Davis still trying to silence the doubters

Davis still trying to silence the doubters

By Stan Sutton, Herald-Times Sports Editor

March 21, 2002

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mike Davis came to Rupp Arena this week to make peace with University of Kentucky fans who have chastised him since his “I hate Kentucky” remark last December.

He hopes he can make peace with the Wildcat fans. If only it was as easy to be loved by all the Indiana fans.

Wednesday the successor to Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight released some of the frustrations he has felt since taking over the IU program upon Knight’s dismissal in September of 2000. It’s a battle he may never win.

Davis said a lot of people were against his getting the Indiana job, a promotion that probably wouldn’t have happened had Knight’s firing occurred four months earlier when IU president Myles Brand issued a “zero tolerance” policy for the coach.

“What you have is people who are, I wouldn’t say crazy, but just … I don’t know. There’s no word to describe it,” he said. “Here we are Big Ten champs. They’re not happy about that. Here we are in the Sweet Sixteen. They’re not happy about that. Here we are back-to-back 20 wins and they’re not happy about that.

“I try to put those people out of my mind but sometimes it’s very difficult because I do have a radio show, and sometimes they call and ask some of the craziest questions in the world.”

The former Alabama star said some coaches recruited against him, saying he didn’t have any head coaching experience or any proof that he could develop players.

“A lot of those guys are sitting at home right now,” he emphasized.

Indiana’s second-year coach further said that a lot of people got down on him, and on the team, after the Hoosiers dropped five of their 12 games during the pre-conference schedule.

“I think the people that got down are the ones who didn’t really believe in me as a coach and didn’t want me to be the coach,” he said. “You put anybody in that situation with 12 games – two at home, 10 on the road – against very good basketball teams and they come out 7-5. That’s pretty good. I wasn’t disappointed about our record … We had a tough schedule. We played four of the teams that are in the Sweet Sixteen. The ones that were down on us were the ones who didn’t want me to be the coach.”

Davis always has emphasized that he thinks most Indiana fans are great, but there are a few that obviously puzzle him. He doesn’t feel he’s said anything that should alienate IU fans.

But that isn’t the case with the Big Blue fans who are playing host to the Hoosiers this week. Before the regular-season game against Kentucky Davis said, “I hate Kentucky”.

That was a throwback to his playing days at Alabama, where the Crimson Tide experienced a great rivalry with the Wildcats.

His remarks became bulletin-board fodder in the UK locker room.

“I love Kentucky,” Davis said when asked whom Lexington residents might support in tonight’s matchup between two of UK’s big rivals. “They’re my favorite team other than Indiana. I hope they make it to the Final Four and play Indiana in the national championship game. They don’t like Indiana and they don’t like Duke, but I hope their hatred for Duke is more than it is for Indiana.”

Continuing, Davis said, “I apologize if I ever said anything to offend Kentucky. I’m hoping they’ll cheer for us. It’ll be a difficult game for us but I just want to make it clear that I do love Kentucky.”

IU standout Jared Jeffries said he believes Davis will turn the corner in his battle to win over all the Indiana fans.

“Twenty years from now they’ll feel the same way about this team and this coaching staff,” Jeffries said.

“I think since they gave him the job there was a calm that came over him and a relaxation that he took on that kind of filtered down through the team,” Jeffries said.

“Everybody on the team wanted him to get the job and came in and said he was the person who should get the job,” Tom Coverdale said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former player and assistant to Knight at Army, praised both the former and current IU coaches.

“The Indiana basketball program and Indiana University was very fortunate to have coach Knight there for almost three decades. Winning three national championships with the type of young men that he had represent Indiana University certainly set the stage for whoever followed through the course of time, whether it be Mike or whoever. That’s why it’s a great program,” Coach K said. “He set the standard, it’s high bar. Everyone benefits from that at Indiana University.

“Now you put your own stamp on it and that’s what Mike is doing. He’s doing an outstanding job of that.”