When Darrel (Mouse) Davis joined the Toronto Argonauts in 1982 as an offensive coach, who knew what Mouse was up to? Watching the attack this man had concocted for that era’s artless Argos was like seeing people take off from a burning building.
With the snap of the ball, receivers scurried in all directions and so did the quarterback. Sometimes as many as half a dozen guys would take off down the field, crisscrossing or steaming along like Olympic sprinters. Their routes were often determined by how the defenders reacted to their moves. Meantime, the quarterbacks were expected to read the same openings and put the ball where a sprinting teammate was headed.
With Mouse Davis back with the Argos, fans of the CFL will get wide-open football as a lure for their bucks
That fall, for the first time anybody born in the 20th century could remember, the Argos made it to the Grey Cup game, bowing in a good effort to the lethal (back then) Edmonton Eskimos. The next year Mouse left Toronto for the United States Football League, leaving behind his system. That was the November the sun rose in the west, guys stayed awake in the Senate and the Argos won the Grey Cup. Hallelujah, just like the days of Joe Krol and Royal Copeland.
And now, here it is 1993, and the newly installed offensive co-ordinator for the Argonauts is a pudgy fellow with merry green eyes and a familiar moniker—Darrel (Mouse) Davis, sometimes referred to in the newspapers as “the father of the run-and-shoot.” Mouse can take the description or leave it alone, although he does say with a certain pique, “If I’m the father, there’s a bunch of grandfathers out there.” He doesn’t want 100 per cent of the credit for this wacky offence, though he has fostered it with the New York/New Jersey Knights of the recently bellied-up World League of American Football; the Detroit Lions of the National Football League; the Denver Gold of the U.S. Football League; the same league’s Houston Gamblers; the University of California at Berkeley;
Portland State and sundry high-school teams he coached in the Pacific Northwest, where he was bom and brought up.
When Mouse talks of the run-and-shoot, his favorite word is “evolved” and he invokes the names of several coaches who have provided refinements in the system’s development. ‘What we’re doing here now with the Argonauts evolved from what we’ve done in the past. Along the way I stole from guys and guys stole from me. I stole from Tiger Ellison in Middletown, Ohio, who wrote a book, Run and Shoot, and I stole from Dutch Meyer, who used a double wing at TCU [Texas Christian University] and I stole from Glenn Dobbs at Tulsa, Okla. I mean, this offence just keeps evolving, various guys doing things with it that suit their purpose.”
The reason Mouse and his version have returned to the Canadian Football League is that the Argonauts endured a terrible year in 1992. Following a great flurry of excitement (and a Grey Cup victory) in 1991 when the California entrepreneur Bruce McNall bought the team and lassoed Wayne Gretzky and John Candy as part owners at $1 million each, the team dived from first to worst last season.
Halfway through, the coach who’d in-
spired the 1991 triumph, a warm, friendly guy named Adam Rita, was shorn of his job and replaced by an equally warm and earnest defensive specialist, Dennis Meyer. Dennis had joined the Argos the same year Mouse Davis served his first term 11 years ago, a difference being that Dennis, who is now 43, never left.
When the 1992 season closed with the Argonauts firmly ensconced in last place in their division, it was evident that their offence needed an overhaul. They had scored fewer points than any CFL team (469, a total that was a full 138 points back of the eye-filling Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders), thanks in part to the generosity of their general manager, Mike McCarthy, who allowed the all-purpose Grey Cup quarterback, Matt Dunigan, to drift off to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over a salary squabble.
Considering ways to restore the offence, Meyer reflected back to the 1982 days when he and Mouse had sat side by side in the spotter’s booth for the Argonauts. He recalls being mightily impressed by Mouse’s savvy. Accordingly, as a defensive specialist Dennis turned to Mouse for recommendations for an offensive co-ordinator.
“Mouse is probably the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” Dennis says. “He understands every nuance of offence. The more I talked to him the more I thought he’d be ideal for this job. Suddenly, I realized the World League had folded, so I said to him, ‘Hey, Mouse, how about you?’ and he came.”
Dennis says he likes the run-and-shoot because “it’s the one offence that totally spreads the field.” That means fans in the financially troubled CFL—and especially in Toronto where the hulking SkyDome presents 50,000plus yawning seats—will have wide-open football as a lure for their bucks. Mouse recognizes the challenge. “Yeah, I could see when Dennis called that he wanted to do what he likes, which is defence, and leave the offence to me.” He laughs shortly. “I won’t be getting screwed up by a lot of instructions.”
Like most football coaches, Mouse has led a peripatetic existence. He has, by the way, been called Mouse since childhood. He was smaller than his siblings so his father sometimes said he was like a little dormouse. Then one day, playing baseball, he took a throw from his brother Don, the catcher, and dropped the ball. “Nice hands, Mouse!” chuckled his brother, and it stuck.
Anyway, football has dictated that Mouse and his wife, Beverly, raise their four children to adulthood in numerous parts of the land. Mouse will be 61 in September and this time, coming back to Toronto, Beverly provided an inevitable rhetorical question, “Do we really need to make one more trip?”
Actually, no. Along the way Mouse says he made real estate investments that matured beneficially and, also, that he made a lot of money coaching at the pro level. Unlike most assistant coaches, Mouse doesn’t have to coach to eat. All he has to do is build an offence that will put behinds into those 50,000 seats in the SkyDome.
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