Editor’s Note: This is part-two of a 12-part series previewing each opponent on Western Kentucky’s 2019 schedule. Sunday will preview Louisville.

FRISCO, Texas – This is the kind of project Butch Davis enjoys.

Davis was coaching in Miami well before Florida International even had a football program. He’s been an assistant and head coach at programs where rebuilding and creating a team identity has been the biggest need.

The Panthers program was at a low when the tenured coach inherited the team in 2017. The strides made in his second season were so much that now Davis has FIU gearing for a run at the Conference USA title.

“The building process has been something I’ve enjoyed,” Davis told reporters at the C-USA Kickoff at The Star last week. “You can create the culture and type of players you want and it’s the same thing at FIU. They had not much success in previous years and year after year, you get a little better.”

FIU earned a program-best nine wins last season and won the Bahamas Bowl. Under Davis, the Panthers have 17 wins and back-to-back bowl appearances after winning just 14 games in their four previous seasons in C-USA.

Davis coached FIU to a 6-2 record in the league last year and his Panthers are predicted to finish second behind Marshall in the C-USA East Division this fall. Davis knows everyone is paying close attention to his team, which will open its conference slate in Miami against Western Kentucky on Sept. 7.

The Panthers tied the all-time series with WKU at 6-all after coming to Houchens-Smith Stadium last year for a 38-17 win.

“It goes to show the culture you start in Year 1,” Davis said. “Whether it’s the hunter or the hunted, the only people we can have absolutely any control of is ourselves. … The very first meeting I had with players, we wanted to build a team that was first class and highly athletic where every single game we had a chance to win. We wanted to be undefeated and at some point we want to play in a January 1 bowl game like UCF has done.”

Outside of a blowout loss to in-state rival Florida Atlantic, FIU was in the hunt in its other three losses. Two of those losses were by two scores or less against Power 5 opponents Indiana and Miami. The Panthers dropped to 9-4 with a season-finale loss to Marshall before defeating Toledo for the second bowl win in the program’s 17 seasons of existence.

Now Davis has a successful program rising in the same city that helped boost his coaching profile over the last 30 years. The 67-year-old was a positions coach under Jimmy Johnson when Miami won a string of national titles from 1984-88. He left and joined Johnson with the Dallas Cowboys and won two Super Bowls before returning to college as head coach of the Hurricanes for three seasons.

He jumped back to the NFL to coach the Cleveland Browns for four seasons and is still the last person to lead the team to the playoffs. He then coached four seasons at North Carolina and was dismissed in 2010 for NCAA academic violations.

FIU’s rise in 2018 was led by quarterback James Morgan, who was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year. He started all 12 games and threw for 2,727 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Panthers also return leading rusher Napoleon Maxwell, leading receiver Maurice Alexander and three offensive linemen.

With Morgan at quarterback, the Panthers had the fourth-highest production offensively in the league at 420 yards per game and second-highest scoring average at 31.5 ppg.

“Coach Davis did a phenomenal job before I got here trying to instill a culture of success at FIU,” Morgan told the Daily News at the C-USA Kickoff event. “It was very easy for me to come in last year and buy in to what he was preaching and what the team leaders were doing as well. I think there’s a noticeable difference in the season starting.

“The difference this year has been the accountability factor. You have to earn respect from your peers. Guys, every time we’re out here, we have to demand it of ourselves.”

FIU 2019 Schedule

8/29 – at Tulane

9/7 – WKU

9/14 – New Hampshire

9/20 – at Louisiana Tech

10/5 – UMass

10/12 – Charlotte

10/19 – UTEP

10/26 – at Middle Tennessee

11/2 – Old Dominion

11/9 – at Florida Atlantic

11/23 – Miami

11/30 – at Marshall{&end}

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