Alumni talk about coach Mike Davis, on his retirement

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From the Winter 2010-11 Caller

From Peter Gail ’96

"La Salle's not doing this. . . . " he bellowed out from atop the "hill" in his classic English accent. "OES isn't doing this . . . Catlin Gabel Savings and Loan. We put it in today and take it out on our opponent." These words usually showed themselves at the end of a training session, about two days before a big match. There he would stand staring down at us, our lungs screaming, quads burning, just waiting for the call—another gut buster up the 30-yard stretch that separated the upper and lower fields. I loved doing those hills for Mike Davis.
I remember the first time I saw Catlin Gabel play. I was 9 years old and my sister Annabel Toren ’89 was playing center midfield for the Catlin Gabel girls team in the annual jamboree. The boys varsity took the pitch after my sister's game, and I remember watching Roger Gantz ’89 dance through the midfield. He played with such vision, such strength, and connected pass after pass with his teammates. And on the sideline, orchestrating this beautiful brand of soccer, was this English fellow, calm and cool, a subtle comment here and there. "That's Mike Davis," someone told me on the sideline, "the coach of the boys varsity." I was hooked. I knew right there that I wanted to play for him someday.
Someone once described me and my Catlin Gabel teammates as "junkies for the game." This passion for soccer started early in my years at the school. In PE, if we were given the choice, we would opt for indoor soccer in the tennis courts. The small-sided atmosphere in there and consistent touches . . . that was huge for our confidence on the ball. I remember playing a version of soccer tennis with Mike against the wall in the gym, challenging each other to hit the Catlin Gabel tree. Or Tuesdays and Thursdays through the late spring and summer with current students and alums, getting together to knock the ball around. There was a soccer culture at Catlin Gabel, and it was rooted in an enjoyment of the game. Mike Davis was a huge part of that.
In high school, when 3:00 rolled around I was often on a jog from the Dant House to the gym; a quick change, and then a mad dash through the forest down to the pitch. Mike made things fun for us at practice, but serious at the same time. We were intensely competitive with each other, and Mike fostered this competition at every turn. I think he knew that if he could get us to battle against each other, some of the top players in the state, then we would be a step ahead of anyone who stepped on the field against us. This philosophy worked well, as during my four years at Catlin Gabel we were semi-finalists one year, and state champions the three others.
Under Mike we played the beautiful game. We would build out of the back when the game allowed for a measured attack, or if we were under pressure, another of Mike's famous phrases would pop into the head: "when in doubt, whack it out." And over the course of every season, our teams would improve. We were always playing our best soccer at the end of the year, a testament to Mike's ability to shape a team. In no place was this more evident than during my senior season in the state finals vs. Phoenix.
I checked back to the ball from my forward spot and received a perfect entry pass from our central midfielder Tyler Tibbs ’96. On the far side of the field was our winger, Peter Duyan ’96, streaking down the pitch. I drove a 40-yard ball to him in stride and he took his touch to the end line, only to serve an even better cross to the penalty spot. I laid out for a diving header to see the keeper deflect the shot to my striking partner, Andrew Crenshaw ’97, who buried the rebound. It was a beautiful sequence, and the kind of thing you saw the best teams under Mike Davis put together.
There were others like this, but probably none more famous than the brilliant one-touch sequence created during Catlin Gabel's first state championship with Roger Gantz ’89 and company. Before playoff games, we would watch the tape of that incredible play; nine one-touch passes from the back forward until the ball found the back of the net.
It wasn't always rosy with me and Mike, and for good reason. During one particular game my sophomore year, I had taken too many touches on the ball and Mike let me know about it from the sideline. "Keep it simple," he called out. I shouted back in a loud and sarcastic tone, "SORRY, Mike!" He wasted no time, calling out "sub ref" instantly. It was weeks before I would get back into the starting lineup, and that only happened because I trained harder than ever before. Mike was someone you didn't cross. He demanded respect. This was another reason he was able to get so much out of his players.
I still play soccer and coach soccer. It's a huge part of my life, but I just can't seem to get enough. In many ways, I still feel like that 16-year-old kid, the "junkie for the game" sprinting through the Catlin Gabel forest to get to those majestic fields below. And I owe this passion for the game, in many ways, to Mike Davis. He fostered a love of the game, and my development both as a soccer player and a young man. I wish to thank him for that.

From Roger Gantz ’89

When you came to Catlin Gabel, you had the monumental task of taking over a job from a legendary figure of Oregon high school athletics. To say the least, this was no small job. Not only have you become one the most successful coaches in Oregon history, but you have created your own legend. More remarkable still, especially for us within the Catlin Gabel community, you were successful within the special ethos of the school.
After Catlin Gabel, I was very fortunate to carry on playing soccer. Both collegiately and professionally, playing in front of big crowds with and against some of the most recognizable names in the sport at the time. I can say, however, that our ’88 state championship overtime thriller against Woodburn was, without a doubt, my fondest soccer memory.
Thanks for that, Mike. And on behalf of all your players, thank you for fostering the best and purest sporting experiences in which we will ever participate.
Oogy, oogy, oogy, oy, oy, oy.

From Greg Bates ’96

Mike, or the Gaffer, was a huge influence in my life. When I was 14 my family and I made the decision to move to the Portland area so I could attend Catlin Gabel. Mike was a big factor in the decision.
Everyone in the soccer community knew he was a great coach; that his teams won. At that time Catlin Gabel and he had won several state championships in a row and had produced some great players. During my four years of playing for Mike, our teams won three state titles, and many of went to play in college. More importantly, we played good team soccer and had a great time doing it.
Unequivocally, I can say Mike was one of the great influences in my life. He was a fantastic coach and mentor. Mike brought out the best in his players. (Sadly, very few coaches actually do that.) Mike had a way of getting his teams to play as one, to make the last player on the team feel just as important as the MVP. The life lessons we learned running hills, playing keep away, of beating OES, stay with me today. For example, he taught us about hard work. Mike was fond of saying, as we ran yet another hill, "Put it in the bank and take it out on game day."
Mike will be missed. I trust Catlin Gabel will find another great coach. Mike cannot be replaced. He is one of a kind. All of us who had the privilege of playing for him and got to know him can attest to that. He was a great ambassador for the sport and for the school. I wish him all the best. Cheers, Gaffer.