Kermit Davis has established himself as one of the most successful men's basketball coaches in program history entering his sixth season at Middle Tennessee, and he's done so while rebuilding a program that had fallen on hard times.
Middle Tennessee had endured losing seasons in three of the previous four years and was one season removed from a 5-22 campaign - the worst in school history - prior to Davis being named its 19th head men's basketball coach April 2002.
Since that time Davis has rekindled winning ways and built a solid and still-growing fan base. In fact, the Blue Raiders have won as such a rate during the previous five years; Davis already is in elite company when it comes to the Middle Tennessee hoops fraternity.
Middle Tennessee has averaged 17 wins per season in Davis' first five campaigns, which is the second-highest total for any Blue Raider coach in his first five seasons. Middle Tennessee's 83 wins during this same time span are the second-most of any Blue Raider coach after just five seasons.
Davis' accomplishments at Middle Tennessee not only have him ranked among the most successful coaches in program history, but they have fans excited about a growing program with a solid base. Davis enters the 2007-08 season fourth on the career wins list at Middle Tennessee with 83 and is just one win shy of moving into third on the list. Davis' 55.3 winning percentage is third on the career list. The successful head coach secured his 220th career win as a head coach when Middle Tennessee beat defending Sun Belt Conference champion South Alabama in the 2007 SBC quarterfinals.
Davis' teams also have demonstrated a knack for consistent improvement as evidenced by strong finishes in each of the first five seasons. Middle Tennessee's record in the final 10 games of the last five seasons is 31-19. Davis' teams have also been consistent winners in league play. The Blue Raiders' 47-39 Sun Belt record under Davis is third for most wins in a five-year span, and Middle Tennessee's 21 Sun Belt road wins under Davis are the most of any current league member during that span.
In addition to winning on the court, Middle Tennessee student-athletes also have won big off the court under Davis. The Blue Raiders enjoyed a 2.87 team GPA during the Spring, 2007 semester - the highest for a Middle Tennessee men's basketball team in 17 years. Ten seniors Davis has coached at Middle Tennessee have earned their degree, while 11 of his players have either achieved a spot on the Sun Belt's Commissioner's List or Academic Honor Roll over the last five years. Blue Raider basketball players also have appeared on the Middle Tennessee Honor Roll 14 times in Davis' first five years.
"We want our players to take advantage of all the opportunities provided at a great school like Middle Tennessee," Davis said. "We want them to get the most out of their education and be in position to have great futures when they leave here."
Davis also has generated an attendance surge in his short time in Murfreesboro as the Blue Raiders have enjoyed a 65 percent attendance increase under his direction. Middle Tennessee has realized an attendance increase in four of Davis' five seasons, and the last two have generated the highest home attendance average in the last 15 seasons. Middle Tennessee's 4,436 average attendance at home in 2005-06 is the highest since 1991-92. The Blue Raiders ranked second in the Sun Belt, behind Western Kentucky, in average home attendance with 4,126 in 2006-07, marking the first time Middle Tennessee had averaged in excess of 4,000 in consecutive seasons since 1990-91, 1991-92 - a span of 16 seasons.
In all, Middle Tennessee has realized the largest increase of any Sun Belt member during the last five years. Middle Tennessee realized a Sun Belt Conference high 4,843 in average attendance for league home games in 2005-06. A Murphy Center attendance record of 11,807 was set on February 26, 2004; when fans flocked to the "Glass House" to cheer Middle Tennessee to a 73-59 win against three-time defending Sun Belt champion Western Kentucky.
Davis has produced an 83-67 mark in his first five seasons, including a 75-59 record since the start of Sun Belt play in January, 2003. Not bad for a program that had enjoyed just one conference tournament win in the two years prior to his arrival. Upon being named head coach at Middle Tennessee, Davis warned the "Blue Raider Nation" would have to be patient because winning programs aren't built overnight. It takes time, solid recruiting classes, and the installation of a philosophy to ultimately reach long-term goals. But in five years under Davis, Middle Tennessee has been in the Sun Belt championship hunt into the final week of each season.
The Blue Raiders reached the Sun Belt Tournament title game in 2003, their first appearance in a conference tournament championship since 1989; and they missed the chance to make it two league title games in as many years when they dropped a 70-66 decision to Louisiana-Lafayette in 2004 in the semifinals. Winning is not the sole trademark that has brought fans back to Murphy Center. The style of play is as noteworthy.
"One thing our team will do is play with a great deal of energy," Davis said. "We would like to play a hard-nosed, aggressive style that our fans will enjoy night-in, night-out. We're going to share and value the basketball, rebound on both ends, and attempt to get a quality shot on each possession."
Just as he has done at previous stops, Davis has developed a program that suddenly has expectations placed on it. Even though the Blue Raider program has made great strides in a short time, Davis says the foundation doesn't change. The building process continues into Davis' sixth season.
In his first season as the Blue Raiders' head coach, Davis inherited a group of players who had never enjoyed success as members of the Sun Belt. The 2002-03 Blue Raiders were picked fourth (of five) teams in the Sun Belt's East Division, and eighth of 11 teams overall, but heading into the final week of the regular-season Middle Tennessee remained in the championship hunt. For his efforts, Davis was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, marking the third time in five years as a Division I head coach he had been so honored.
While Davis' first team surprised many by reaching the finals of the Sun Belt Tournament and putting together the most wins for a Blue Raider squad (16) since the 1997-98 campaign, his second Blue Raider team had to be even more surprising.
Middle Tennessee entered the 2003-04 season with only one returning starter and four letter winners from Davis' initial Blue Raider team, but the proven winner molded his squad into a championship contender by mid-season. The Blue Raiders increased their number of wins and had fans coming through the turnstiles in record numbers with an exciting style of play.
Middle Tennessee went a step beyond in 2004-05 when the Blue Raiders posted a 19-win season in Davis' third season, marking the first time since 1997-98 that the team had won as many games.
Like all successful coaches, Davis has been victorious by recruiting players who fit the personality of the team and take ownership of their squad. The previous four recruiting classes have been ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt by Hoop Scoop magazine. Three of the last four classes has been rated among the Top 25 in the nation, including a No. 11 signing class in 2004. The 2007 class was ranked No. 48 nationally. By recruiting players who value character, have a high level of toughness, and have a desire to obtain a college degree, Davis has been able to develop a winning formula not only at Middle Tennessee, but also at each of his stops.
Prior to being named the head coach at Middle Tennessee, Davis spent five seasons as the associate head coach at LSU under head coach John Brady. Prior to Davis' arrival with Brady at LSU, the Tigers had been languishing near the bottom of the SEC.
It didn't take long for the team's fortunes to change. After two seasons of putting the pieces together, the Tigers captured the SEC title in 2000 and went on to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. The Tigers returned to the postseason in 2002 with a trip to the National Invitational Tournament. In the three years immediately preceding Davis' arrival in Murfreesboro, LSU averaged 20-plus wins per season.
Davis said of his time in Baton Rouge, La., "I enjoyed five years at LSU working with a close friend and one of the outstanding coaches in college basketball in John Brady." Before LSU, Davis spent one season as the head coach at the University of Idaho; however, his stint with the Vandals was his second tour of duty in Moscow. He also served as the school's head coach from 1989-90.
During his three years as the head coach at Idaho, Davis compiled a 63-29 record, the best three-year total in the program's history. Davis posted two of the best single-season tallies in school history during his first two seasons at Idaho as well, turning in 25-6 marks in both of those seasons (1988-89, 1989-90).
His Idaho squad won the Big Sky championship in 1989 and went on to capture the league's tournament crown and a berth into the NCAA Tournament, as well. For his efforts, Davis was named Big Sky Coach of the Year. History repeated itself in 1990 when Davis once again led the Vandals to the Big Sky title in both the regular season and tournament, garnering yet another NCAA Tournament berth.
In fact, Davis himself made history when he became the Vandals' head coach in 1988. Upon his hiring, Davis was the youngest Division I head coach in the nation at age 28. It was not the first time Davis had been the youngest head coach in the country. When he was hired as the head coach at Southwest Mississippi Junior College in 1984, he became the youngest junior college coach in the nation at age 24. His youth served him well at Southwest Mississippi, as he put together a 39-20 record in two seasons. His 1986 squad won 22 games, posting the school's first 20-win season in 17 years.
His success at the junior college level landed him a spot on Tim Floyd's staff at Idaho, where Davis served as an assistant for two years prior to being named the program's head coach.
After spending two seasons as the head coach at Idaho, Davis went on to become the head coach at Texas A&M for the 1990-91 campaign. From Texas A&M, Davis moved on to serve as associate head coach at Chipola Junior College for two seasons before ascending to the top spot for the 1993-94 campaign. During his season as the team's head coach, Chipola finished the season ranked No. 4 in the national polls and posted a 27-5 record, giving the team the second-most wins in school history.
From Chipola, Davis moved on to serve as associate head coach at Utah State from 1995-96. At Utah State, Davis coached under current Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy, and the pair combined to win the Big West championship in 1995. His Utah State tenure ended with his return to Idaho as the Vandals' head coach and the rest is history.
Davis' rapid ascent up the coaching ladder is no coincidence since he grew up watching how one of the preeminent coaches in the country operated on a daily basis. Kermit Davis, Sr., was one of the most respected college coaches in the nation, and the younger Davis spent many hours around his dad in the gym and even on the bench during games.
After completing his playing career at Mississippi State, Davis began his coaching career at his alma mater as a graduate assistant on Bob Boyd's staff from 1983-84. Davis earned his bachelor's degree from Mississippi State in 1982 and then obtained his master's degree there in 1984. Davis, a native of Leakesville, Miss., and his wife, Betty, have two daughters, Ally (19) and Claire (14).