After spending 16 years with Middle Tennessee State, one school convinced Kermit Davis it was the right time to leave.
“It just took something like Ole Miss for me to leave here,” Davis told reporters in a news conference in at Middle Tennessee State on Thursday.
The Rebels officially announced the hire of the Leakesville native a day after reports had surfaced stating they were set to bring him to Oxford. Davis explained that returning to his home state was a convincing factor in his decision.
“My mom and dad are over 80 and they’re 45 minutes from Oxford,” Davis said. “My daughter, her husband lives 45 minutes from Oxford. My brother and sister are from Mississippi.”
Davis will be making a jump from a mid-major to a Power Five conference that is having a stellar season. The SEC sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, which is a new record for the league. The former Mississippi State player, whose dad also coached the Bulldogs, mentioned the opportunity to compete in the league was attractive.
“I’ve been a part of SEC basketball and have followed it for probably the last 45 to 50 years,” Davis said. “It’s the best it’s ever been, top to bottom. SEC basketball is probably the number one college basketball league in America right now. To get a chance to try and create a national brand at a different place at a national level is probably what influenced me the most.”
It also makes getting to the NCAA Tournament a little easier. MTSU took a 24-7 record and Conference USA regular season title into the Selection Show, but still did not get invited to the Big Dance. The Blue Raiders failed to secure an automatic bid when they lost to Southern Miss in the conference tournament.
Davis said this individual team’s failure to reach the tournament didn’t convince him to leave. But he admitted the great amount of pressure on mid-majors to not slip up while trying to make the tournament influenced him.
“You don’t talk about it to your team, but it is, just trying to be perfect for so long,” Davis said. “To be in a league that can get 7 or 8 or 9 teams in, where you don’t have to be perfect, obviously gives you better opportunities.”
Having said that, Davis got emotional when discussing his exit from Middle Tennessee. He leaves the school as its winningest coach (332-187) with two upset victories in the NCAA Tournament.
“When you invest this much, it’s tough,” Davis said while fighting tears. “When your wife and daughters grow up and they enjoy it like this, it’s a hard decision.”
“It’s just one of those deals like when Jim Valvano said in his ESPY speech: If you can have great emotions all in one day, we’ll sure have one that day we go to Oxford. You’ll have this sense of sadness here, but a great elation about going to a new place that you really like.
The Rebels will introduce Davis on March 19 at 5:30 p.m. You can watch his full news conference, courtesy of WKRN in Nashville, in the video at the top of the page.