Put down the champagne glasses, IU Nation, and listen up. This is not a time for jubilation. Frankly, I’m glad that Mike Davis is finally rid of Indiana University. Whether he was or was not the right man for the job when he was hired in 2001 is irrelevant at this point. I remember listening to WNDE’s Mark Patrick fielding calls from angry IU fans the very next day after IU lost to Maryland in the NCAA Championship in 2002. Bitter fans were denouncing Davis’ coaching and pointing out for the umpteenth time that Bobby Knight had won three titles. Patrick, in a rare moment of sports insight, reminded the caller that it was unreasonable to criticize a coach for not winning three titles in two seasons. I knew right then that IU Nation was never going to accept Davis, no matter what he did.
Frankly, when stories surfaced that Bobby Knight enlisted an IU Trustee to help him convince Sean May to snub IU in favor of North Carolina, Davis should have known the writing was on the wall. Watching IU fans openly wishing for the team to lose, and watching IU alums actively undermine and interfere with Davis’ recruiting has been appalling to watch all of these years.
In the week since Davis’ resignation, much has been made about racial animosities from alums contributing to the negative atmosphere around the program. Despite Davis taking the high road and brushing that off, it is naive to think that racism played no part in his departure. African-American coaches routinely are held to a different set of standards when it comes to their coaching achievements. I haven’t heard a single instance where a Notre Dame fan said that Charlie Weiss succeeded with Ty Willingham’s players. Such a luxury was never granted to Davis, who went to the Final Four with four players who didn’t play one second for Knight, including All-American Jared Jeffries. Think I’m wrong about this? Ask Tubby Smith about the nonstop comparison Kentucky fans make between him and Rick Pitino.
More troubling is the rhetoric coming from the (I use this term loosely) “fan” sites on the internet. I made a quick search of the IU board on the Star’s website this Sunday and found posts that called Davis “an affirmative action hire”, descriptions of Davis as “looking as if he came from a soup kitchen”, and numerous desires for Davis to “return to Alabama and take his players with him”.
Let’s face it, people, IU Nation is not viewed as being the most progressively minded bunch by basketball fans, and I’m putting that mildly.
In many ways, Indiana’s obsession for the basketball of the past, and for players of the past like Steve Alford is somewhat akin to Southeastern Conference football refusing to integrate in the 60’s. And before you fire back that Davis’ troubles boiled down completely to wins and losses, let me point out that Golden Boy Steve Alford, the overwhelming fan favorite to come in as the next coach, actually has a worse Big Ten and NCAA tourney record than Mike Davis.
But why let facts interfere with misplaced nostalgia? And if a few recruits stay away from IU because the alums don’t quite warm up to African-American players from out of state, oh well. After all, most NCAA championships are won by farm boys from Southern Indiana, aren’t they?
Peter Miesel is a freelance sportswriter and broadcaster living in Indianapolis.