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A Coach of Quick Wit, Slow Talk : 19-Year Veteran Is an Institution at Schurr

September 21, 1989|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

His voice, familiar in the Deep South but foreign to Montebello, is Ken Davis' trademark. The many years he has spent far from his native Georgia have affected it little.

"They say it's speeded up from what I used to do," said the only football coach Schurr High School has ever had. "A lot of the kids try to mimic me. One good thing, when you call someone on the phone they know who you are immediately."

Success also identifies Davis, 52, who is in his 19th season as coach of the Spartans and has been at the same school longer than any other coach in the Southeast/Long Beach area.

"He's like Matlock," said Millikan High Coach Dave Radford, referring to the TV lawyer portrayed by Andy Griffith. "He gives you that slow-talking drawl, but behind that is one of the quickest minds in Southern California football."

Radford and Davis once attended Cal State Long Beach together and are now non-conference rivals.

Players Tend to Be Small

Small, with narrow shoulders, a pale cross-hatched neck and red hair fading to gray, the bespectacled Davis looks as unimposing as his players. "I can look most of my linemen in the eye," he drawled, making a point that his team is almost always at a distinct size disadvantage.

But in heart and aggressiveness, they more than match up.

"I've never had a kid get a football scholarship in all these years," Davis said. "But we've still managed to win 120 games (including a CIF championship in 1980). I have a good staff, and we get the most out of our players. We have a lot of small kids who give you 100% and take a lot of pride in being a Spartan."

The losses?

"I try not to keep track of them," Davis said.

Davis' record, according to Athletic Director Don Hill, is 124-57-1.

The new season has been painful for Davis, and not just because injuries and academic difficulties have cost him several players.

He was supposed to have back surgery during the summer. "Somethin' to do with a disc, but that's no big deal, just one of those things," he said. "I was feeling better so I put it off, then I got blind-sided in practice. I only sleep two or three hours a night. I can't hardly lay down."

But each afternoon he is on the practice field, which sits with the gym and a parking lot on a sun-baked Montebello hill above the Pomona Freeway.

"You demand something from the kids, you have to expect the same from yourself," he said. "But there comes a time you can't cope with it. I don't know what's going to happen."

An opening game loss to Montebello High, 28-6, had not helped his back or spirit. "We weren't very spectacular," Davis said with his typical dry humor a few hours before a game last week with Pioneer High.

Davis was unsure whether to give his Knute Rockne pep talk or the Vince Lombardi one. "Maybe I'll give excerpts from both," he said. "After last week I better give them something."

In the 1950s, Davis played linebacker, center and running back on the Waynesboro (Ga.) High football team.

"We were the Purple Hurricane . . . that'll strike fear into your heart, won't it?" he said.

He last visited Waynesboro a year ago, returning for his mother's funeral.

"You go back there and people are different," he said. "Friendlier, more genuine, more caring about other people. If your neighbors cook something for dinner, they cook a little extra and bring it over to you."

It was mainly at his mother's insistence that he sought higher education.

"We were very poor," he said. "The poor people stay and work in factories, gas stations or on farms.

But he broke out, and, in the eyes of his hometown, quite successfully. A 1988 story on Davis in the Waynesboro True Citizen began: "The Waynesboro High School class of 1954 produced its share of doctors, scientists, attorneys and entrepreneurs. It also produced one heck of a football coach in Ken Davis, son of Mr. and Mrs. James C. Davis."

After high school, Davis joined the Navy and was stationed at San Diego. Later, he went to Orange Coast College and, in 1964, graduated from Cal State Long Beach. Before moving to Schurr when it changed from a junior high to a high school in 1971, he coached at Servite High in Anaheim, San Marcos in Santa Barbara and Keppel in Alhambra.

A picture of Bear Bryant, the late Alabama coach, is above Davis' desk. "Him and Lombardi are probably my two biggest (heroes)," he said.

So it is no accident that Davis, usually dressed in the school colors of green and gold, is a motivator, too.

"I love to listen to his halftime talks," said equipment manager Jim Fagan. "Once at Millikan he had them so fired up they couldn't wait to get out there. He was yelling and screaming. Then on the kickoff everyone over-pursued and they (opponents) ran it back for a touchdown."

"I don't know where he gets the words," quarterback Jay Macias said, "but somehow they're always the right words. And they're always simple."

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