Switching Sides: Josh Davis goes from SDSU star and assistant to USD offensive coordinator

Former Jackrabbit receiver hopes to breathe life into Coyote offense after winning championship with SDSU

Former SDSU player and assistant Josh Davis is the new offensive coordinator at USD.
Matt Zimmer

VERMILLION — South Dakota's new offensive coordinator comes with blue and yellow blood.

Josh Davis played for the Jackrabbits from 2002-2005 and left as the program's all-time leading receiver (his records have since been broken).

He then coached the Jackrabbit receivers from 2009-2015, moved on to become offensive coordinator at NAIA Northwestern for six years and then returned to SDSU this past season, where he helped the Jacks win a national championship as receivers coach.

But the next goal in Davis' career was to be a Division I coordinator, and with Zach Lujan having just completed his first year in that role with SDSU, it wasn't going to happen anytime soon for Davis at his alma mater.

So when the rival USD Coyotes came calling with the offer to run their offense, it wasn't as difficult a decision as one might think.


"It's a lot more sweet than it is bitter," said Davis, who counts Jake Wieneke, Jason Schneider and the Janke twins among the receivers he tutored with the Jacks. "I just couldn't turn this down. SDSU has a very good offensive coordinator, whom I respect and care about quite a bit. But I'm not (the coordinator) in Brookings and I was hungry for more."

The prospect of joining a rival wasn't much of an issue for Davis. Leaving SDSU was the hard part. He admits some close to him told him he couldn't do it. But outgoing coach John Stiegelmeier helped reassure Davis.

"He knew what my goal was when he brought me back and he helped me take steps toward that goal," Davis said of Stiegelmeier. "When the job was presented to me, he smiled and said, 'Hey, that's your goal, congratulations.' He was nothing but supportive."

South Dakota's Travis Theis carries the football in a Missouri Valley Football Conference college football game against North Dakota State on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at the DakotaDome, in Vermillion.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Davis's family is still in Brookings, but will soon join him in Vermillion. He'll coach the quarterbacks for the Coyotes, and they are in the process of finding a receivers coach. Quarterback Aidan Bouman, a transfer from Iowa State, replaced since-departed Carson Camp as the starter midseason and showed promise, but Davis admits he's still learning about the Coyote personnel. He's traditionally leaned towards a pass-first offense, but saw up close the value of a dominant offensive line and run game with the Jacks. He's going to be flexible, and, he hopes, balanced.

"I have a lot to learn about the talent of the young men we have, but I know it all starts up front," Davis said. "I have to make sure I'm designing an offense behind their strengths. We're gonna teach fundamentals at a high level early on to make sure our foundation is strong and play to our talents from there."

The Coyotes went 3-8 last year, a huge letdown after reaching the playoffs in 2021, which led to speculation about head coach Bob Nielson's job status. But the school committed to Nielson (who took over offensive coordinator duties midseason after Ted Schlafke was let go), and bringing in a coach who was just part of a national championship has breathed some life into a program that needed it.

As for Davis, he's confident USD can get back on the winning track, but also realistic about expectations.

"The Dome is a tough place to play, and I think if we can protect that Dome and play well on the road we can win seven games a year and compete for the playoffs," Davis said. "Then if we can get to 8-9-10 wins sooner than later we're hosting playoff games and competing for a championship.


"I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't think the playoffs were realistic sooner than later," Davis added. "There might be some people or coaches who hear me say that and think, 'This guy is gonna get hit in the mouth next year'. I get it. I know what I'm saying. Maybe it's bold, but that's my job — to believe in myself and this program and believe we can compete for a championship. I know the work that needs to be done to get there."

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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