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'Part of the profession': CMU fires men's basketball coach Keno Davis after 9 seasons

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Keno Davis is out as Central Michigan men's basketball coach.

The university made the announcement Monday, following Davis' ninth season on the job. He had signed an extension in 2019 that took him through the 2023-24 season. He made more than $400,000 a year, and his buyout dropped to $400,000 on April 1.

Central Michigan fired men's basketball coach Keno Davis on Monday.

Central Michigan was 7-16 and 3-13 this past season with two losses to rival Western Michigan (which only won five games), but had a late-season upset against Mid-American Conference regular-season champion Toledo — despite a roster that often was decimated by injuries and COVID-19 contact tracing. There were games late this season in which he had seven available players.

"I don't think there's any doubt, we had a really nice nucleus," Davis told The News on Monday. "As a coach, you always know that's a possibility. I don't know if it ever catches you completely off guard. But I loved my time at Mount Pleasant, I'm really appreciative of (former athletic director) Dave Heeke giving me the opportunity.

"I'm obviously disappointed that it ended this way, with the injuries and the COVID and things like that, that were kind of out of our control.

"But I wish them the best in the future, the student-athletes and the administration.

"It's just part of the profession."

Davis, 49, was 142-143 at Central Michigan, including 62-96 in the MAC, after previous stops at Providence and Drake, the latter which he took to the NCAA Tournament in his one season.

He won two MAC West titles at Central Michigan, but never made the NCAA Tournament. He did lead his teams to the 2015 NIT, the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2016 and 2018, and the CBI in 2019.

Davis' teams were known to be explosive on the offensive end, particularly during the short-lived Marcus Keene era, but not defensively. Soft nonconference schedules also were a criticism.

Davis' rosters, in recent years, have been built heavily on transfers, long before the transfer portal became a thing. The recent increased transfer buzz, given the "free" year of eligibility and the NCAA allowing one-time transfers without having to sit out a year, has only complicated roster issues, Davis recently told The News. Central Michigan did see Detroit forward Aundre Polk make the MAC all-freshman team this season, despite only playing two MAC games and mere seconds of a third. Davis said Polk and four or five others would've given the Chippewas one of the best cores of any MAC team heading into next season.

“I am extremely grateful to Keno for the impact he has made on our student-athletes and the greater CMU community,” Central Michigan athletic director Amy Folan said in a statement.

“Decisions like this are always difficult. However, after spending the last few months evaluating all aspects of our program, I believe it is necessary and appropriate to make a change in leadership at this time to achieve the goals we have for men’s basketball.”

Davis' base salary under his latest contract was $319,923, plus $100,000 for TV and radio appearances. He also had a modest bonus structure, including for 20 wins, which he accomplished three times.

His buyout was $500,000 if he was released from his contract before the end of March; it then dropped to $400,000, a still-sizeable figure that could be paid off by a donor. Central Michigan eliminated the men's indoor and outdoor track and field program in May 2020 to save $600,000 a year.

Davis' buyout under his old contract exceeded $1 million, which was an incentive for then-athletic director Michael Alford to restructure.

Davis' other coaching stops include time as an assistant at Iowa, his alma mater; Southern Indiana; and Southeast Missouri State.

The wounds were fresh Monday, but Davis isn't sure he wants to get right back in the game. He's coached every year since 1991, except for one, 2011-12, between his Providence firing and Central Michigan hiring.

"If there's the right opportunity, but I wouldn't be quick to take any opportunity," Davis said. "I'd want to make sure it was the one that fit the way that I believe a program should be run. If that opportunity happens now, great, later, great. If it doesn't happen, I'm still not gonna be quick to move unless it's the right one."

Until then, he is plenty content spending time with wife Krista and children Mara and Brady, whom he has been able to be around much more the past year with the NCAA freezing recruiting travel. That hasn't been great for the profession, Davis said, but it's been good for his personal life. Being around his children "is definitely important to me."

Davis is the second state mid-major coach to be let go since the end of the season, joining Eastern Michigan's Rob Murphy, who spent 10 seasons with the Eagles and quickly landed on his feet as president and general manager of the Detroit Pistons' new G-League team. The Motor City Cruise start next season. Eastern Michigan hasn't announced a replacement yet; alum Charles Thomas, who's an assistant at Duquesne, is believed to be a leading candidate for the job.

Central Michigan has launched a national search, assisted by search firm DHR International.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984