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Greg Davis excited for new Iowa challenge

New Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis found himself in strange surroundings last year.

The veteran assistant coach did not have a job in football for the first time since 1973. Or, as he puts it, he wasn't part of a team for the first time since he was 6.

"It was surreal," he told ESPN.com. "The first Saturday of the season was different. It was the first one in a long, long time that I didn't wake up in the morning with my stomach turning."

Davis tried to keep up with football as much as possible. He visited with different college and high school teams in the spring and summer, and he taped every game he couldn't watch live during the season. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he'd tell his wife, Patsy, that he was going to work. Then he'd head upstairs and review the tapes while taking notes.

While Davis enjoyed spending time with his daughter and three grandchildren after moving to Dallas, he also missed the game. So when he heard Ken O'Keefe was leaving Iowa for a Miami Dolphins assistant job -- one that Davis also tried to land -- he sent Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz a text message saying he'd love to come to Iowa City.

Ferentz hired a guy who coached some prolific offenses in 13 years at Texas, including an NCAA-record breaking attack in 2005 when the Longhorns won the BCS title and the 2009 team that played for the national championship. But Texas finished 88th nationally in scoring during a wildly disappointing 5-7 season in 2010, and Davis was forced out by his longtime boss, Mack Brown.

"Our talent level slipped a little bit, and we were just not as good," Davis said of that 2010 season. "We just didn't handle things as well as we had. That was really the only year out of 13 that I was there that I felt like we didn't do as good a job as we should have."

But Davis doesn't sound bitter over the loss of his job or the constant criticism he faced even while his teams piled up wins. He understands that's part of the deal. He tells the story of the time Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Texas A&M graduate, attended Longhorns practice and told Davis he was happy to see Texas start drills. When Davis asked why, Perry said that it would take pressure off him.

"I grew up in Texas and adore their passion for football," Davis said. "I felt in most cases there was some justification [for the criticism]. We had set the bar extremely high with what we expect as coaches and players, and we didn't meet it."

Now Davis moves on to Iowa, where O'Keefe often faced intense scrutiny for his playcalling. Of course, coordinators are often merely an extension of the head coach, and Davis isn't about to reinvent Hawkeyes football. He said the system he installs will be a blend of what he knows and what Iowa has always done under Ferentz.

"I did not come up here to run Texas' offense," Davis said. "I came up here to run Iowa's offense. I'm sure we'll do some things differently and ask different things of the players. At the same time, they have done an outstanding job here."

Davis designs an offense based on what his players can do best. For example, he said he had never used a zone read play until Vince Young came along at quarterback in Austin. Option plays were cut out of the playbook when the less swift but super accurate Colt McCoy took over the job. When Davis first started at Texas, the Longhorns rode the running game behind Ricky Williams -- "You didn't have to be Bill Walsh to know you've got to hand it to the big boy," he says.

The trick now for Davis is figuring out the strengths of players he won't work with closely until the Hawkeyes start spring practice March 24. The playbook will evolve between now and the end of the spring game.

"We'll take the approach this spring that we're a little unsure of what exactly the guys can do, where the features should be," he said.

He has already watched all of Iowa's games from last season and likes what he sees in quarterback James Vandenberg. The rising senior threw for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first year as a full-time starter in 2011. Davis has helped develop many outstanding quarterbacks over the years, including Eric Zeier at Georgia and Chris Simms and Major Applewhite at Texas before Young and McCoy. Davis thinks he has a lot to build on with Vandenberg from the film he's watched.

"I see a guy that can make all the throws, who's throwing it from one hash mark on the field to the other," he said. "That tells you right there that he has a good arm. I see a good decision-maker. I was pleasantly surprised that he is more athletic than I had first anticipated. He's making plays off schedule and gets the ball out of his hand quickly. I would anticipate him having a really good senior year for us."

The biggest issue might be locating a No. 1 running back. The departures of star back Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems leaves Iowa with very little experience at tailback.

But Davis said that's a position where he's not afraid to play youngsters. Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles were two players who saw immediate playing time as freshmen at Texas and turned out to be pretty good.

"You worry about protections, and you worry about the quarterback getting hit," he said. "By the same token, it's kind of our job as coaches to put them in situations they are ready for. Maybe they're not ready to be an every down back or play on third down against all the different blitzes. But if he's talented enough to get in and help us, then we need to be smart enough to make sure we can get him on the field and be productive."

Those are the kinds of coaching challenges that Davis is happy to be tackling once again.