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Kind hearted and intent with a passion for football. That’s how friends remember the late Paul Davis, who passed away March 31. Known mostly in this area as the former head football coach at Mississippi State, many would be surprised to learn that before roaming the sidelines in Starkville, Davis began his coaching career in New Albany.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Davis started his collegiate career at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College before transferring to Ole Miss, where he was a three-sport athlete. Davis stood out as the starting center for the Rebels, as well as a guard in basketball and third baseman in baseball.
After graduating in 1947, Davis headed 25 miles north to Union County, where he served as New Albany’s head football coach for three years. During this time, Davis coached and inspired many young men in the area, and to this day, they remember the impact their coach had on them.
“He stayed after me constantly to go out for football,” 1952 graduate Carl Self said. “My mom wouldn’t let me go out for a couple of years, so in the 10th grade I went out anyway. She laid it on me because I went out for football, but her and daddy turned out to be some of the biggest fans.”
Self, along with 1953 graduate Wayne West, talked about Davis and what he brought to the area.
“He was a good coach,” West said. “That was the first time I ever saw a football. He was responsible for the things that happened to me, playing at Ole Miss then professionally in New York.”
Although he was known more for his coaching, former students also remember the social science class he taught at the high school.
“I liked the course and the way he presented the course work,” New Albany native Hubert Foley said. “ In the career field I’m in, there’s a lot of science and math, so his course was probably one of the most interesting to me. Not only was he a great athlete and coach, he also had a strong academic history.”
Longtime friend and former assistant at New Albany, Tom Cotton served as a scout for Davis, and remembers his thoroughness and knowledge of the game.
“He was very sharp minded in football,” Cotton said. “I would tell him stuff on Mondays and I swear I never thought he was listening to me, but when we would go on the field for practice he remembered everything, so I know he paid attention.”
Leaving Union County in 1950, Davis would move on to the head coaching position at Jones Junior College, where he won a state championship. In 1955, Davis moved on to work as an assistant at Memphis State College before a brief coaching stint with the Canadian Football League. He served as an assistant for one year at the University of Georgia before taking the helm at Mississippi State in 1962.
In five seasons with the Bulldogs, Davis went 20-38-2, with his most memorable season coming in 1963, when State finished 7-2-2 with a win over North Carolina State in the Liberty Bowl.
Davis would move on to work as an assistant at Auburn under Ralph Jordan and Doug Barfield from 1967-1980 before working as the recruiting coordinator in legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s final season at Alabama. Davis also served as an assistant for two seasons at Temple before returning to the Plains, where he was an assistant for Pat Dye and the Tigers until 1990.
Retiring in the Auburn area, Davis passed away at a retirement home, leaving behind his two children, two grandchildren and many memories.
“He was a top notch fella back in those times,” Self said. “He was real good and did a lot for the kids, and always picked out the kids who didn’t have much and always found a way to be nice to them.”
“He was a very kind person and was very intent,” Cotton added. “If you didn’t work hard enough, he would let you know. He had a fire and a passion for football.”