Davis, Mike 1960–

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Mike Davis 1960

Basketball coach

Coached After Brief Professional Career

Became Head Coach at Indiana

Turned Team Into Contenders Against Odds


Mike Davis took up perhaps one of the most difficult and thankless challenges in sports, which usually offers very little chance of real successsucceeding a legend. In Daviss case his job was even tougher as he followed Indiana basketball coaching icon Bobby Knight in far less than ideal circumstances. Though he had many doubters, Davis responded by having the best first season of any Indiana University coach ever, going to the Big Ten tournament championship final and receiving a number-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. He followed up that year with a 25-12 record and a place in the finals of the National Championship game. Though Indiana lost, Davis had proved to all the doubters that he could coach and the program was in good hands after Knights sudden departure.

Mike Davis was born in Fayette, Alabama, to Walter and Vandella Davis on September 15, 1960. Walter Davis left the family and then died at an early age leaving Vandella with four children and not much else. Daviss two oldest siblings were forced to live with relatives while he and his brother stayed with their mother in a two-bedroom house that was less than 500 square feet. Vandella often worked two jobs to support herself and her four children alone. Davis grew up to be a standout basketball player once the schools were desegregated and there was a team for him to play on.

Coached After Brief Professional Career

Davis became one of the states top basketball players averaging 26 points and ten rebounds a game as a senior and earned the title of Mr. Basketball in 1979. He then attended the University of Alabama on a basketball scholarship. Davis soon distinguished himself for his outstanding defense and competitive fire. He was given the teams Hustle Award for four straight years. In one of his final games as a senior Davis scored 19 points in a 69-64 upset of Kentucky despite breaking his thumb in the game. Davis left Alabama without earning his degree with thoughts of professional basketball greatness on his mind. He was drafted in the second round by the NBAs Milwaukee Bucks, but he was the last player cut from then-coach Don Nelsons team. Though the NBA dream was over, Davis continued to pursue a career in professional basketball overseas. He played in Switzerland and Italy before returning to the United States to

At a Glance

Born Mike Davis on September 15, 1960, in Fayette, AL; married Theresa, 1980s (divorced 1987); married Tamilya, 1990s; children: {with Theresa) Mike Jr., Nicole (died 1990), (with Tamilya) Lateesha, Antoine. Education: Attended Alabama University, 197983; Thomas Edison State College, BA in communications, 1995.

Career: Professional basketball player in Switzerland, Italy, and in the CBA, 198489; Miles College, assistant basketball coach, 198990; coached basketball in Venezuela, 199091 ; Wichita Falls Texans, assistant coach, 199094; Chicago Rockers, basketball player and coach, 199495; Alabama University, assistant basketball coach, 199697; Indiana University, assistant basketball coach 19972000, head basketball coach, 2000.

Awards: Southeastern Conference Alt-Defensive Team, 1983; Major Taylor Award, 2002.

Addresses: Office Indiana University Department of Athletics, Assembly Hall, 1001 East 17th Street, Bloomington, IN, 47408-1590.

play and coach in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) until 1989.

Daviss first coaching position was as an assistant at Miles College. While at Miles, Davis endured a tragedy that made the pressure cooker that is Indiana basketball seem like a cool summer breeze. Davis had married and started a family with the birth of his son, Mike Jr., in 1985 and a second child, Nicole, in 1987. Davis separated from his first wife, Theresa, shortly thereafter, but in 1990 Theresa and his children were involved in a car accident that left Mike Jr. with a broken pelvis and killed two-year-old Nicole. Along with the family tragedy, Davis was earning very little money as an assistant for a Division II basketball program. He was forced to sell t-shirts from the back of his car on the weekends to make ends meet. Davis recalled to the Cincinnati Enquirer: It definitely humbled me a lot I didnt have a degree at the time, so there wasnt a job I wanted that I could get. A friend of mine was selling T-shirts at flea markets, and he asked me if I wanted to do it I was in the selling business, so Id hit baseball games in the summer or go to the park (selling shirts) just to make ends meet.

After a year at Miles College, Davis coached for two summers in Venezuela and then returned to coach in the CBA for the Wichita Falls Texans, where he first met John Treloar, who now serves as his assistant at Indiana University. In 1994 the Wichita Falls club moved to Chicago and Davis not only continued to coach under Treloar, but at the age of 34, he became a player again. True to form, Davis finished fourth in voting for the leagues Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 31.5 minutes per game. Davis returned to coaching as an assistant with his alma mater, Alabama, in 1995. By this time Davis had earned his degree at Thomas Edison College and was making a name for himself as an assistant coach.

Became Head Coach at Indiana

It was in this capacity that he came to the attention of Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight. Knight hired Davis to be his chief recruiter in 1997. In truth Davis had done just about everything that an assistant does except recruit talent, as he told Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News: I didnt know how it worked. I didnt know anything. He (Knight) just threw me out there. I didnt know any player in the gym. Youd go out and theyd have numbers on the back of the jerseys. Id say, I like 107. Id call and find out, Well hes a top ten player. Everybody likes 107. Despite being a novice Davis excelled through hard work and determination. He brought Knight players from the South, an area rich in basketball talent, which Indiana had traditionally neglected. He also recruited McDonalds All-American Jared Jeffries to give the Hoosiers more talent and athleticism than the team had had in years.

Meanwhile as Davis was out on the road recruiting for Knight, the head coach was on the road to getting himself fired. Knight had been disciplined for a host of minor and major incidences that would have gotten another coach run out of town on a rail, but not a coach that had brought three national championships to a basketball-mad state like Indiana. Knight had bullied the press, his players, secretaries, and his own staff, but was put on a zero-tolerance policy after videotape surfaced of an incident at an Indiana practice that showed Knight manhandling a player. When Knight physically grabbed a student who was being disrespectful to him, Indiana President Myles Brand fired the controversial, but much revered coach. There was an instant reaction. People around the country took sides over the issue and at Indiana the pro-Knight faction was so strong that Brand was forced to go into hiding because of the threats and the pressure that the removal of Knight had stirred up. Into this hurricane of controversy stepped little known assistant coach Mike Davis.

Davis had always wanted to become a head coach and before the 200001 season had been overlooked by both Delaware and Tulane. Then Knight was fired and Indiana suddenly was in the market for a new basketball coach one month before the start of the Big Ten season. Knight tried to pressure all of his assistants to leave with him out of loyalty and many of the Indiana players threatened to transfer. Indiana officials knew that they needed to bring in a coach fast. Moreover the coach would have to be acceptable to the players and be able to withstand the intense pressure of stepping into such a combustible situation. Athletic Director Clarence Doninger called Davis and Treloar, whom Knight had hired from the CBA in the same year he hired Davis, to offer them the job of co-coach at Indiana. Treloar declined, telling Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated, I knew you needed one guy to make the tough decisions. And I knew how badly Mike wanted to be a head coach. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Davis became the next logical choice for the head coaching position, but he had a tough time deciding whether to take the job or not. On one hand, he would be achieving the dream of a lifetime, but on the other, he would have to deal with mutinous players, fans who could not let go of the Knight legacy, and the man himself, who told anyone who would listen that Davis had betrayed him. Tamilya Davis, Davis second wife, described the mindset of the couple for Sports Illustrateds Layden: Here we were, paying rent, with two children, and helping support Mikes mom in Alabama. We werent going to make it on my teachers salary if Mike didnt get another job. Family takes priority. I said to Mike, Who knows? Maybe theyll keep you after the season. Im a realist. I didnt expect that. But I figured if we had a good season, somebody would hire Mike. It was an awful time and an awful decision.

Davis had another reason to accept the job. He had recruited many of the players on the team. Many players had also threatened to quit or transfer if either Davis or Treloar was not named coach. Davis accepted the job and all the pressure that went with it. On the day he was announced as the head coach, he held his press conference with all of his players literally and figuratively standing behind him. Davis told The Indiana Alumni Magazine, The way they stood up for me, and also for Coach Treloar, really touched me. Because of the players and their parents, there was no way I could turn this job down. Despite the fact that Indiana season ticket holders stayed away that first season, that Davis received daily threatening calls and emails, and that Davis had to hear rumors all season about which big-name coach would be coming to Indiana the following season, he persevered. Davis told DeCourcy of The Sporting News about the tribulations of that first season: Even if you dont read the paper, if you dont read the Internet, if you dont read your e-mail itll get to you. People will make sure they come and tell you what you dont want to hear.

Turned Team Into Contenders Against Odds

Through all the trials and difficulties Davis led the Hoosiers to a 21-13 record, a second-place finish in the Big Ten title game and a number-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the success that he had in his first season with all the fire he had to walk through, Davis was named the permanent head coach directly after the season. Indiana President Brand told a news conference: The season has revealed the character of Mike Davis. Its revealed his resilience, his grace under pressure, and his ability to unite and motivate young men, and he and the team have represented Indiana University very well. Davis was given a $400,000 four-year deal and looked forward to the following year knowing his whole team would return and he would be able to concentrate solely on coaching basketball.

In Daviss second season as Hoosiers coach he expected his team to be good, but he had no idea how good it would be. Indiana won its 20th Big Ten title and entered the NCAA tournament confident that the team would get past the first round. Indiana won its first two games against Utah and UNC Wilmington, but then they had to take on college basketball royalty and number-one ranked Duke in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers started poorly and found themselves down by 17 points before Daviss veteran team rallied to defeat the Blue Devils 74-73 and advance to meet Oklahoma in the Final Four. Indianas improbable run as a number-five seed continued as the team got past the Sooners to meet Maryland for the national championship. Though Indiana lost 64-52 Davis had turned the Hoosiers program around and made it fully his.

One year after being named the head coach, Davis was given a new contract to reflect the status of a coach who had taken his team to the National Championship gamea six-year deal worth $5 million with bonuses. But perhaps more important than money was that the win changed the way people thought about Davis as a coach. Davis told Ebony about the change in the fans perception of him: It changed like when you cut on a light. People questioned whether we could get the job done here or not. But once we made that run, that made people think, Maybe he can coach. Davis was given a substantial bonus for his successful season and he donated nearly $50,000 to the Easter Star Church to fund the institutions elementary school.

In Daviss third year as coach the team finished the season 21-13 and made it to the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament. Whatever the outcome in Daviss odyssey as Indiana head basketball coach he knows that he has a special opportunity as he told The Sporting News DeCourcy: I realize that Ive been blessed to have this job. Flat-out blessed. Whatever comes my way, I have to stay above it and just focus on coaching.



Ebony, January 2003.

Sports Illustrated, February 3, 2003.

Sporting News, September 25, 2000; January 21, 2002.


Five Questions With: Mike Davis, Cincinnati Enquirer, www.enquirer.com/editions/2002/01/05/spt_five_questions_with.html (May 14, 2003).

IU names Mike Davis as head basketball coach, IU Info, www.iuinfo.Indiana.edu/OCM/releases/davis0301.htm (May 14, 2003).

Mike Davis, Front and Center, Indiana University, www.Indiana.edu/alumni/magtalk/nov-dec00/mikedavis.html (May 14, 2003).

Michael J. Watkins