Analysis: If Detroit Mercy hires Mike Davis, the long search was worth it

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Texas Southern stole the thunder, but Detroit Mercy isn't exactly interested in a lightning-fast confirmation.

"I can see him doing a fantastic job of getting the right guys in there at Detroit," says former Indiana player and interim coach turned radio host Dan Dakich on Mike Davis, who has informed Texas Southern he is leaving to accept the head coaching position at Detroit Mercy.

Detroit Mercy still isn't ready to announce the hiring of widely respected Mike Davis as it's next head men's basketball coach, even if an athletics official at Texas Southern, his current school, told media outlets in Houston late Tuesday night that Davis had told them he was leaving for Six Mile and Livernois.

Texas Southern posted that statement on its athletics website Wednesday morning, for all to see, behind a front-page image of Davis with big words saying, "Thank You Coach Davis."

Still, the official statement from Detroit Mercy was "there is no agreement for a men's basketball coach." It is worth noting, that's slight albeit markedly different wording from the statement issued by the university in early May, after another candidate was closing in on a deal, that read the school "has not hired" a coach.

And such is the story of this long, wild search — which has well eclipsed the two-month mark since Bacari Alexander, after just two years, and two pretty rotten years, was fired by athletic director Robert Vowels.

But if this is how it at all ends, as expected, with the hiring of Davis — who once took over an impossible situation at storied Indiana as the successor to legendary but troubled Bobby Knight, then led the Hoosiers to the national championship game in just his second year — then the wait was all worth it, according to multiple folks in the college game.

"He is going to win there," said Dan Dakich, a former Indiana player, assistant and, briefly, an interim head coach who knows Davis well.

"I can see him doing a fantastic job of getting the right guys in there at Detroit. Most people respect him. When I saw that (news Tuesday), I thought, 'Damn, that is a great, great fit.'"

Ahead of his time

Davis, 57, started popping up in backroom chatter regarding the Detroit Mercy job a few weeks ago, the latest in a string of intriguing names who have been tied to the Titans opening. Davis was in town this week to interview for the position.

The head-coaching gig would be his fourth stop, all vastly different situations.

At Indiana, he was promoted to interim head coach on September 2000, three days before his 40th birthday, after Knight was booted following a physical and verbal altercation with a student on campus.

"He'd be the first to tell you, he got the Indiana job at a time when maybe he wasn't ready," said Dakich, now an outspoken radio host in Indiana who frequently has Davis on his show.

Still, he took his first team to the NCAA Tournament, then took his second team all the way to the national championship game, where it lost to Maryland. In six years at Indiana, he made four NCAA Tournament appearances, and a share of one Big Ten championship.

Yet, he never was fully embraced in Bloomington, where the community and fan base — everyone but university administration, really — never let go of their love for Knight.

By mid-season 2006, the calls for his job grew louder and took its toll on Davis, who resigned in February that year, effective at the end of the season, a season that ended in the second round of the NCAAs.

"He got a bad deal at Indiana," Dakich said. "The guy that follows Coach Knight has got no chance. Even though he went to the national championship. That's pretty good.

"But they never really embraced him.

"For a lack of a better word, he got (bleeped) at Indiana."

Quick rebound

Davis quickly landed another head-coaching job, at Conference USA's Alabama-Birmingham, back in the state where he grew up and played college ball (at Alabama).

The first year was a bust, but he steadily built it up, and by Year 5, he was back in the NCAA Tournament, albeit as a "First Four" participant which lost. There was regression in Year 6, and Davis was fired for, the school said, poor ticket sales.

Five months later, he was hired to take over Texas Southern of the SWAC, which he's taken to the NCAA Tournament four of the last five years — including this season after the team started 0-13, every one of them a road game, so the tight-budget athletic department could collect a series of critical payouts. Oakland was one of those games, in November.

"Now," said Dakich, "he doesn't have to go on the road every night."

Davis reportedly made about $250,000 at Texas Southern and stands to receive a raise heading to Detroit Mercy.

According to multiple college basketball coaches, the hire would be a home run for Detroit Mercy, as Davis is considered a quality human being and a humble person. He often makes fun of his southern drawl, which is admittedly slow — but, far more importantly, his adaption to new jobs is fast.

That makes him appealing to Detroit Mercy brass, especially athletic director Robert Vowels, who could be feeling the heat (this will be his second basketball hire in five years on the job).

The Titans have made the NCAA Tournament just once since 1999, have won just 16 games total the last two years, and are losing a whole host of quality players, via transfers, the NBA Draft, and eligibility expiration.

One coup, though, could be sharp-shooting recruit Antoine Davis, Mike's son, who recently received his release from his commitment to Houston — the first potential tip that a marriage between Detroit and Davis might be real.

 "My God, look at what he does. Teams get better," Dakich said. "I'm telling you, he'll do a good job."

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