Friday, January 12, 2007
SI.com Article on UAB Coach Mike Davis
Sweet Home Alabama
After a tumultuous six-year tenure at Indiana, Mike Davis is starting fresh at Alabama-Birmingham
Posted: Friday January 12, 2007 11:17AM; Updated: Friday January 12, 2007 12:38PM
By Cory McCartney, SI.com
Antonie Davis didn't want his dad's new team to play any games. The 8-year-old remembered the end of his father tenure at Indiana all too well, when Mike Davis was under the intense scrutiny from fans that were still clinging to the memory of the icon he replaced. But back home in his native Alabama, as the first-year coach at UAB and away from the ominous shadow of Bob Knight, Davis and has found his comfort zone -- and delivered a message to his son that is fitting after his tumultuous time in Bloomington.
"I told him, 'It's not the same here. It's different here,'" said Davis, 46.
Different indeed. Davis resigned after six seasons at Indiana, going from a basketball Mecca boasting five national championship banners in historic Assembly Hall and eight Final Four appearances to a solid, lower-profile Conference USA program as he succeeded Mike Anderson, who left for Missouri.
To some it may appear to be a step backward, but not to Davis. He's come home and couldn't be happier. "This is where I fit in. This is me," he said. "No disrespect to Indiana, but this is who I am and I'm enjoying it. I'm happy about it [and] I feel good about it."
Robert Vaden has seen the change in Davis first hand. The 6-foot-5 junior swingman followed the coach to UAB from Indiana and says he has seen the man he calls a father figure recharged by the new challenge.
"He's around the gym lots of times, whereas in Bloomington he would be around just for practice and he would go home with his family," said Vaden, who is sitting out under NCAA transfer rules this season. "Just being around the gym and being around what he loves and that's basketball, he's around it all the time."
Tough act to follow
In September 2000, Indiana fired Knight for violating a zero-tolerance policy and decided to promote Davis, then an assistant, to interim head coach. Davis came under fire from many Knight loyalists (and Knight himself), but he didn't waiver in his decision to take the job. When he was announced as Knight's successor he stood confidently at a podium, his players flanking him. "I'm sad by the way [the hiring] happened," Davis said at the time. "Everyone knows coach Knight is the reason I'm here and why the players are here. "[But] Indiana basketball is bigger than anyone."
Over the course of the next six seasons, Davis would find that sentiment didn't hold true for many Indiana fans who remained loyal to Knight. As Davis embarked on the most impossible of tasks -- replacing a legend -- the gravity of it all didn't take hold.
"I really wasn't thinking about [following Knight] at the beginning, I just wanted an opportunity to be a head coach and put myself in a situation like I am in now," Davis said. "I never thought about it, but he is the best of all-time, so it was hard for [longtime Indiana fans] to see me be in his position ... it's hard for anyone to see the next guy behind coach Knight, because he just does so much for college basketball."
Davis could not win over the Indiana faithful despite 21 victories his first season and 25 his second en route to an appearance in the national title game, after which he was awarded with an extension through 2007-08. The following season he was hampered by expectations, falling to 14-15 in '03-04 (Indiana's first losing season since 1969-70), his own words -- saying he thought IU's nameless jerseys and candy-stripe warm-up pants hurt recruiting, and that he had a desire to someday coach in the NBA -- and those of Knight, who said in a '05 Sporting News Radio interview that he considered firing Davis before leaving Indiana.
In March 2005, after losing to Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT to finish 15-14, Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan issued a statement that included a warning to Davis:
"While we share this common goal and are both confident that it will be reached, we also know that our record the last two years is not up to the standards to which Indiana is accustomed and to which we aspire. This is why we have set ambitious and achievable goals for next season of competing at a very high level in the Big Ten Conference and successfully competing in the NCAA tournament."
The '05-'06 season would be filled with constant speculation of whether Davis would be fired, and Vaden says it wore on him and the team as well as Davis. "It was real hard," said Vaden. "It's like when one of your friends is getting picked on in class. And you want to stick up for them and take on the bullies.:
Following a loss at Penn State last February, Davis announced he would resign, but would stay on and coach through the remainder of the season. In retrospect, he says it's a decision he should have made years before.
"It was more to me of what's right for the program. I think by me stepping aside it was right for the program," he said. "I probably should have did it two years earlier. They deserve a great coach and it's a great program. There were some recruits that probably would have gone there if someone else was [the coach]. I probably should have stepped away earlier than what I did, but at the same time, I just wanted an opportunity."
Davis led Indiana to a 19-12 finish last season, advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where the Hoosiers fell to Gonzaga.
A new beginning
As Davis searched for a new job, there was only one direction he was willing to go, and it meant closing the door on Indiana and going back home to Alabama.
"I wanted to go south, for sure," he said laughing, and the opportunity presented itself at UAB, a job Davis said he first became interested in when Anderson was hired to replace Murry Bartow in 2002.
Davis inherited a team that has made 13 NCAA tournament appearances in its 28-year existence, advancing to the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight once. But most importantly UAB was a place that presented an opportunity to do what he could never accomplish while trying to fill Knight's shoes in Bloomington: put his own imprint on a program.
"I can do what I need to do to take this program to the next level," he said. "That's what I want to do. I have the chance to do some things here that have never been done here before even though this is a big-time program ... if I can take them to a Final Four, that would be wonderful."
Davis also brought a little bit of Indiana with him as his son Mike Jr., a 6-3 junior guard who sat out 2005-06 at IU after transferring from Blawk Hawk Community College in Kewanee, Ill., and Vaden, the Hoosiers' leader in assists and steals last season.
Vaden made it clear early on he would follow Davis, regardless of where he landed. "We talked when he resigned and he told me to just make the best decision for me and my family and I told him that would be playing for him," Vaden said.
The junior will sit out this season, but has been practicing with the Blazers and his commitment to Davis has made an impression on the coach. "I love him like a son and his upside is really unbelievable," Davis said of Vaden.
Davis is hoping that there is a similar upside at UAB. The Blazers are a work in progress this season with a 9-7 record, including a 1-1 mark in Conference USA. Davis may never be able to escape the reminders of Bob Knight and his time at Indiana, hearing it from reporters and fans. But in Birmingham he is in a place where his son, Mike Jr. "doesn't have to walk around and hear things about his father that he probably shouldn't have to hear," Davis says.
UAB doesn't have the spotlight or the amenities of a top-flight program like did Indiana, but to Davis UAB has the most important amenity of all -- comfort.
"It's where I need to be," he said. "It's just a great fit."