Wittenberg assistant coach, son of former Notre Dame head coach, grateful for a life in ‘the greatest game’

Clay Davie excited about ‘keep-swinging attitude’ the Tigers have shown this season

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Clay Davie spent most of his life at the Division I level of college football, watching his dad Bob Davie coach at Notre Dame and other locations and then playing at Arizona State as a walk-on before starting his own coaching career.

It did not take him long, however, to see the attraction of NCAA Division III football when he arrived at Wittenberg University in January 2022.

“It feels like a pure game — almost more pure,” Davie said. “It’s almost like college football of a more classic era in the sense it’s true student-athletes playing for love of the game. It’s definitely a neat thing to be around. There’s the superficial differences of the size of the school, the size of stadium, but to me, it’s the relationships and the love of teaching and coaching that’s the most important thing of all — and being with your guys.”

Davie is in his second season as the offensive line and run game coordinator on head coach Jim Collins’ staff. The Tigers (4-1 overall) improved to 3-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference with a 21-7 victory Saturday against Hiram. A week earlier, Davie talked about Wittenberg’s 27-24 overtime victory at Denison.

“That feeling of winning the game at Denison, nothing replaces that,” Davie said, “and the level doesn’t really matter to me. It’s the pride that someone has in a place and the vibe and all that.”

Davie arrived at Wittenberg after working as the offensive quality control coach at Colorado State in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Prior to that, he coached at New Mexico from 2012-19 as a graduate assistant for the offensive line and then as tight ends coach. His dad was the head coach at New Mexico throughout those eight seasons.

Clay looks back positively on the experience of growing up as the son of a high-profile coach.

“When I was younger,” Clay said, “I couldn’t comprehend all that, but looking back you’re grateful for the opportunity to be around something as big as that. You’re fortunate to have gotten to do it. Then you realize even the stuff that was stressful or negative about it makes you who you are. It kind of formed your personality. Those emotions make you who you are.

“I talked to my dad about watching Notre Dame-Ohio State the other night, and you could relate a little bit to the magnitude of that. You kind of felt sick for whoever lost that game because you knew the emotions that would be felt. That comes from being in that world.”

Bob was an assistant coach at Texas A&M in 1987 when Clay was born. His dad told the The Santa Fe New Mexican in 2017 Clay was born the same day the Aggies beat Southern Mississippi, which was quarterbacked by Brett Favre, on the road. Bob flew home on a charter flight and got to the hospital just in time to see his wife Joanne give birth.

Bob moved from Texas A&M to Notre Dame, where he was the defensive coordinator from 1994-96 and then the head coach from 1997-2001. He succeeded Lou Holtz, the last coach to win a national championship at Notre Dame in 1988.

Bob now keeps a close eye on his son’s team. On the bus ride home from Iowa after a season-opening 28-27 victory against Dubuque, Wittenberg head coach Jim Collins asked Clay if his dad had watched the game. Bob watched the stream and then watched the replay and gave the coaches his input.

Clay learned the importance of paying attention to details from his dad throughout their time together at New Mexico.

“I was really fortunate to be with him in New Mexico,” Clay said. “That was definitely the experience of a lifetime. I’m really grateful for that time. ... He has a no-stone-unturned mentality. Another thing I saw was that appreciation for getting to do it. I know when he was out of coaching, he was so grateful to get the chance at New Mexico and just appreciated every moment. It’s really a special thing that you get to do. You can’t ever take that for granted. Every day, you just think how grateful you are to be in the greatest game.”

Clay grew up in Arizona, where the family settled when Bob lost his job at Notre Dame and started work as an analyst at ESPN. He started to think about getting into coach when he was in college. He thought he might become a teacher and a high school coach but got into the college game when he interned at Arizona State and then became a graduate assistant in his dad’s program at New Mexico.

“It’s the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Clay said. “You get hooked on that in a weird way, that roller coaster of emotions you can’t really find anywhere else.”

The opportunity at Wittenberg came about for Davie because of connections in the industry. A high school coach he knew in New Mexico, Nick Winkler, who’s now in Michigan, played for Collins at Saginaw Valley State and connected Davie to Collins. Davie also heard about Collins from Saga Tuitele, who coached with Collins at Army in the 2019 season and with the Davies at New Mexico.

Davie also took the job because his wife, Nora Hickey, has family in Dayton and in South Bend, so the Midwest is a familiar area for both.

Wittenberg finished 5-5 in Davie’s first season. The team returns to action Saturday on the road against Oberlin (1-3, 0-4) and then plays the NCAC’s other two unbeaten teams — DePauw (6-0, 4-0) and Wabash (4-1, 3-0) — in back-to-back games.

“Our vibe or mentality is really in a good place right now,” Davie said. “We’ve got some weapons on offense. We can get the ball in space. We’ve got older experienced backs that you can count on to get hard yards. That keep-swinging attitude is what we can hang on our hat right now.”

About the Author