Robert Davis will never forget the message he received from longtime Mary Persons High School head football coach Dan Pitts shortly after being hired as the first head football coach at Westside.
At the time, the Westside athletics program was a patch of dirt and some tennis courts. Pitts, who was the winningest coach in state history at the time, joked that he couldn’t believe Davis was leaving the powerful Warner Robins football program to go to a “tennis school.”
“He was giving me a hard time, messing around with me,” Davis said. “At the time, I wasn’t really sure what we could get done at Westside.”
Davis, who quickly turned Westside into a state power, resigned Friday morning after 12 years on the job.
“It’s time to give someone else a chance,” said Davis, who spent 36 years as a head coach at Warner Robins and Westside and 44 years coaching overall. “I’m done.”
Davis led the Seminoles to the Georgia Dome for the state semifinals in just their third full year of varsity football. He reached 100 wins in 12 years, which is faster than any head coach at a new school in state history and eventually passed his old friend Pitts as the winningest coach in Middle Georgia history with 355 career wins.
Davis cited concerns about the welfare of his assistant coaches as one of the reasons for his resignation.
Davis said he was worried some of his assistants would be moved around to different teaching positions because of budget cuts. He said he felt loyalty to his coaches to make sure they were in a “good situation.” One particular coach was being moved from a physical education job to teach social studies.
Davis had already talked about retirement during the past few years and considered it after each of the past two seasons.
“It’s just time to go,” Davis said. “Maybe we just need a younger guy to handle things like cutbacks, downsizing and a bad economy. ... I’m just going to watch my granddaughter play golf and my grandson (play sports) at Warner Robins. I’m going to see my former players play in college. I’m going to take it easy.”
Bibb County athletics director Raynette Evans said that the school system didn’t have the flexibility with the placement of coaches that it might have in years past.
“I tried to explain to Robert that this is happening to every school system in the state,” Evans said. “We have to look at every person’s certifications to move people around to keep coaches.”
Westside was coming off arguably its best season in school history.
The Seminoles were ranked No. 1 for the first time ever and earned the first undefeated regular season by a Bibb County school in more than 30 years.
They lost to eventual state champion Tucker in the GHSA Class AAAA quarterfinals. Davis also passed Pitts on the state’s all-time wins list early in the season to move into second place behind Lincoln County’s Larry Campbell.
“I’m very proud of what we accomplished this season,” Davis said. “We would have loved to win a state title, but we still had a great season.”
Davis told Evans in December that he was leaning toward retirement, but she told him to take some time to think about it after the loss to Tucker. She said she wasn’t surprised by his decision Friday.
“He deserves a break,” Evans said. “He has done a tremendous job at Westside since he was hired. He has given a lot to that school.”
It was Evans who convinced Davis to leave the football empire he built at Warner Robins for the uncertainty of Westside in 1997.
Davis won three state championships with the Demons (1976, 1981 and 1988) and claimed mythical national championships in 1976 and 1981. Landing Davis was a huge coup for the upstart program, Evans said.
The Seminoles won immediately, earning the first of two trips to the Georgia Dome for the state semifinals in 2000. The Seminoles had four consecutive 10-win seasons from 2000-03, and they never had a losing record.
In his career, Davis had 21 10-win seasons and has never had a losing season in 36 years as a head coach and only lost 73 games overall.
He also never lost a game to a Bibb County school while at Westside and holds a 30-year unbeaten streak against the county’s schools overall.
“Hiring Robert Davis gave us credibility,” Evans said. “He raised the bar for everyone. Before he came, winning a city championship was a big deal. We wanted a different mentality and higher expectations. He gave us that.”
Central head football coach Anthony Hines said Davis set the standard for excellence in the county.
“You wanted to try to match him,” Hines said. “He built the program from the ground up to a power. He made you want to be a better coach.”
Because of Davis’ success, Westside is now a premier football job, said Evans, who added that she already started fielding calls about the job soon after word leaked out of Davis’ decision.
Evans expects to fill the job by the end of April.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Evans said. “You have to follow a legend. The school has never had a losing season. But they have some good players coming back. There will be high expectations.”