Mike Davis: Black Coach Ends Bobby Knight Era at Indiana University

By Jeffers, Glenn | Ebony, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Mike Davis: Black Coach Ends Bobby Knight Era at Indiana University


Jeffers, Glenn, Ebony


WHEN the Indiana University Hoosiers began their run to the Final Four and a show down against Maryland for the national college basketball championship, Mike Davis was still a coach on the outside, a coach on trial. True, he was the first African-American to coach a team at the Bloomington, Indiana-based university. True, his 21-13 record was the best of any first-year coach at Indiana. But none of that mattered. He wasn't Bobby Knight. He wasn't a three-time NCAA champion. He wasn't an institution in both Indiana and college basketball history. He was, at best, a "nice guy" with no previous head coaching experience replacing a legend. And Hoosier fans made it clear he wouldn't be recognized as "Coach" Davis until he proved himself.

So he did.

"It changed like when you cut on a light," Davis says. "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.'"

Last season's second-place finish in the NCAA tournament--which included wins over top-ranked teams Duke and Oklahoma--re-established Indiana as a collegiate powerhouse. The run also proved that Davis was a skilled leader with the ability to win the big games. It proved he was just as good as Bobby Knight.

Davis proved he was just as good without the tirades or the erratic behavior that punctuated Knight's career at Indiana and that ultimately led to his firing in 2000. The 42-year-old Davis--complete with suit jackets and red ties, a gentleman's humble comportment and a still-athletic body that prefers crouching, standing and moving with the action--had replaced the red sweater and tantrums at officials that frequented the sidelines of Assembly Hall for more than three decades.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the person Mike is," says Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association in Indianapolis. "The unselfishness he has shown with the accolades bestowed upon him and the pressures that he dealt with and the classy way he handled that just speaks volumes."

The school rewarded Davis with a new six-year contract worth at least $5 million ($800,000 for the first three years, $900,000 for the last three years, incentives notwithstanding). He has settled into a new home in the suburbs of Bloomington, 20 minutes away from the school, with more than enough space for himself, wife Tamilya, and sons Mike Jr. and Antoine. Davis also has an adult daughter, Lateesha, who lives in Atlanta.

It's his family that has kept Davis cool and continues to be the source of his happiness. He spends a lot of time at the doorway of 4-year-old Antoine's room, watching his youngest son play with his toys. He loves playing one-on-one with Mike Jr., who's coming into his own as a basketball player for the Bloomington North High School. Even though he's great at visiting high school players and convincing them to come to Indiana for college, nothing beats coming home, Davis says.

This year also gave Davis the chance to help others. Last March, Davis gave his bonuses for splitting the Big Ten championship and reaching the national championship game to Easter Star Church in Indianapolis, 40 miles north of Bloomington, as a tithe, says Pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr. The tithe totaled nearly $50,000, according to some estimates, and will be used to help fund Eastern Star's private elementary school, Jewel Christian Academy. "I was very pleased to see somebody who had benefited from the church attempting to put back into it," Pastor Johnson says. …

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