Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
Walking into Murphy Center is stepping into the house that Kermit Davis built.
On the walls in the foyer, murals of NCAA tournament victories capture the games’ biggest moments. Banners of past championships and tournament appearances hang from the ceilings. A wall that runs the length of the men’s basketball locker room lists all the accomplishments of the program’s history.
Davis, head coach of men’s basketball at Middle Tennessee State University for 16 years, is currently building the program to become one of the top mid-major basketball schools in the nation.
Davis has dedicated nearly 40 years of his life to the sport. The game was in his blood and couldn’t help but have an effect on his life and career. Davis was born in Leakesville, Mississippi, the son of Kermit Davis Sr., who was the head coach at Mississippi State University for seven years.
Davis began his college basketball career as a player at a junior college for two years before transferring to Mississippi State. Following his graduation, Davis then became a graduate assistant there, which helped him prepare for his coaching opportunities to come.
“I learned so much,” Coach Davis said. “I played for two really good coaches, Jim Hatfield and Bob Boyd, who was my coach as a senior.”
Davis said he played sparingly at Mississippi State, and he learned more about how to be a coach as a player than a graduate assistant. However, Davis said the transition was easy because he’s always wanted to be a coach.
Davis received his head coaching opportunity at a junior college before moving on to become an assistant at the University of Idaho. Eventually, Davis was promoted to head coach at Idaho in 1988 and became the youngest head coach at the NCAA Division I level.
Afterwards, Davis spent seasons at Texas A&M as the head coach, and zt Utah State and Louisiana State University as an assistant coach before arriving at MTSU.
Coach Davis moved to MTSU in 2002 and is now preparing to enter his 16th season at the helm. Davis found instant success in his new home at the glass house.
“We had all looked at Middle Tennessee from afar and just the area, we thought it had a great chance,” Davis said. “The (former) athletic director, Boots Donnelly, was the reason I got involved. He was the ex-football coach, and one of my best friends, John L. Smith, knew Coach Donnelly, so he connected us.”
The Blue Raiders experienced four winning seasons in Davis’ first four years at MTSU. However, Davis and the Blue Raiders didn’t taste postseason play until 2010 in the College Insider Tournament. Only a few seasons later, Davis and the Blue Raiders hit their stride. In 2011, the Blue Raiders’ dominance began.
Davis led the Blue Raiders to a 27-7 record for the 2011-12 season and a 28-6 season in 2012-13. They were named regular season champions in the Sunbelt Conference for both seasons.
The longtime coach is said to have changed the culture of MTSU basketball when he arrived on campus and is now reaping the long-term payoff.
“We’ve had a lot of stability here, which has been good,” Davis said. “The main thing is, we’ve had an unbelievable, fun time watching it grow from way, way back.”
The Blue Raiders were in the Sun Belt Conference until the 2013 season when they migrated over to Conference USA. The Blue Raiders didn’t miss a beat with Davis’ guidance. In the first season in their new conference, the Blue Raiders finished atop the standings yet again with a 24-9 record and the arrival of Reggie Upshaw.
Upshaw is a respected MTSU legend, and he helped Davis further the program’s success and stability. Davis and Upshaw captured the first conference tournament in MTSU history in 2016 and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989.
MTSU was placed in the tournament as the 15th seed within their region. The Blue Raiders were major underdogs, facing the second-seeded Michigan State Spartans, who were favorites to win the national title. However, Davis willed his program and players to one of the most improbable upsets in college basketball history.
The Blue Raiders took down the Spartans 90-81, but were unable to move on further in the tournament after a loss to the Syracuse Orangemen in the second round.
But Davis and the Blue Raiders did not stop there. They returned the following season and outdid themselves and their prior season. Davis led the Blue Raiders to the best regular season record in program history (31-5), and the team dominated in conference play (17-1).
Davis won his second consecutive conference championship and took his Blue Raiders to the NCAA tournament again where they surpassed the first round against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but failed to move on past the second round once more.
The Blue Raiders lost Upshaw and one of the most productive transfers in MTSU history , JaCorey Williams, to graduation after the 2016-17 season. There was also speculation that Davis would not return to MTSU. Despite reports that he was being coveted for other head coaching jobs across the nation, Davis signed a new contract through 2024 to stay at MTSU this past offseason.
Davis said the decision was an easy one because of two major factors.
“Number one: quality of life. My wife and daughter love Murfreesboro as well as I do,” Davis said. “Number two: winning. The expectations of where we think we can take the program. When you equate all of that, I think I have one of the best jobs in college basketball.”
Davis plans to continue to build the program and hopes for the MTSU brand to become recognizable across the nation. Davis has instilled a mentality and culture that has brought respect to the university from outsiders looking in.
“The biggest thing about our culture is that we lost two great players like Reggie (Upshaw) and JaCorey (Williams), and the league still picks us to win the league,” Davis said. “I have great assistant coaches and great stability with that, too.”
Davis, his staff and players will look to make a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance while also striving to “three-peat” as C-USA champions.
“Now you walk in the arena, there’s new hallways and equipment, but 16 years ago these walls were green. I went down my first week tearing stuff down,” Davis said. “All they had was bulletin boards. One night I came in late around 10 o’clock at night and tore down every bulletin board I could find. We secretly painted the walls just so we could start from scratch.”
Davis understands there is more work to be done to achieve the expectations he has for MTSU basketball.
“This arena and program has evolved. We’re not there yet, but it has been fun.”