It's obvious that Larry Davis, now in his ninth season as the Crimson Tide's head rowing coach, with a true passion for the sport of rowing and a strong relationship with the city of Tuscaloosa, is doing exactly what he's always wanted to.
"I love the sport of rowing and I really have a commitment to the sport, the University and the city of Tuscaloosa," Davis said. "It makes it easier to do this job when you have student-athletes who are hungry and want to achieve and have that same kind of approach to the sport that you do. I've been involved with rowing a long time and it makes coaching easier when you have a bunch of people around you who love the sport as much as you do."
Now in his 17th year in Tuscaloosa, Davis has been involved in the local rowing community for a vast majority of that time, still getting on the water himself on a regular basis. During that span, he has helped the sport grow and flourish, making the Tide one of the fastest rising teams on the national scene.
"One of the things that I've learned over time is that good things take time and you have to put them all in layers, build on the pace and keep building," Davis said. "The University has been very good about giving us the tools we need on a step-by-step basis to achieve that goal."
It's no easy task taking a club team and building it into a successful NCAA Division-I program, however eight years down the road, Davis and his staff have much to be pleased with.
"We want to be one of those sports that represents the University at the highest level," Davis said. "I think everybody involved with the program feels that way."
Construction will be completed on the brand-new boathouse and rowing facility in the fall of 2014, providing Alabama with state-of-the-art facilities, showing a high level of commitment from Coach Davis, his staff and the University of Alabama towards the Crimson Tide rowing program's future.
Success has come early and often for Alabama rowing under Davis. In the program's first year, the Tide earned top-5 finishes at many of the regattas it competed in and won a number of races in dual-meet competitions against established programs. At the Dad Vail College Championships, the Tide advanced to the semifinals in all of its races, unheard of for such an inexperienced squad.
The next two seasons saw the Tide continue to make enormous strides, including a silver medal at the esteemed Head of the Charles Regatta when the Varsity 8+ grabbed second place in the women's Club race. That spring, Alabama went to the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Championships and came away with another silver medal in the Varsity 8+ race. In 2009, the Tide posted a top-10 finish at the Head of the Charles, bettering 35 other boats as well as advancing four boats to the finals of its first South/Central Sprint Championships.
In 2010, led by the program's first group of fourth-year seniors, Alabama earned another medal at the Head of the Charles when it took third in the Club 8+ race. The Tide also earned its first varsity gold medal at the SIRA Championships when the Varsity 4+ took top honors. The 2010 season also saw Alabama take another step in its development when it joined with eight other programs from across the country to make up Conference USA's rowing contingent.
"One of the things the team hadn't had up to that point was the ability to chase a conference championship," Davis said "It is a great motivator throughout the year. Instead of just pushing along and seeing how we do, we have our sights set on specific teams and getting past them."
The 2011 season saw the Tide take a huge step forward, starting with another top-10 finish at the Head of the Charles, followed by several outstanding performances in the spring.
At the renowned San Diego Crew Classic, Alabama's First Varsity 8+ took home the gold, winning the SeaWorld Cal Cup and earning Davis' squad the inaugural Conference USA Boat of the Week honor as well as the Row2K.com Crew of the Week recognition.
The Tide followed that up with a prodigious showing at the SIRA Championships, where Alabama not only repeated as the First Varsity 4+ champions but added gold in the First Varsity 8+ and the Second Varsity 8+ as well, giving UA a sweep of the open Varsity events.
"Seeing what we've been able to accomplish up to this point in time is always a shot in the arm for me to keep excited about what's going on," Davis said. "We're not where we want to be yet, but we keep making progress and the students we have associated with the program are buying into what it takes to be a top-level program."
The Tide started off the 2011-12 season by earning a gold and silver medal at the Chattanooga Head Race. They followed that by medaling in the Club 8+ race at the Head of the Charles Regatta.
The 2012 spring season, the Novice 8+ boat took first place and the Second Varsity 8+ finishing second at the Oak Ridge Invitational. Returning to the San Diego Crew Classic, Alabama again saw success with the First Varsity 8+ and the Second Varsity 8+ posting a top-10 finish.
The Tide had a solid showing at their third Conference USA Championships, finishing just one point out of sixth place, taking seventh overall with 20 points.
Under Davis' direction, Tide rowers have not only seen success on the water but they have excelled in the classroom as well. Over the past six years, Alabama rowers have earned the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association's Scholar-Athlete Award 49 times, including five in 2011-12. In 2010, the Tide's 11 CRCA Scholar-Athlete Awards led the nation.
On a conference level, Alabama's rowers have been named to the Southeastern Conference Academic-Honor Roll 121 times, including 12 in 2013. In its first four years as a member of C-USA, Davis' crew has had nine spots on the league's All-Academic team.
During his tenure, Davis' rowers have also made a marked difference in the community, leading the athletic department's community service efforts in four of the past five years.
That kind of success for such a young program is nothing short of astounding, but it is certainly in line with Davis' goals when he took the job as Alabama's inaugural head coach.
"We have a plan and it's an aggressive plan but there's no doubt in my mind that it's one we can fulfill," Davis said.
His plan includes steady, continuous improvement in all phases of the program each year and competing for an NCAA Championship bid within the program's first eight to 10 years.
"Starting from almost scratch, to see it move along to this point, it's very rewarding to see that kind of growth," Davis said. "We need to realize that we still have a long way to go, but there's so much opportunity here I can't see us not achieving the kind of success we're capable of."
This success has been part of his vision from day one, Feb. 2, 2006, when after an exhaustive search, the University's athletics department named Davis its new rowing coach.
"Larry is well-respected and connected in the rowing community and brings immediate respect to our program," Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore said.
Davis' past in rowing spans four decades, including more than 25 years as a coach. Before starting the Crimson Tide's program, he coached the Alabama Crew Club starting in 1998. In addition to his duties with the club team, he has served as the Director of Wellness and Aquatics at the YMCA of Tuscaloosa County.
Prior to his time in Tuscaloosa, Davis spent 1981-93 at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he was head coach of the varsity crew and served as the school's compliance officer. He led Marist to wins at the MAAC Championship Regatta and the New York State Small College Championships. He was also the head coach of the University of Alabama-Huntsville's varsity crew from 1977-81.
Davis also spent time with the United States National Team. In 1983, he was an assistant coach for the U.S. Men's Rowing team and later, in 1987, he served as team manager.
In 1983, Team USA competed at the World Championships in Germany and the Pan American Games in Venezuela, with the men's 8+ winning gold at the Pan Am Games. The 1987 squad qualified for the World Championships in Denmark and the men's 8+ once again won gold.
"I've worked with a lot of different programs at a lot of different levels and I try to bring that experience to bear in everything I do, from putting together workouts, to talking with the rowers, to race day," Davis said.
As an athlete, he rowed for Washington-Lee High School in Virginia, where he was a member of the last varsity 8+ to win gold at the Royal Henley Regatta in England.
Davis continued his rowing career at the University of Virginia where he won numerous competitions, including the Mid-American Championship and the Southern Collegiate Rowing Association Championship. During his time in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers finaled at the Dad Vail Small College Championships three times, earning a bronze medal in 1971.
Davis spent all his undergraduate and graduate years at Virginia, earning a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1973, followed by a master's in counseling in 1977. He is married to the former Vicki Barnes of Madison, Ala.