Coach Kermit Davis watches from the sidelines during the Dec. 29, 2012, game against Florida International at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics/B. Lambert)
Reaching 100 Sun Belt Conference wins Saturday could not happen to a greater basketball coach and a better person: Kermit Davis.
Davis, who heads the MTSU men’s basketball team, accomplished the mark in a 69-52 win against Florida International at the Murphy Center. He did not know about the importance of the win until somebody on the Blue Raider Communication Staff told him after the game.
“I did not know it until a little while ago,” Davis said. “First, thank you for 11 years and being able to coach at a really good place. There have been a lot of really good coaches in the Sun Belt throughout the years. It’s a privilege to be mentioned with those guys.”
The longtime head coach is among the best in the league.
Former South Alabama head coach Ronnie Arrow, who recently retired from South Alabama job on Dec. 19, ranks No. 1 in the Sun Belt. Arrow was able to take over the top spot Dec. 1 when the Jaguars knocked off FIU with 79-68 victory, giving him 112 wins. In the 2007-08 season, Arrow coached South Alabama to a school record of 26 wins, and he also led the Jaguars to their only NCAA tournament win in 1989 over Alabama. He coached the team from 1987-95 and 2007-2012.
No. 2 on the list is Gene Bartow, who had 111 wins from 1979-1991 at former Sun Belt member, UAB. During that time, the Blazers were four-time tournament champions in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1987. Also, in the 1982 NCAA Tournament, Bartow led UAB all the way to the Mideast Regional Final, but the Blazers fell to Louisville in the Elite Eight.
No. 3 on the list is former Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt with 103 victories from 1996-2008. Nutt, however, also had 103 conference losses to finish his Sun Belt career at .500. The Red Wolves did win the conference tournament in 1999, but later lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Utah.
Now, Davis is No. 4, and he could take the top spot in career wins, if the Blue Raiders win their next 12 Sun Belt games, which is a strong possibility because the team has the talent to pull off a long winning streak. The 113th Sun Belt win could come Feb. 9 against Troy at the Murphy Center.
To be honest, that is the furthest thing in Davis mind right now.
Instead, he is trying to lead the Blue Raiders to the Big Dance for the first time since 1989. Last season, MTSU broke a school record in wins with 27 but were upset in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament; even through they were the No. 1 seed.
The Blue Raiders made a nice run in the NIT tournament, beating Marshall and Tennessee before losing to Minnesota in the NIT final eight.
To say, the Blue Raiders have unfinished business is an understatement.
So far this season, the team has been tested both at home and on the road. MTSU has two home wins against SEC teams, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, and has won 20 consecutive regular season games at the Murphy Center. While away from Murfreesboro, the Blue Raiders have enjoyed victories at Central Florida and Savannah State but suffered tough road losses at Florida and Akron.
In 11 seasons as the Blue Raiders head coach, Davis has garnered 189 career wins and was named SBC Head Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2012.
Not only is he a great coach, but he is also a good person off the court.
When, he began his Blue Raider career during the 2002-03 season, I was just a sophomore trying to learn the ropes of this business, while writing for Sidelines. Davis was one of the first head coaches who I got to interview on a regular basis. He always took the time to answer all of my questions.
Watching him during a game at the Murphy Center is a learning experience. He has always left everything on the floor, and he has brought an exciting form of basketball to his teams. That style includes a pressing in-your-face defense and a high-tempo offense, which has increased attendance at the Murphy Center and put the program into the upper echelon of the mid-major schools.
This year, the Blue Raiders have the talent to win the conference tournament for the first time in school history, and it would be a perfect way for the program to finish a magical two-year run. However, he knows the Blue Raiders have a long way to go, and he remains focused on tonight’s game against Arkansas State. He may be worried about the present, but he appreciates his past success on the court.