When his father, Randy, was an assistant baseball coach at South Carolina in the mid 90s, Will Davis asked to be the bat boy. Then just starting middle school, Will took on the menial task of retrieving the bats and placing them back on the rack with an additional undertaking.
A math wizard, Will would take the Gamecock players’ bats, informing them how far their batting average dipped following an unsuccessful at-bat.
“You’re down to .216 now,” he told one, a productive shortstop whose average didn’t reflect his true value to the team.
“And he would just get furious,” his father, Randy, laughed on Friday, hours after Will – a nine-year LSU assistant – accepted Lamar’s head coaching job.
A former assistant to LSU legend Skip Bertman and later head coach at Louisiana Tech, Randy recalls his son’s fifth grade year.
He knew before then that Will would be a baseball coach – how could he not be with his upbringing, he asks– but it was then where Randy saw the hours of his son sitting next to he and Bertman materialize into substance.
“He was moving this guy over, telling this guy to do that and all that kind of stuff,” Randy remembered. “And he was right.”
Will remembers when he was 12. Randy was now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, where his team had just been knocked out of the Sun Belt Tournament at UL-Lafayette. Will looked around as seniors sobbed, knowing their careers were likely over.
“It really hit me for the first time at 12 years old that, wow, you don’t play baseball forever,” Will said Friday. “It really scared me, shocked me. I don’t think most 12 year olds get a chance to realize that.
“Then I realized, wait a minute, I can be a coach just like my dad.”
Will now gets that chance, inheriting a Southland Conference program that Jim Gilligan guided to unparalleled successes in a 38-year, Texas Baseball Hall of Fame career.
Gilligan will retire at the end of this season and it is unclear when Will will go to Beaumont. Will said the plan, right now, is for him to coach at LSU in 2016, though he added details at Lamar are still being finalized.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who convinced Will to stay with the program when he arrived in Baton Rouge as head coach in 2007, said his nine-year assistant has his approval to do whatever is best for his new program.
“He has my blessing if he wants to go immediately,” Mainieri said. “We have a plan, … and I think we can have a pretty seamless transition. If that’s what the best thing is for Will and the program, I’m all for it.”
Mainieri met with athletic director Joe Alleva on Friday to discuss his initial plans for the staff. The coach estimated a decision would be made by next week.
A Lee High graduate, Will, then projected as LSU’s third-string catcher, wanted to jumpstart his career by coaching a local high school when Mainieri arrived.
Instead, Mainieri offered to mentor him. A year later, in 2008, Mainieri made him his coordinator of baseball operations before promoting him to a volunteer assistant coach in 2009.
“I remember telling him ‘Here’s a kid you have to watch, regarding his coaching,'” Bertman said. “He would get very, very excited, would really be into it. Incredibly honorable and incredibly loyal to Paul and (former LSU coach) Smoke (Laval). I think those are great traits.”
Since then, Will’s worked with outfielders, catchers, coached third base, ran the LSU baseball summer camps, overseen players’ summer ball placement and been the head of the Coaches Committee – the program’s booster club.
He was also the head of Louisiana recruiting from 2011-14, luring in-state talent like Kade Scivicque, Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird to campus. All are now playing professional baseball.
Will Davis accepted the Lamar coaching job Friday
“Being under the microscope here at LSU and the importance of every little decision we’ve made as coaches, not just the one in games, but the ones in recruiting and practice and how much they impact so many people that care, it never allows you to let up,” Will said. “That really prepares you for anything that comes your way in coaching.”
Scivicque, the first LSU baseball player from the little-known town of Maurepas, credited Will with his entire LSU journey. He spotted Scivicque at a travel-ball tournament, kept him on his radar, then coached him behind the plate to 2015 First Team All-American honors while becoming a Johnny Bench Award finalist.
“He had almost everything to do with me getting there,” said Scivicque, who was just named a non-roster invitee to Detroit Tigers spring training. “(Now) when I go to the field, it’s everything me and him worked on. It’s still the same stuff I work on everyday. It’s helped me a lot.”
Perhaps the only thing Will hadn’t accomplished on the field in his time at LSU to prepare him for a head coaching job was working specifically with pitchers.
Instead, he went to Bertman.
“With Paul’s permission, Will would come to my house in the past few years and talk about pitching, which Will didn’t do. Not about Mainieri’s pitching, about pitching skills in general,” Bertman said. “He’s very bright. He can pick up, he can retain and absorb a lot of knowledge. I think he’s a very good teacher, which is obviously the whole thing.”
Randy says you’re never really ready to be a head coach – baseball has too many variables and is too unpredictable to ever make concrete predictions.
Son echoes father, cognizant of his current position.
“I haven’t achieved anything as a head coach yet and I’m very excited for the job, but I’m really ready to get started and excited for the journey,” Will said. “I think we all know the caliber of player Texas produces, not just Texas but the golden triangle there in Beaumont. That gives me great hope that the sky is the limit.”
So is Randy.
“He’s very passionate, a hard worker, and he’s very smart,” Randy said. “You can’t ask for much more than what he’s given us.”