EATON — After nearly three decades, there is a new face to Eaton football.
Brad Davis was named the Eagles’ next head coach in mid-April after Ron Neanen announced his retirement in March. But while Davis’ reign as head honcho is still in its infancy, his roots to the program date back to his adolescence.
He is a 1997 Eaton graduate, having played for Neanen before attending Western Kentucky University where he played for (former Eaton coach) Jack Harbaugh. He rejoined his high school coach in the summer of 2004 when he accepted a teaching position at Eaton.
Davis started as a special teams coach before taking on defensive coordinating duties in 2009. He has remained in that role until Neanen’s retirement.
“It was great playing for coach Harbaugh, absolutely, but coach Neanen – in terms of being a mentor and friend – he ranks right up there,” said Davis. “The four most influential people in my life are my dad, my brother, coach Jack Harbaugh, and coach Ron Neanen. That’s a pretty short list. I just can’t say enough great things about him and what he’s done not only for my career but as a person – how to handle myself as a man. It’s been tremendous working with him and I’m sad to see him go.”
Davis said it’s difficult to be the successor of an already-successful program, but acknowledged that the road has already been paved for him.
“You always hear that you don’t want to be the guy that follows the guy that’s been there forever. But, that’s my responsibility now and I get asked what I’m going to change. With (Neanen) being here for so long, the foundation has already been set,” he said. “I just have to keep it moving. The groundwork has been laid and the framework has been set. I just have to keep moving things in a positive direction.”
While Davis understands that the foundation has been laid, he is looking to bring his own style to the program. The scheme will be slightly different due to his defensive mentality and the fact that the entire offensive coaching unit has left the program, but it shouldn’t stray too far from the brand of football Eagles’ fans have become accustomed.
“We have to take a scheme and see what our personnel can do and make adjustments. We’ve been doing that – it’s the high school level. Our job is to figure out, to communicate to whoever comes in,” he said. “Here’s what we have. Let’s make it work.”
But Eaton football is Eaton football. Davis was coached by two men who both had the same philosophy and he is looking to keep that tradition going.
“A lot of the values that (Neanen) preached coming up as a player were only reinforced at the college level,” he said. “How I was taught football is hard work, commitment, effort, and accountability, as well as carrying yourself the right way and having character. So that’s what I know and that’s what the program is about.”
Although the road has been smoothly paved for Davis, Eaton did have one of their worst seasons in the school’s history last year.
The three-win season was a tough way to send off Neanen, said Davis, but it also provides an opportunity for this upcoming year. That opportunity and that challenge, in a roundabout way, is what motivated Davis to accept the head coaching position.
“That adds to the challenge list. We’d like to think the kids are going to use last year as a motivation factor,” said Davis. “It’s an opportunity to kind of see what I’m made of. Additionally, coming off from the year last year, it’s an opportunity to see what our kids are made of as well. So we bring all that together and I think the challenge of the whole situation itself is kind of what appealed to me.”
When Davis arrived back in his hometown in 2004, his plan wasn’t to stay here for long. But things changed – he met his wife and started a family here.
“It made sense, the longer I was here,” he said. “It’s a good community, a good school district.”
And come August, he’s hoping to continue with a good football program.