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Wednesday, October 16, 2013
You Gotta See This: SWAC

By Eamonn Brennan

Mike Davis
Mike Davis' Texas Southern team went 16-2 in SWAC play in his first season.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Mike Davis won't stop.

When UAB fired Mike Davis in March 2012, it was reasonable to assume Davis would take some time off.

The past 12 years couldn't have been easy. In 2000, Davis was the poor soul charged with keeping Indiana's players on board after the school fired iconic coach Bob Knight. Like most internal post-icon replacements, Davis probably would have been let go within a year or two but for one problem: For the first few years of his tenure, Indiana was good. The same players exhausted by Knight's rigid motion offense thrived in Davis' spread pro system. In 2002, Jared Jeffries led the hot Hoosiers all the way to the national title game. There would be no replacing Davis now.

That runner-up run was as much a curse as a blessing. Davis, never before a head coach at the college level, was suddenly the man, and as his teams' success dwindled and top recruits (too few of whom came from Indiana, by fans' lights) failed to reach their potential, Indiana embarked on a full-fledged existential crisis. Davis, through no fault of his own, found himself at its center.

When Indiana finally accepted Davis' resignation in 2006, UAB happily snapped him up, eager to see what the high-profile and well-worn Alabama recruiting connections could produce at a program recently elevated by Mike Anderson. He had some success -- three NIT trips and an NCAA tournament bid in 2010-11. But UAB fans were put off. Attendance declined. The program saw an "increase in fan empathy," as athletic director Brian Mackin said at the time. Weeks before he was let go, the Birmingham News asked Davis about his job security. He was defiant: "For someone to speculate on that is an insult to me as a coach," Davis said in 2012. "My body of work speaks for itself. I would think. No one could have gone through what I've gone through the way I've stood up." UAB fans disagreed.

That is why, in the spring of 2012, Davis seemed like the perfect candidate for a year off. Instead, he took a job. At Texas Southern. In the SWAC.

It's an easy punchline. From Indiana to SWAC in less than 15 years. I'm sure I've made it before. But to reduce Davis' trajectory to "one-time successor to Bobby Knight, now coach in a league whose athletics departments often struggle to keep air in the basketballs" does a disservice to everyone involved, Davis especially. The man didn't need the Texas Southern job. If he cared about status, he probably wouldn't have. But to take on a job like Texas Southern -- let alone to lift the Tigers from No. 287 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings in 2011-12 to No. 140 in 2012-13 -- requires much more than any surface motivation. If anyone deserved some R and R last year, it was Mike Davis. If anyone could have gotten used to the perks, it's Mike Davis. Instead, he just keeps coaching.

If that's supposed to be a joke, we all need a better sense of humor.