No coach was put in a tougher situation.
I’ve covered the sport since the mid-1980s and I can’t think of any other that rivals what Mike Davis had to do in September, 2000.
He took over for the fired Bob Knight at Indiana. Knight didn’t want him to take the job. Davis wasn’t part of the Indiana family. He had come on board three seasons earlier to be an assistant. He was from Alabama. He played at Alabama and had no reason to turn down the opportunity to be a head coach.
Davis had incredible headwind. There were the Knight loyalists on one side. On the other side, Indiana fans who just wanted to cheer on the Hoosiers, but also had every reason to question if Davis was ready for the job.
He admits now that he wasn’t.
And yet he found a way to lead the Hoosiers to the 2002 national title game. During his tenure, Davis was constantly under stress and it showed. He had one significant meltdown, sprinting around the court with 2.6 seconds left in a six-point loss to Kentucky at Freedom Hall in Louisville. He was ejected from the game and after was apologetic saying “I shouldn’t have acted like that. I can’t explain it. I’ve done something to embarrass my team.’’
Now, 16 years later, Davis is the new head coach at Detroit Mercy hired in mid-June, after a non-traditional route of going from Indiana to UAB to Texas Southern to Detroit.
What does Davis, now 57, say about the Mike Davis who was out of control running around the court that day in Louisville?
“I knew that guy,’’ Davis told NCAA.com. “That guy was unprepared for the position if he was in to be honest with you. I’m glad I went through all of that. Now I know how to behave. By me going through those situations I understand a lot of things. I’m able to share my past with my team. I have experienced it.
New @UDMDetroit head coach Mike Davis led Indiana to the national championship in 2002. He believes starting his career 'at the end' will help him at Calihan Hall.— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) June 14, 2018
"Anything that can be done in college basketball can be done from right here," Davis said. pic.twitter.com/cdGhSgZdmE
“I understand, I truly understand,’’ said Davis of what his players will go through when their emotions get the best of them.
Davis said he has never heard from Knight. But Indiana did welcome him back with open arms, giving him a standing ovation when he took his Texas Southern team to Bloomington in 2014.
“I love Indiana,’’ said Davis.
“Coach Davis was thrown into a very volatile situation that history has shown to support this,’’ said Dane Fife, one of the stars of the 2002 national runner-up Indiana team and now an assistant at Michigan State.
“Indiana was and is considered one of the top programs in the country,’’ said Fife. “Given the circumstances (of succeeding a Hall of Fame coach in Knight), coach Davis did an excellent job of maintaining the level of high caliber play that coach Knight instilled in all of us, while working in his own ideas to help us win. Yes, his inexperience showed it’s warts, and mistakes were made, but we all had one goal in mind and coach Davis and staff held us accountable each day to achieve that goal.’’
Davis was the head coach at Indiana from 2000-06, finishing with a 115-79 record, 55-41 in the Big Ten, reaching the postseason five times with a 7-4 NCAA tournament record, including that 2002 title loss to Maryland.
“It was a great run and a great experience,’’ said Davis of the 2002 runner-up team. “We came together as a team. We had a team that could really shoot the basketball with Dane Fife, Tom Coverdale and Jared Jeffries.’’
Davis quickly went to UAB after Indiana, going 122-72 in six seasons, including an NCAA tournament at-large berth in 2011.
He then went to Texas Southern for six seasons. The record at Texas Southern is irrelevant since teams in the SWAC have to play on the road nearly the entire non-conference. The mark that was left is four NCAA tournament appearances, a team GPA of 3.0 and four straight semesters of a perfect APR score — something significant since Texas Southern had a postseason ban in Davis’ first season in 2013 for previous violations that pre-dated him.
“Indiana is supposed to be your last job and Texas Southern your first job,’’ said Davis. “UAB is supposed to be your second job after Texas Southern. I went totally opposite.
“I got a chance to see what big-time basketball was about at Indiana,’’ said Davis. “My goal has been to take everyone of my teams to that level. I was fortunate and blessed to be at Indiana first but I wouldn’t have known that until now.’’
Davis was the easy choice for the Indiana administration. He was an outsider who didn’t have strong ties to the Knight family tree. If there was going to be a break, but with the intent to still keep the team intact in September of 2000 then Davis made sense.
“I wasn’t prepared for that situation,’’ said Davis. “Who would have been? I was an assistant coach in the CBA. I had been an assistant at Alabama (before Knight hired him at Indiana). And then all of a sudden I’m the head coach at Indiana?’’
Davis has grown tremendously — as a person and as a coach. He said he knew basketball, but wasn’t as skilled on the nuances.
He says he is now.
“I’m 20 times better now as a coach then I was then,’’ said Davis of his time at Indiana. “Now I’m much more prepared. I want to get back to a national championship game and be in the NCAA tournament every year.’’
Texas Southern is always at a decided disadvantage, usually destined for a 16 or maybe a 15 seed out of the SWAC.
Detroit Mercy is a step up in the Horizon. The challenge with this program now is titanic, but only in the short term. Detroit fired Bacari Alexander after two consecutive eight-win seasons. Alexander had to sit seven games this past season due to a reported verbal incident with a player during a practice.
“I was really happy at Texas Southern and I had my best team coming back and I really enjoyed my time in Houston,’’ said Davis. “I didn’t pay much attention the first time (Detroit) called but the second time I thought about it. And I just thought that it could be another opportunity to challenge myself. It’s different than Indiana, UAB or Texas Southern. I got the job late but I want the challenge and there’s no better place I want to be then at Detroit Mercy.’’
Davis, who doesn’t look like he’s aged much at all, said he does 1,000 pushups a day. He said he was doing 500, but doubled it.
He follows that routine with a cold shower.
“It’s me challenging myself so I can challenge my players,’’ he said.
He said he also tries to spend an hour reading and/or listening to motivational speakers.
Davis said he wants to be a role model for African-American coaches.
“I can talk to them about my journey and share information,’’ said Davis.
Seven total players are on the roster, only four — seniors Josh McFolley and Gerald Blackshear and juniors Cole Long and Malik Eichler — are on scholarship. Davis’ son Antoine is going to play for Detroit.
“I have never felt this excited going to work every day,’’ said Davis, who said he has a seven-year contract at Detroit. “My goal is to get to the NCAA tournament as quick as possible. I love the challenge. When we win here, the whole community will be excited about it.’’