Hoosiers’ head man fast becoming a local celebrity

Hoosiers’ head man fast becoming a local celebrity

By Stan Sutton, Herald-Times Sports Editor

March 29, 2002

Indiana coach Mike Davis takes his turn cutting down the net after the Hoosiers defeated Kent State last Saturday to earn a trip to the Final Four. Staff photo by David Snodgress
From the Mar. 29, 2002 Bloomington Herald-Times

Former Indiana coach Bob Knight often avoided walking through crowds because of the uproar it created.

Current IU coach Mike Davis doesn’t avoid crowds, but neither does he understand why they’re there.

Davis took his family to a Bloomington restaurant Sunday night and the management offered them the privacy of a back room.

Davis honestly didn’t know why. They always had eaten in the front dining room.

“As we walked out the whole place cheered. It’s a little embarrassing,” he said.

These are the moments when the 41-year-old Alabama native realizes the parameters of his job. He is always conscious of what Indiana basketball means to IU fans, and on the rare occasions when he believes the Hoosiers haven’t played hard he apologizes to them.

When a fan meets him in the shopping mall and wants to talk basketball, Davis is available. When several hundred reporters attended one of his press conferences last week, the IU coach invited their questions.

“I’ll hold a conversation with you for as long as you want to hold a conversation,” he told them.

An Indiana beat reporter once called Davis at home at a later-than-normal hour, apologizing profusely.

“That’s okay. If you need me then I need you,” Davis responded.

If there is a downside to Indiana’s unexpected Final Four appearance, it is the continuing line of questions about Knight. Neither Davis nor the IU players will say anything negative in public about the former coach.

The Knight influence is still felt, which isn’t a bad thing because Davis credits the current Texas Tech mentor with tweaking his coaching abilities.

“Sometimes as a coach I have to do more, a lot more, to get credit for a win,” he admits.

Davis sometimes acts as if everything about him is a big accident.

“I never wanted to be a coach. It never crossed my mind until I couldn’t play any more,” the former Alabama Mr. Basketball said.

He started as an assistant at Myles College then was an assistant in the Continental Basketball Assocation before becoming an aide at Alabama and then IU.

“I thought all I could do was play. I didn’t realize I could be a really good coach,” he said.

When Davis began coaching he looked up to African-American men such as former Georgetown coach John Thompson.

“I think some people have a hard time when they see a black coach because they don’t see them as coaches. They see them as players,” Davis said. “I don’t think you should be judged by your color. I think you should be judged by your performance.”

The IU coach said he received some credit he didn’t feel was warranted.

“The label that was put on me was that I was a great recruiter,” he said. “Well, I never recruited until I got to Indiana. It wasn’t like I was bringing in Chris Webber, Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. They had to put a label on me and they’d rather put, ‘He’s a great recruiter,’ than, ‘He’s a good coach.’ “

Davis wants to be seen as a role model, both for young men of his race and those who might welcome his Christian faith.

“For me, being the first black coach at Indiana is special. Sometimes when I see black kids in Indiana they’ll walk up to me and their eyes are wide because they can relate to me being the head coach.”

Davis’ pledging his $50,000 achievement bonus to the Eastern Star Baptist Church of Indianapolis wasn’t surprising to his friends.

“I have my faults but I try to walk in the right spirit and do the right things. Sometimes on the sideline I say some things,” he admits.

Davis claims he’s as competitive as any coach and insists, “I’m not soft.” He admits sometimes he has to dress down a player during a game, but says if his point isn’t urgent he’ll wait until they reach the locker room.

“There are times when I can really embarrass myself. When I look at the tape I kind of fast-forward through it.”

Davis changed the motion offense with which Knight won three NCAA championships and that was a sore point with some IU fans. Others felt Davis’ offensive scheme was unsound.

“I had some people tell me after watching that game that we run some very good stuff,” the IU coach said after IU beat Kent State last Saturday. “At the beginning of the year people were criticizing my offense, saying we were standing around too much.”

Some critics also say Davis has reached the Final Four using Knight’s players, although some of them were recruited by Davis when he was an assistant.

Guard Dane Fife says Knight’s players won’t be a factor in another year or two because most of them will be gone.

“People who liked coach Davis before probably like him a little bit more,” Fife said. “Those who hate him probably still hate him. I don’t know if us winning a couple of games is going to turn a lot of people.

“But the majority of people understand and respect a man who works as hard as he does. They may not necessarily like him, but they respect him.”