Special to Page 2
There's no reason to tiptoe around it, so I won't. Mike Davis' inevitable demise at Indiana University is not a product of my home state's inherent racism. No way.
Indiana University and its fans have treated Mike Davis fairly.
Davis is expected to announce Thursday that he will resign at the end of this season. He totally mismanaged a golden opportunity by throwing a six-year pity party, surrounding himself with butt-kissers and failing to demonstrate leadership by embracing the very people he claims he desperately wanted to embrace him.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me share with you that at one time, I was an ardent Mike Davis supporter and a friend. We've been to each other's homes, met each other's families and friends, and spent countless hours on the phone discussing the politics of his situation at Indiana.
I grew up in Indianapolis, and just like every other Indiana boy, had a healthy respect for Bob Knight's basketball program. Just after college, I worked for a newspaper in Bloomington for one year. Bob Hammel, the sports editor at the paper and Knight's best friend, was one of my early mentors -- along with Andy Graham, Rex Kirts and Lynn Houser.
My point is, I know the territory, the character and the values of the people in the state. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the obstacles Davis faced in replacing Knight. I shared my insight with Davis until December of 2002. We haven't spoken much since, because Davis was disappointed that I wrote a column criticizing his half-court tantrum at the end of a difficult loss to Kentucky.
|How do you feel about Mike Davis and Indiana? Please vote in our SportsNation polls.|
Since that time, I've rooted for Davis from afar. And I've winced time and time again as Davis inched closer to bungling a career job by repeatedly making stupid statements because his skin was too thin to handle replacing a legend.
You didn't have to spend much time around Davis, or be a Jesse Jackson supporter, to know he has long believed Indiana fans haven't embraced him, his NBA offense, three straight mediocre seasons and one Final Four season because Hoosiers are uncomfortable with a black man running the house that Bobby Knight built.
Davis has subtly and not so subtly played the race card throughout his six-year tenure at Indiana. And this week, when he proclaimed from his Steve Alford-induced sickbed that Indiana needed one of its own to lead the program, Davis was once again dancing with the issue of race.
On the day that Alford, Indiana's Great White Hope, put a fork in Davis' Indiana coaching career by leading the Iowa Hawkeyes to victory inside Assembly Hall, Davis spent the evening telling a reporter that someone like Alford would be a better fit for the Hoosiers.
Come on, let's not pussyfoot around. Davis knows quite well that many Hoosiers fans want Alford to replace him. Davis' comments were calculated, designed to create sympathy and paint Indiana fans in an unflattering, redneck light.
Davis went as far as to blame discontented Indiana fans for his players' inability to focus and perform. The Hoosiers, Davis claims, just can't execute at a high level when their coach is being unmercifully crucified by good old boys.
Davis isn't the first coach -- black or white -- to face a hanging tree. And you know what? He's probably not the first to tie his own noose, pick out the tree and kick the chair out from underneath his feet. It just feels like the first time to me, because I've seen it coming from the get-go.
While Davis believes Indiana needs one of its own to lead the Hoosiers, I contend that all Indiana fans want is a coach who passionately wants to be a Hoosier. Period.
Davis' lack of passion for Indiana is at the crux of his Hoosier Crucifixion. IU fans have never embraced Mike Davis because Mike Davis has never embraced Indiana. You see, regardless of how Bob Knight's Indiana career ended, regardless of what Knight had to say about Davis' succeeding him, loving Indiana basketball begins and ends with loving Bobby Knight.
Davis needed to eat from the forbidden apple (Knight) from the outset and continue eating from the Knight tree to this day, no matter how sour the apples taste. Without Bobby Knight, there is no Mike Davis, and there's certainly no million-dollar-a-year contract.
Instead of playing above Knight's insults and political games (Sean May), Davis thought he could survive by winning early and befriending members of the Indianapolis and national media willing to criticize Knight and champion Davis.
You know what that will get you? Six years, one good contract, a couple of groupie TV anchors and a nice home to hide in when Alford comes to town and your entire fan base wants you fired.
It doesn't even set you up for your next job. Seriously, athletic directors aren't looking for leaders who call in sick when the going gets tough. And unless a job opens in Davis' home state of Alabama, I'm not sure Davis is a good fit anywhere.
Again, this all comes back to Davis' unwillingness to love the one he's with. Jared Jeffries and Tom Coverdale, two Indiana kids, led Davis' 2001-02 team to the national championship game. Yet Davis spent the entire season talking publicly about how much better the Hoosiers would be the following season once Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland made it to the state of Indiana.
Jeffries, Coverdale, Dane Fife, Jeff Newton, Jarrad Odle, Kyle Hornsby and A.J. Moye -- the core of Davis' best team -- never were properly celebrated by Davis. The following season, Davis turned the team over to Wright, whom Davis described as a "Shaquille O'Neal-type impact player" on my radio show in 2002. (Wright didn't come close to living up to that.)
Shortly after the Final Four run, Davis complained that Indiana's nameless jerseys and candy-stripe warm-up pants hurt his ability to recruit. He might as well have said, "you know, we need to play half our home games in Birmingham."
Davis needed to kill the Knight supporters (and the bigots) with unbridled love of all things Hoosier, even the hokey, old-school traditions. He could cry and bitch at home, but his public statements should've expressed a deep desire to be Indiana's head coach and a willingness to immerse himself in Indiana's unique basketball culture.
Davis chose to speak of his desire to someday coach in the NBA. He told other college coaches that he'd take a pay cut and coach in the South. In public and in private, Davis told people exactly what was on his mind.
It was impossible for Indiana fans to love a coach who so obviously didn't love Indiana. Hoosiers fans are just like you and me. They tend to love people who love them.
Davis' loathing of all things Indiana ruined any chances of his consistently tapping into what has been a very fertile crop of Division I talent in the state the last few years. Davis and his coaching staff failed to do the necessary legwork to build bridges with the Indiana high school and AAU coaches.
Frustrated by his inability to land Bloomington standout and Indiana legacy Sean May, Davis preferred to shop for players down South. He thought Florida's Roderick Wilmont was a better player than Indianapolis' Rodney Carney, who is an All-America candidate at Memphis. Even in landing Indianapolis Pike's Robert Vaden, Davis managed to piss off Vaden's influential coach, Larry Bullington.
Vaden was a Damon Bailey-type legend in Indiana. But Bullington and many Indiana high school coaches felt that Davis steered Vaden toward a prep school his senior season. Vaden's transfer cost Bullington a state championship and damaged Davis' reputation with Indiana's prep coaches.
Davis' recruitment of Indianapolis' Greg Oden -- known as the 7-foot LeBron James -- was nearly comical in its execution. Oden, an Ohio State commit, was part of a package deal. He was going to commit to the same school as his point guard teammate, Mike Conley. And Mike Conley was going to commit to the school his father, Mike Conley Sr., felt most comfortable with. Conley Sr., the Olympic triple jumper, coached the boys in AAU basketball.
For Davis, the recruitment of Oden should've been simple: Offer Conley Sr. a job on the Indiana coaching staff. Oden is that good. Oden, Conley Jr. and Conley Sr. form a better package than Danny and Ed Manning. If Conley Sr. didn't want a job, at least convince the father that his son is a critical piece to IU's future.
Instead, Davis was initially lukewarm about recruiting Conley Jr. Davis targeted Chicago point guard Sherron Collins (a Kansas commit), and someone on Davis' staff even managed to send mail intended for Collins to the Conley household.
Indiana never made it on Conley Jr.'s list of schools. Oden listed Indiana as a possibility, as a courtesy. Davis had no shot. He never developed a meaningful relationship with Conley Sr.
Bobby Knight turned Indiana into a powerhouse by stocking his roster with the best talent Indiana, Illinois and Ohio had to offer. Davis tried to win big this year with three mercenaries from the state of Alabama -- D.J. White and Auburn transfers Marco Killingsworth and Lewis Monroe. Killingsworth and Monroe enrolled at Indiana with just one year of eligibility left. White, a sophomore, committed to Indiana with the intentions of turning pro as soon as possible.
Monroe has been a disappointment. White injured his foot. And Killingsworth, who lacks the kind of Indiana-bred basketball savvy of players such as Jeffries, kills Indiana's offense because he doesn't know how to pass out of a double-team.
Are there some IU fans who don't like Davis simply because of the color of his skin? Yes. But that element in no way cost Davis his job. Mike Davis cost himself one of the best jobs in America by wallowing in pity.
Pity provides comfort, but it sure don't pay the bills.
Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. His newspaper is celebrating his 10 years as a columnist with the publishing of Jason's first book, "Love Him, Hate Him: 10 Years of Sports, Passion and Kansas City." It's a collection of Jason's most memorable, thought-provoking and funny columns over the past decade. You can purchase the book at TheKansasCityStore.com. Jason can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sound off to Page 2 here.