When the most successful high school wrestling coach in the country applied for Flathead High School’s vacant position, he presented a resume filled with national accolades, prestigious honors and strong references from 40 years of coaching.
He also acknowledged he’s in the midst of a two-year suspension from prep activities in Minnesota for recruiting violations.
Scot Davis, who was hired as Flathead’s wrestling coach last week, retired from coaching at Owatonna High School after 26 years last June. The two-time national coach of the year was only 16 wins shy of 1,000 when he stepped away from the sport and has a career record of 984-149-4 in high school dual meets, the most ever, according to Wrestling USA Magazine.
Before Davis retired, the Owatonna school district conducted an investigation after emails from 2008 surfaced showing conversations between Davis and the family of a high school wrestler in California. The emails proved to be “undue solicitation of a student,” a violation of a Minnesota State High School League bylaw, and the school district imposed a one-year suspension on Davis. The Eligibility Committee of the MSHSL approved a similar suspension and tacked on an additional year, barring Davis from all state-sanctioned programs for two years beginning last October.
In an interview with the Beacon, Davis acknowledged contacting the California family but denied any malicious intent.
“I don’t have anything to hide. I take responsibility for my own actions,” he said. “If I went too far there, maybe I did, but I had good intentions.”
Davis said he was introduced to the family through another family that was already at Owatonna High School. The California family had already planned to move to Owatonna, Davis said, but one of the parents was struggling to find work in Minnesota. Davis passed along information and remained in contact with the family, trying to help them find jobs and settle into Owatonna, he said.
“Is that part of recruiting? I guess that’s how they looked at it,” Davis said. “I can understand that. I didn’t think of it that way. It was somebody who wasn’t doing well and I was trying to be helpful and be a good person.”
Davis acknowledged that his decision to retire was influenced by the school board’s decision to suspend him for one year.
“I was ready to retire,” he said. “Did that have an influence? Probably had some. It made it easier for me.”
Davis said he considered hiring a lawyer to fight the suspension but decided to “leave it alone.”
Davis remained involved in wrestling after retiring. When he learned of the head coaching vacancy at Flathead he felt the time was right to reenter the high school ranks. Upon applying, Davis disclosed the details surrounding his suspension to Flathead Principal Peter Fusaro and Activities Director Bryce Wilson, who were in charge of hiring a replacement for former head coach Matt Owen, who resigned this spring.
“I’ve talked to his administrators and him. I’ll be honest, it’s nothing I don’t think any coach hasn’t done,” Wilson said.
Wilson said a background check of Davis was completed and references were checked.
Davis’ former principal and activities director “spoke volumes of the man and of his integrity,” Wilson said.
“I felt I did my due diligence as far as personally checking on his references,” Wilson said. “He’s a quality person. The background checks and the people you talk to – they support that. Yes, he did do something and he said, ‘Yeah I made a mistake.’ But really, when you look at the heart of it, he was trying to help a kid out.”
Wilson said he checked with the Montana High School Association and Davis’ suspension does not carry over to other states. The Board of Trustees for Kalispell Public Schools approved Davis’ hire on May 15. Wilson recommended Davis to the board but did not disclose his suspension.
“They hire me to do the due diligence to do background checks. I didn’t go into this detail with them because to me that’s my job,” he said. “I recommended a name after we’ve done the background check and found who we believe to be the best person.”
Davis has already begun work as Flathead’s wrestling coach. A summer camp is being prepared for July 25-29 at the high school. Davis has already lined up a few big names for the camp, including Jeff Buxton, the head wrestling coach at New Jersey’s Blair Academy, one of the most successful high school wrestling programs in the country over the last two decades.
“I’m happy they had faith in me to hire me,” Davis said. “I know for a fact I will help them out and I will help promote the sport.”
Wilson has faith in Davis, who he described as “the John Wooden of high school wrestling.” Wilson doesn’t believe the suspension should tarnish a strong lifetime legacy.
“I wish we were talking about the two national coach of the year awards he’s received,” Wilson said. “He’s built a quality resume up. Yes, there is a little footnote but really it’s just a footnote. It’s not the main story.”
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