UW Health Sports Medicine 

Family matters: Tight-knit team a reflection of Davis

ON WISCONSIN <b>Maintaining a strong relationship with his wrestlers is part of Barry Davis' formula for success.</b>
Maintaining a strong relationship with his wrestlers is part of Barry Davis' formula for success.

Dec. 17, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- A handful of framed pictures tastefully adorn the walls of Barry Davis' office. Each reflects the personality of the 49-year-old UW wrestling coach.

"I put the golf picture up because I like golf," he said pointing to a far wall.

"That's my daughter's," he said pointing to one of his youngster's art work.

Directly behind his desk is a commandment:  E-F-F-O-R-T.

And it comes with the following buzz phrase: "Some people dream of worthy accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them."

Looking up at the wall, Davis pointed and said, "I like that one the most."

He was pointing to a framed picture of a lion. You can fill in the blank with adjectives that might apply to an animal predator: strong, powerful, majestic.

"That one is real," Davis said, pointing again to the lion, "because he has got to survive every day - bottom line. Otherwise he's going hungry."

Successful wrestlers are well-versed on survival instincts.

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider

"It's real simple in life," said Davis, suggesting the combination of effort and hunger can lead to a conquer-and- survive mindset competitively.

"Bottom line. Our season comes down to three days."

Three days in March: the NCAA championships.

"And you'd better be on," he said.

Last March, the Badgers finished fourth in the nationals and returned home with four All-Americans: undefeated NCAA champ Andrew Howe, Tyler Graff, Kyle Ruschell and Trevor Brandvold. All are back except Ruschell.

Davis was named coach of the year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association on the heels of back-to-back top-10 finishes -- the first time that has happened at Wisconsin in three decades.

Are the No. 4-ranked Badgers good enough to win it all this season?

"Are we good enough? Yeah, we're good enough," said Davis. "We just have to make sure when we get there (the NCAA meet) everything goes right. The big thing for us is going to be bonus points. We have to emphasize pinning, turning, getting a guy on his back and making sure we get the fall.

"In order for us to win it all we'd have to wrestle pretty much error-free, a perfect NCAA championship. Can we do it? Yeah. As the coach, I have to make sure we're on track and everybody is doing all the little things right."

Davis held up his right hand at shoulder length and noted, "Here's March and you work backwards this way" wiggling his left hand which was at his waist. "Where do you want to be here?" he continued. "Where am I now? And what do I have to do to get here (waving his right hand)? That's the key."

Davis is a hands-on coach. So much so that he will make a point of dropping in on his wrestlers at their apartments. Just to make sure they know he cares. Just to make sure that he knows what they're up to - just like a parent.

"The other day, I thought I'd drop off an early Christmas present," said Davis, who showed up unannounced at Ben Jordan's digs. Two of his teammates, Howe and Travis Rutt, were there. Jordan wasn't. So Davis walked into his bedroom and left his gift on Jordan's pillow. He later called him.

"Just so you know I left you an early Christmas present and it's on your bed," Davis informed Jordan. "Don't let dust settle on that thing."

The gift was a 45-pound plate - what you would find in the weight room. It's the gift that keeps giving, especially if you're into shoulder presses. "I told him, `Make sure you use it wisely, you've got to get stronger,'" Davis said.

No further explanation was needed.

"It's a motivating thing - if the plate is there (bedroom), maybe he does some presses at night," Davis said. "I wanted to make sure he knows that I'm thinking about him as a coach and if he does the extra work with the plate, he'll get bigger and stronger. Even if he's not, he'll think he is.

"The other day he said, `Just so you know, coach, I'm using that plate.' I wanted him to understand, `You are important to me, let's do this together.'"

No detail is too small for Davis, who's already mapping out moves that will give Tyler Graff a competitive advantage at 133 pounds. There are maybe four wrestlers who can win this weight class, Davis estimated. And so he has been putting together a scouting report that will enable Graff to counter every attack.

"I'll wake up in the middle of the night," Davis admitted, "and I'll go downstairs and watch film (of Graff's competition) and write notes down."

Can anyone beat Howe?

"The guy from Nebraska is pretty good,'' Davis said of Jordan Burroughs, a 2009 national champion at 157 pounds. Burroughs took a medical redshirt last season and has since moved up to 165, Howe's weight class. Mark this down: On Jan. 21, the Badgers will face the Cornhuskers in a dual meet in Madison.

"His goal is beat Andrew Howe," Davis went on. "Andrew's goal is to win a national championship, not just beat Burroughs. There's a difference. Everybody is talking about that dual match. But we're preparing for the NCAAs."

You can tell that Barry Davis likes this group of wrestlers.

"I like their attitude," he said. "Everybody on the team is buying in. Not just the 10 guys who are competiting but everyone is making each other better. The redshirt guys behind Howe are pushing him and, when he wins, they understand `I win.' That's what I like. We have a good atmosphere. It's an exciting time for us. It's the best group we've had and hopefully we'll get better next year."

Many believe the Badgers landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Although Davis doesn't put much stock in rankings, he acknowledged that the early reviews are justified because each of his recruits is an "exceptional kid."

He then brought some context to recruiting. "When we recruited Kyle Ruschell, people asked, `Who's this kid out of Kentucky?''' Davis said. "Well, he became a two-time All-American for us. It's not about their ranking."

It's about much more for Davis. "What's their work ethic like?" he posed. "What's their character like? What do they want to achieve? You go by that."

You can't leave his office without noticing the photos on his desktop. One of them is of his older brother, Marty Davis, who drowned in a snowmobiling accident near his home in Iowa last January. He was 52.

When asked about his late brother, Barry Davis needed to take some deep breaths and compose himself before he could get any words out. He forcefully tapped his index finger repeatedly on his desk before finally saying, "The hardest part is the competitions, because when I see my dad, he's not there."

Davis went back to Iowa on Wednesday for a funeral - it was at the same funeral home where he had mourned the loss of Marty less than a year ago.

"It's still fresh, that's all," he said tearfully.

Davis went back to Iowa to comfort his mom and dad.

"As a son, I think it's important to be there for your family," he said. "I have two brothers I have to care for, and everybody else. I have to stay strong."

That's what you do in a tight family, he stressed.

"As a coach, if something goes on with one of your athletes, you have to be there to support him," he said. "It's a part of life."

It's a big part of who he is.

Mike Lucas

Wrestling Post Season
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