Shawn Jones, Eddie McShan, Pepper Rodgers,…).

surfrider

May 15th, 2009
4:30 pm

Thanks for the reminder to that 1-10 season. I think Davis would have lead us to more victories that year no doubt looking back. Unfortunately when Ross left and Lewis came in there were several players whose potential was reduced. The talent Ross had left Tech was unbelievable and we only went 5-6, 5-6, and 1-10. To have Shawn Jones at QB and go 5-6 was hard to take when we had started off 1992 something like 4-1 and had FSU on the ropes and they scored 2 TD’s in last two minutes (remember that) when they had Charlie Ward as QB and really were FSU. Friedgen would have done well with Davis and to think about it in Johnson’s Triple Option to see Davis play would have been something and even Reggie Ball would have excelled in this offense we’re running now. Congrats for graduation. It use to be only 50% or so of incoming freshman graduated at Tech.

RAMBLE ON!!!

May 15th, 2009
4:43 pm

Not that it mattered, but you look like a drunken clogger with happy feet standing in pocket on every pass play.

Instead of trying to win your job back, you decided to play the race card and divided the team.

Yes, you should be applauded that you don’t hate GT anymore…NOT!!!

Beernutts

May 15th, 2009
4:53 pm

Davis never played under Freidgen. Freidgen was gone after ‘91, and came back in ‘97

doc

May 15th, 2009
4:53 pm

yeah mark, typical tech man!

heh heh, grandfather played for john heisman and in the 222-0 cumberland game so i am a bit biased. good story and kudos to donnie. as far as my grandfather’s influence and growing up on the sidelines five rows up off the ole cinder track at the 46 yd line for every home game from 55 to 64, it took me to herschel walker to grow me out of it. :-)

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
5:03 pm

In a way, Davis and his teammates — recruited by Ross, played under Lewis, wound up under O’Leary — were the Lost Generation of Georgia Tech football. The 1990 team had its championship, and the teams in the late ’90s would get really good again, but in between there wasn’t much to celebrate, or even remember.

Ron

May 15th, 2009
5:19 pm

Congrates D^2. You were always a stand up guy, even through all that mess in 93. It feels good to get that degree…there ain’t nothing easy about it.

Old School

May 15th, 2009
5:24 pm

GT has surely suffered from very dysfucntional decision making by the Atletics Department leadership. Seriously.

I think Bill Curry is an outstanding person. But, in 1980, he had NO HC experience. Anybody remember…that Steve Spurrier was the QB Coach at GT in 1979, right before Curry was hired? O’Leary was the DC and Friedgen was the OC for Ross. Why couldnt GTAA choose one of these guys in 1992, and avoid the Bill Lewis disaster??

It was Dave Braine that most reently cursed the GTAA. In addition to idiocy of hiring Chan Gailey, Braine left GTAA in DEEP financial trouble with the BD stadium expansion that was financially wreckless.

D-Rad inherited a HUGE mess to clean up.

Thankfully, condiotns are rapidly improving.

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
5:27 pm

Full disclosure: I thought Bill Lewis was a great hire. I still don’t know what happened.

Saint Simons

May 15th, 2009
5:32 pm

Bill lewis was from uga thats why he was a loser!! 45-42!!!!hahahahahahahahahahahhahahah

Pitbull

May 15th, 2009
5:44 pm

To his credit, Vince Dooley never informed Bill Lewis that Vince was planning to retire and that the HC job at UGA would be available. he encouraged Bill Lewis to take the East Carolina HC job. Vince obviously saw something that Tech failed to see when they hired Bill Lewis. But of course we are glad that you did. It was fun to watch. But to your credit, you finally ran him off.

Jeff

May 15th, 2009
5:45 pm

Thanks Mark. I often wonder how former players are doing. Good to hear that Donnie’s going to graduate and that there’s some healing going on. Those were painful years (Lewis era).

Ted Striker

May 15th, 2009
6:06 pm

“The irony of college football is that the same students who boo their classmates at games have every opportunity to try out for the team if they think they can do better.” — DannyBoy

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better point. I’m not a big fan of booing in general but as far as I’m concerned it has no place in collegiate sports. (Unless you’re booing the ref. In that case, it’s “Lay on, Macduff, and damn’d be him that first cries, Hold, enough!”)

Rob

May 15th, 2009
6:12 pm

Donnie has been in a few of my classes, but since I missed his playing days I had no idea that he used to be our QB, or that he even played football. Good for him.

NRBQ

May 15th, 2009
6:19 pm

You owe me, Mark.

I stuck up for you yesterday over at Senator Blutarsky’s place.

ForSureAJacket

May 15th, 2009
6:23 pm

Really enjoyed the story. Best wishes to you, Donnie.

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
6:24 pm

Mark the day: Our first “MacBeth” reference on the ol’ blog. Courtesy of Ted, natch.

And NRBQ, I’ve been waiting for you: The very week after you ridiculed me for my old-fashioned tastes in music, guess what popped up on “DeepTracks”? “It’s a Wild Weekend” by NRBQ.

(And thanks for your support at the Senator’s, wherever that might be.)

Ted Striker

May 15th, 2009
6:51 pm

Sen. Blutarsky is “Bluto” from ‘Animal House’Closing credits shows that he goes on to become a U.S. Senator. Which would be a fair improvement over some of the jokers we gots. (Ooops, wrong blog)

Hey, folks it’s still Happy Hour! Dino, Frankie, Sammy, Peter, and Joey have gone to Vegas in the sky, but ole’ Ted Striker is remembering them properly. (A drink for me, and I’ll have one for each of them too).

Bob B

May 15th, 2009
6:59 pm

luginbill got the job because his dad was in the coaching community–at sd state I believe. i think we beat Arizona in Atlanta the 1rst game and didn’t win another game that year.Am I wrong? What a shame. We had one of the best QBs in the nation and one of the worst( maybe the worst)coaches.These were the “nightmare years for Tech” what a shame.Homer Rice hired Lewis ,and I will never forgive him for the worst decision he ever made.

Jaded Jacket

May 15th, 2009
7:18 pm

Bill Lewis is an ugly scar on Tech’s history.

Not Disappointed

May 15th, 2009
7:51 pm

I recall Bill Lewis was good at East Carolina; maybe he should have stayed. “Wonderful story Mark. Kudos to you Mr. Donnie Davis! Welcome home and glad to see you getting your Degree. Ramblin Wreck! I hope one day I can shake your hand. “Have a good week all.” :-)

Marie

May 15th, 2009
7:53 pm

Nice job, Donnie!!!

Brad in Lexington, KY

May 15th, 2009
8:26 pm

Mark Bradley,

Have you ever looked at Bill Lewis’ record as a head coach before GT hired him? I haven’t look in awhile, but I think the one big season at ECU was just about the only winning season he’d had before he was hired at GT. Bill Lewis was Bill Lewis when he came to Tech. He just wasn’t a good coach and it was a crappy hire.

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
8:39 pm

Give me some credit, Ted. I’m familiar with that Sen. Blutarsky. (And Mandy. And Otter. And Boone.) I thought maybe NRBQ had someone else in mind.

Tech’s only victory in 1994 was over Western Carolina. The Jackets did, however, play Arizona close on a Thursday night at BDS to open the season.

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
8:41 pm

And I’m familiar with Bill Lewis’ resume. He never had a winning season at Wyoming before coming to Georgia as defensive coordinator. He had one winning season at East Carolina, but it was a great one — 11-1 in 1991, beating N.C. State in the last outdoor Peach Bowl. Jeff Blake was his quarterback.

NRBQ

May 15th, 2009
9:20 pm

The esteemed Senator runs an excellent Dawg blog, “Get the Picture.”

I’ll convert you yet on the most joyful live rock and roll band to ever plug in anywhere.

Greg Anderson

May 15th, 2009
9:29 pm

I was in the same HomeBanc training class as both Donnie Davis and Rick Strom and, as a UGA grad and longtime season ticket holder who is posting this under a pseudonym to avoid possible banishment from the Bulldog Nation, is very happy for Donnie. We talked frequently over those 9 weeks and I never had a clue about the bitterness from his years at Tech. Non-collegiate athletes (like myself) often have preconceived notions about players, especially when they attended a bitter rival. To both their credit, and I guess in some insignificantly small way a credit to Tech as well, these two gentleman were both refreshing examples that debunked the image of the stereotypical athlete. But Rick married a UGA girl, so that helps to explain his transformation :-) .

Way to go Donnie!

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
9:31 pm

Thanks. I knew I was missing something.

And I like NRBQ just fine. I just found it amusing that your guys showed up the channel for which you’d given me grief.

Guess I probably shouldn’t mention that I also listen to “Siriusly Sinatra,” which often features the vocal stylings of Rosemary Clooney, who’s from Maysville, Ky. As am I.

Ted Striker

May 15th, 2009
9:32 pm

No slight intended, Mark. (It’s just that your wife and daughter claim you won’t watch any film that wasn’t shot in black & white). By the way, be careful talking about how well you remember Mandy. You might have some splainin’ to do.

Point of obscurity: Mary Louise Weller, who played the role of Mandy made her film debut with an uncredited role in Serpico. And as far as I know, she’s never cheered for or against Tech.

Mark Bradley

May 15th, 2009
9:38 pm

You got that part right, TS — I’m a black-and-white-with-subtitles guy.

I didn’t know that about Mary Louise Weller, and I’ve only seen “Serpico” — OK, I make a colorized exception now and then — a dozen times. But I do remember Martha Smith, who enlivened the role of Mandy’s friend Babs, from a magazine I used to read just for the articles.

Ted Striker

May 15th, 2009
9:46 pm

I greatly favor classic films too, although I’m no film snob. (You’ve probably surmised as much from my moniker).

Martha Smith!!!! Good times!!!! (Wait, that magazine had articles???) Sheesh, I always wondered what that squiggly print looking stuff was in between the pictures.

Ty

May 15th, 2009
9:55 pm

surfrider- Thanks for bringing that up. I absolutely remember that game against FSU like it was yesterday. I went to that game and then went to the Braves Game 1 against Toronto in the World Series. I don’t think there has ever been a bigger turning point between two programs as that 4th quarter. FSU went on to win that game, win the National Championship the next year, and dominate the 90’s. That game officially killed any momentum Tech still had from the National Title in 1990, and well, we’re still trying to get back to that point. It was definitely a changing of the guard moment in the ACC.

John

May 15th, 2009
10:35 pm

Among the Tech faithful…the “coach” that took over Ross left is referred to B*** L****. Or Satan, Lucifer, the Devil.

I cannot even speak that man’s name for what he did to our program.