It hasn't taken long for Kermit Davis to rekindle winning ways and build a solid and still-growing fan base since being hired as the 19th men's head basketball coach at Middle Tennessee in April 2002. In fact, the Blue Raiders have won as such a rate during the previous three years; Davis already is in elite company when it comes to the Middle Tennessee hoops fraternity.
Davis' Blue Raiders have turned in winning seasons in each of his first three years, making him just one of two of the 19 Middle Tennessee men's basketball coaches to accomplish that feat. The other was former coach Bruce Stewart. Middle Tennessee is 52-38 on the hardwood since Davis' arrival, representing the third most wins for any of the Blue Raiders' 19 head coaches after their first three seasons. Only Stewart (62) and Stan Simpson (53) had more victories after their first three seasons.
So pleased with Davis' performance and the first-class manner in which he runs every aspect of his program, Chris Massaro immediately extended the successful coach's contract through the 2010 season upon being named Director of Athletics in April 2005. 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.
There's good reason for the excitement as Middle Tennessee has increased its win total in each of Davis' first three seasons, going from 16 wins, to 17 and turning in a 19-win campaign in 2005. The 19 wins last season are the most for the program since the 1997-98 season, and when the Blue Raiders take the hardwood this season they will be looking to put together four straight winning seasons for the first time since 1986-89.
The well liked and community-minded Davis not only is getting results on the court, but fans have noticed the resurgence in the men's basketball program and they have responded at the box office. Middle Tennessee has enjoyed an attendance increase in each of Davis' first three seasons and, overall, attendance has risen 68 percent since Davis' arrival - the largest increase of any Sun Belt Conference member during the past three seasons. Middle Tennessee realized a Sun Belt Conference high 4,349 in average attendance for league games in 2004-05. 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.
Prior to Davis landing the Middle Tennessee job in April 2002, Middle Tennessee men's basketball fans had little cause for celebration. The Blue Raiders had endured losing seasons in three of the previous four years, but the energetic and highly successful Davis quickly changed the fortunes and began a Blue Raider revival. He has produced a 52-38 mark in his first three seasons, including a 48-30 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.
The Blue Raider Nation would have to be patient, Davis warned; 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 three short 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. Under his tutelage, the Blue Raiders are the only team in the Sun Belt to win at least one game in the league's postseason tournament in each of the last three years.
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' fourth season.
When former athletics director Boots Donnelly introduced Davis as the program's 19th head coach, he told a press conference filled with media and supporters that he felt he had hired the right person to return the program to past glory and once again contend for conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.
"I wanted to bring someone in here that wanted to be here, not just be a head coach, but who wanted to take over our program," Donnelly said. "I wanted a person that believed very, very strongly in discipline, because that's the process that gets it all started. I wanted a heck of a recruiter, and I also wanted a teacher. I think we fulfilled every one of those things with Kermit Davis, Jr."
It didn't take long for Donnelly's words to prove prophetic.
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. 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 second 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.
Davis' players not only have been winners on the court, but they have been successful in the classroom, as well. Nine of the 12 seniors in the Middle Tennessee program since Davis' hiring have received their degree. The other three are either playing professionally or are in NBA camps.
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 three recruiting classes have been ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt by Hoop Scoop magazine, and each has been rated among the Top 25 in the nation, including a No. 11 signing class in 2004.
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. He has been around the game his entire life, growing up watching one of the preeminent coaches in the country operate 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 (18) and Claire (13).