Davis insists “I’m the guy”

Davis insists “I’m the guy”

IU coach says emotions took over when he said he wasn’t right for job

By Stan Sutton, Sunday Herald-Times

December 24, 2000

Indiana coach Mike Davis can’t believe what he’s seeing during Friday night’s 88-74 loss to Kentucky at Louisville’s Freedom Hall. Staff photo by David Snodgress
From the Dec. 24, 2000 Bloomington Herald-Times

Interim Indiana basketball coach Mike Davis stunned reporters late Friday when he said he wasn’t the man for the job and added that whoever his successor is next year may have better luck getting the Hoosiers to play hard.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the basketball team. I can’t get through to them,” Davis said after Indiana lost to Kentucky 88-74 in Louisville.

Saturday Davis said he had spoken out during an emotional moment and emphasized he still covets the IU coaching job after this season.

“I was so emotional. I never should have said anything,” he said via telephone. “I wanted to win that game in the worst way. I felt bad about losing to Temple and the other teams, but this was my first Indiana-Kentucky game and I saw all those people come in to watch us.

“I want this job. I’m the guy who can do this job.”

Davis was named to succeed Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight on an interim basis after Knight was fired in September for violating terms of his “zero tolerance” policy. Many believe the 40-year-old Alabama native has the inside track to be named permanent coach, but Davis expressed doubts Friday night that he wanted the job or if Indiana wanted to keep him.

“I don’t know how many fans came in here tonight but they paid their money and traveled in to watch a really good basketball game, and we quit,” Davis claimed. “We flat out quit with 12 to 15 minutes to go in the game.”

Indiana led 37-36 at halftime before allowing 52 points in the second half by a Kentucky team shooting 69 percent.

“I think I want it more than they want it. The assistant coaches want it more than they want it,” Davis said in the near midnight press conference. “I can’t get it through to them.”

Davis addressed reporters for some 20 minutes, even after many writers had left the room to file stories on deadline. He insisted he wanted to be equally available win or lose and took every question.

“I can’t coach this team. What buttons do I push? When they think they’re talented and think that we don’t have to come out and play hard. When it doesn’t matter to them that we have fans travel in here, pay their money, and we flat-out quit. No wonder they don’t keep me for this job.

“It’s not worth the pressure that my family has to go through every day for me to sit here and say that I’ll be here next year,” he said. “When the Big Ten starts it gets tougher, the level of play steps up. I can’t get Jeff Newton to play hard. He thinks he’s playing hard. When a kid thinks he’s playing hard it’s got to be me.”

Davis, who was an assistant under Knight for three seasons, said he took the interim job for two reasons. One was to fill a need the program had only weeks before the season opener.

“Some people don’t appreciate that, but I took the job for that reason,” he said. “No. 2 is to give myself an opportunity to be a head coach next year. That’s the truth.”

Davis said he wanted to figure out a way in which the players will “represent Indiana in a way they should represent Indiana, and when the next guy comes in then they’ll see that it’s not just myself.”

Davis has expressed disappointment in what he believes has been a sub-par effort by the Hoosiers this season.

“We have not changed as a team. Do you see toughness? Do you see fight? Until they change it’s going to be a long road, but the reason they won’t change is because they think they’re talented,” the coach said.

Davis said the Hoosiers probably have one player with National Basketball Association potential, but said others overrate themselves.

“We can win if we play hard, if we get loose balls. We had loose balls tonight and we were running from them,” he said.

Although he says he’s never tried to live up to Knight’s accomplishments, Davis admits he faces other challenges.

“In the long run some people will never accept me,” Davis told the Lexington Herald-Leader last week. “I’m from the South. I understand the mentality of some people. I’m human and I know what they’re thinking.”

Davis is the first African-American to be a head coach at Indiana. He has received polite applause from IU crowds but hasn’t been accorded the lofty cheers Knight received as a 29-year IU icon.

“When I was recruiting players here, I was a great guy and the fans loved me,” Davis told The Herald-Leader. “So how could I change that much from August to September? How can they disrespect me? … And don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good people who support Indiana basketball. The players wanted a reason to stay, and I was the reason.

“With a lot of people, it’s not so much that I can’t coach. It’s that I’m black. When you go to the black coaches’ convention and hear this sort of thing, you hope it’s not true. But you don’t know until you’ve been in a situation like this.”

Davis said he plans to take a couple of days off, spend some time with his son and generally stay away from public places.

“The guys will go home and, hopefully, their families won’t tell them what they want to hear – which they probably will – and they’ll come back with a different attitude,” the coach continued.

Indiana (7-5) next plays Thursday against Northeastern in the Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse.

Davis said Indiana has had a tradition of great players who “have laid it on the line and fought hard for the school.”

“And we’re not doing that right now,” he insisted.

Davis said before leaving Freedom Hall he had received considerable encouragement from some of the players’ parents and fans, and he doesn’t doubt his ability to coach.

“I know I’m telling them all the right things,” he said, “but certain games you want to win so bad that it overcomes you. Kentucky was a good team and I think we have a good team.”