By Diane Ballard
Be prepared is the mantra of a sports broadcaster, and Charles Davis scrupulously abides by that rule. But it wasn’t always so. One person who helped teach the former Vol that broadcasting basic was Tennessee’s iconic “Voice of the Vols,” John Ward.
A young and green Davis signed on to work a late ’80s Orange and White spring game with Ward.
“I arrived with no notes, no homework, no spotting boards—nothing,” recalls the Fox Sports analyst and ’83 to ’86 Vol defensive back. “I thought I would just show up and do the job since I knew everyone on the team.
“Mr. Ward was nice enough not to embarrass me in front of others, but he had made me a spotting board—which shows the players in their positions and statistics on each one. Talk about a lesson learned! I’ll always be grateful to him for that and so many other lessons that afternoon.”
Now when Davis reports to call an NFL game, he’s done his homework. He even jokes that he’s been accused of being overprepared—“whatever that means!” Part of his preparation is solid experience: he’s been a broadcast sports analyst for two decades. Golf, college football (including three BCS championship games), college and pro basketball, college baseball, and the Arena Football League all appear on Davis’s broadcasting resume.
He seems to have settled in on football, and last year was his first season working NFL games for Fox, paired with veteran commentator Dick Stockton. Davis also works for the NFL Network, where he hosts a coaches’ show and covers the draft.
He thanks his UT connections for affording him the break he needed to enter the broadcasting field. He worked various jobs until getting that phone call that “changed everything.” Fox Sports South in Atlanta asked him to work as an analyst on two college football games.
“Mark Whitworth, a former assistant sports information director at Tennessee who had moved to the Southeastern Conference as associate commissioner, gave my name to Fox South unbeknownst to me,” Davis says. After calling his first two games for Fox, Davis was hired for two games by Sunshine Network in Orlando.
“Another Vol, Jimmy Rayburn, who runs Raycom—Jefferson-Pilot then—hired me for an SEC game later in the year. Five games in my first football season was an enormous break for a guy who had never done a game prior!
“I write a thank you note to Mark Whitworth every year to thank him for seeing something in me that I really wasn’t sure existed,” Davis says.
Even though the need to prepare for games hasn’t changed, others now do some of the work Davis used to do himself.
“When you’re working regional games, probably eighty percent of the research is due to your own digging,” he says. “Working for Fox for the BCS and NFL, they have research assistants who compile the research. So your own digging goes down to about twenty percent.
“But no matter who compiles the research, the person calling the game is the one who has to learn it well enough that it’s automatic on game day.” The formula is always the same, he says: Know the rules of the game. Do your homework, and then do some more. Respect the people participating in the game.
Davis says the most difficult aspect of sports broadcasting is speaking and editing at the same time.
“You have a limited amount of time to say something that has impact, and that’s not as easy as one would think.”
He says he worried about his lack of an NFL background as he approached his first season calling NFL games.
“Since I didn’t play, coach, or serve as an executive in the league, I had thoughts of Will I be accepted? To my surprise, it never came up. The people I interacted with treated me well. Currently I’m the only analyst working a full schedule of NFL games on TV who never played, coached, or worked for the NFL. And I don’t feel that I’m at a disadvantage any longer.”
Davis was born in Elizabethton, Tennessee, but his family moved to New Paltz, New York, when he was just 2 years old. He returned to his roots to play for Coach Johnny Majors and earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in history.
He and his wife, the former Lisa Hales (Knoxville ’86, ’90), have two children and live in Winter Garden, Florida.
Davis says he loves his work but there’s always another mountain to conquer.
“Working a Super Bowl seems like a far fetched idea, but that’s not stopping me from dreaming and working. That’s what gets me up each morning—to find a new ultimate career ambition.”