How To Win Games and Influence Players

Butch Davis entered the ranks of college football royalty last January, when his University of Miami Hurricanes fell a hair short of claiming the title of the nation's best team. This year, he's back in the rookie ranks with his first head coaching job in the National Football League. Earlier this summer, we sat down with Davis to talk about Cleveland, his coaching style and what you can expect during the 2001 football season.

Coming to Cleveland

What was the appeal of coming to Cleveland? Was it the fact that it was a new, young franchise?

"It had something to do with it, but I would say that was probably not even in the top five reasons for the decision though. I looked at several things. One, as you look at any job, whether it’s college or the NFL, the decision makers are the ones who have got to be unbelievably committed to the success of the team.

"Look at [team owner] Mr. [Al] Lerner. He wanted to win. Resources were not going to be a factor in whether we won or lost. Same thing with [Cleveland Browns President and CEO] Carmen [Policy]. He has been around so much success in San Francisco and knows what it takes to give you all the resources needed to succeed."

Motivating Players

How would you describe your philosophy for dealing with players?

“I’ve always tried to teach and motivate and coach from a positive standpoint. I try to find as many good things as a guy does and build on all those others — develop a relationship with the player to where he doesn’t feel threatened. You have to create an environment where players are not afraid to fail. If they are afraid to fail in practice, they’ll never reach the heights of how good they can be. If every time they go out there, they feel like some coach is going to jump down their throat, they’re always going to stay in that comfort zone.”

Aggressive Coaching

You’ve talked a lot about creating a more aggressive, meaner Browns team than the one that’s been on the field the past two years. From what you’ve seen, does that style fit these players?

“It will. That’s just the way I’m wired. Players like playing with a go-for-the-throat defensive mentality that you’re putting the pressure on and an offensive mentality that you’re always trying to make good plays. You’re never sitting back with the three yards and a cloud of dust offense.

“There will be an element of aggressiveness in everything we do. The players like it and the fans. like it. Ultimately, we’re going to do what it takes to win games with elements of that, but at some point you still have to keep within reason and decide what’s going to give us the best chance to win this Sunday. If we have to sit on the ball and play great defense, then that’s what we’ll do if that lets us win. If we have to score a ton of points and play bend-but-don’t break defense, we may have to do that on some given Sundays.

"Eventually we’ll get to the power to the level that we want. Then, we can obviously play how we want to play all the time."

Learning From a Master

What are the most important lessons you learned from Jimmy Johnson? (Davis worked a total of 15 years with Johnson at Oklahoma State University, the University of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys)

“He made me develop the attitude and the idea that you need to really keep your mind open and critically take a look at players and don’t stereotype them . . . Find and create roles and opportunities for guys to contribute and help your football team become successful. Players appreciate that. If they know they have a specific role — that they have a chance — no mater how small the role or how big the role is, if their role is vital and it’s important to the success of the team they’re going to do it extremely well?”

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