He has been at the pinnacle, taking a name-brand program to the Final Four.
Which begs the question: why? Why would Mike Davis, who in a not-so-distant life led Indiana to the national championship game, take a job at SWAC-member Texas Southern?
And not just any job, but an interim job that has all the promise of exactly nothing for the future.
“I’m a basketball coach,’’ Davis said. “This is what I do. I would coach anywhere because I love it.’’
Texas Southern is both anywhere and somewhere, which is why Davis, five months after he was fired by UAB, said yes.
The SWAC is not an easy place to compete. Budgets are small and challenges are big. According to the U.S. Department of Education Equity in Athletics information, the Tigers spent $946,691 on men’s basketball in 2010.
At Austin, the University of Texas spent $8.1 million.
Both are in the same NCAA tournament pool.
Where others might see problems, Davis sees opportunity. Texas Southern also sits in Houston, which Davis believes provides a unique opportunity not just for a SWAC school, but also for any player. Houston is a pro town, home to an NBA, NFL and MLB franchise. There is a vibe there that doesn’t exist in some of the typical HBCU locales.
“What better way is there to get better than to watch great players?’’ Davis said. “That is such an attraction.’’
Of course osmosis doesn’t necessarily work in basketball, and in order for Texas Southern to become a viable commodity both in Houston and in the sport, Davis is going to have to go back to his by-the-bootstraps days. Winning and recruiting at Indiana, or even UAB, is not nearly as steep as it is at an HBCU school.
The easiest and quickest way to make inroads is to earn an NCAA tournament bid and stun the world (see Norfolk State versus Missouri). Despite some big strides under former coach Tony Harvey, who abruptly resigned in August for professional and personal reasons, the Tigers haven’t earned an NCAA bid since 2003. They’ve been tantalizingly close, losing in the SWAC tournament final in 2010 and winning the conference regular-season title in 2009 but without that stamp of March approval, still succeed in anonymity.
“You have to change the way you approach some things because of the level but the goal is the same -- to get the best players and to try and get better every day,’’ Davis said. “In some ways it’s no different. I’m up all night, worrying about my team, trying to figure out how we can get better and beat our opponent.’’
It’s a lot of effort for what may be a temporary gig -- though TSU athletic director Charles McClelland is on the record saying he hopes to retain Davis beyond this season -- but it’s a leap Davis can afford to take. UAB fired him in March with a year left on his contract, so he heads to Houston with a nice extra paycheck in his pocket.
And there’s also a nice perk to boot. Davis’ son, Antoine, is being homeschooled this year academically and basketball-schooled by John Lucas. The former NBA coach has become something of a training guru, attracting professional and college talent from across the country to work with him during the offseason. Antoine, a seventh-grader, works daily with Lucas beginning at 11:30, and in just a month, Davis swears he’s seen crazy improvement in his son.
“It’s such a great opportunity for him," Davis said. “For me, I just looked at this job as a win-win personally and professionally."