Aug. 29, 2008
Editor’s Note — The National Iowa Varsity Club and the UI Athletics Department will induct six former Hawkeyes into the UI Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend. The list includes swimmer Gary Morris, cross country and track standout Kay Stormo, wrestler Lincoln McIlravy, field hockey player Andrea Wieland and former UI men’s basketball coach Tom Davis, who visited recently with hawkeyesports.com.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — More than 100 victories separate Tom Davis from the second-most successful men’s basketball coach in University of Iowa history. Charting tangibles like overall wins was easy to do during the Davis Era, which spanned from 1986-99. In retrospect, it is much more difficult putting a measurement on his trademark impeccable character. Davis will become one of the newest members in the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame this evening.
“No question Tom is one of the most talented and respected basketball coaches to ever coach the game,” said Phil Haddy, University of Iowa sports information director. “He was the kind of person who treated everyone fairly. He was as good a person as I’ve ever been associated with at the University of Iowa.”
Davis replaced George Raveling as head coach of the Hawkeyes in 1986 and immediately impacted not only the university, but the Big Ten Conference and the entire nation. His first squad compiled a school-record 30 wins (against five losses), finishing third in the Big Ten with a record of 14-4, a game behind Indiana and Purdue. Iowa tore through the NCAA Tournament, defeating Santa Clara (99-76), Texas-El Paso (84-82) and Oklahoma (93-91) before falling to Nevada-Las Vegas, 84-81, in the round of Elite Eight.
“It was a pretty interesting year,” Davis said. “One of the things that helped that team was a trip set up to South Korea and China the summer before. I inherited that trip, but it gave me a chance to get a feel for what the players could do and it set the table for the whole season. It also helped the team see that we wanted to run and press. At the time there weren’t many teams that visited China and I don’t think we would have had a successful season like that if we hadn’t taken the trip.”
The 1986-87 campaign was certainly a highlight for Davis, but it was far from the only successful team he coached at Iowa. The Hawkeyes put together nine more seasons of 20 or more victories, which included 10 additional wins in the NCAA Tournament (in eight trips) and a 2-2 mark in NIT play. Davis’s overall record at Iowa was 269-140, an average of nearly 21 victories per season and 101 more than Lute Olson, who is second with 168. The Hawkeyes also won 125 Big Ten games under Davis, 33 more than they did under Olson.
“The one thing those numbers point out is that it’s a tough job and it’s tough to last very long because of the pressures and circumstances,” Davis said. “My coaching record isn’t something that dominates in my mind. The league was very strong during that period.”
While at Iowa, Davis coached 13 players who advanced to the NBA. That figure does not include Andre Woolridge, who was named first team All-American by Basketball Times and third team All-American by the Associated Press in 1997. Eighteen Hawkeyes were named academic all-Big Ten during Davis’s tenure.
Davis grew up in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, and began his collegiate coaching career at Lafayette in 1971. After leading the Leopards to a record of 119-44, he left for Boston College, where Davis compiled a mark of 100-47 from 1977-82. He was 58-59 at Stanford in five seasons before accepting the opening at Iowa.
“The fact that I was a Midwesterner was a big reason I became interested in the Iowa job. It had some appeal to my family, too, to come back to the Midwest and come back to our roots. I got good vibrations talking with (director of athletics) Bump Elliott and after touring the campus I could see that this would be a great place to work.”
“The fact that I was a Midwesterner was a big reason I became interested in the Iowa job,” Davis said. “It had some appeal to my family, too, to come back to the Midwest and come back to our roots. I got good vibrations talking with (director of athletics) Bump Elliott and after touring the campus I could see that this would be a great place to work.”
There were several memorable moments during the Davis Era and the one etched most clearly in his mind was a period he simply referred to as “not a fun time.” Chris Street died in an auto accident Jan. 19, 1993, midway through his junior season as a member of the Iowa basketball team. Nine days after Street’s death, the Hawkeyes rallied to defeat Michigan State 96-90 in overtime at East Lansing. On Jan. 31, Iowa stunned eventual NCAA runner-up Michigan 88-80 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The impact that had on all of us was devastating,” Davis said. “The impact it had on the team, the university and the state…what it did to all of us who experienced that and how it impacted the program.”
In a way, Davis refuses to take personal ownership of his coaching success. “It always comes down to the players involved,” he said. The impressive coaching tree of former Davis assistants includes current Division I head coaches Gary Williams (Maryland), Bruce Pearl (Tennessee) and his son Keno Davis (Providence).
“You feel good and no doubt it gives you something to watch when you pick up the sports sheet,” said Davis referring to his assistants who have forged their own coaching identities. “In most cases, those guys were with me a long, long time.”
After leaving Iowa in 1999, Davis took four years off from coaching before accepting a job at Drake University. In four seasons he re-energized the Bulldog program, winning 54 games — including a 17-15 record in 2006-07 — his final season as a head coach.
Keno followed his father’s footsteps and last season led Drake to a 28-5 record, a Missouri Valley Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think the world of Coach Ferentz and what he’s done. Another part of the story when you talk about success at Iowa is how well the coaches in all the sports got along. It was a good family atmosphere.”
So does son still pick dad’s brain for basketball coaching advice?
“He asks out of courtesy because he wants the old man to feel good,” Tom Davis joked.
Of the 13 teams Davis coached at Iowa, he said his final group in 1998-99 that included starters Jess Settles, Jason Bauer, J.R. Koch, Dean Oliver and Kent McCausland was perhaps the most fun to be around.
“They had terrific togetherness as a team,” Davis said. “Of course they did a nice job and won, too (20-10 overall, 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament). That last team I had at Iowa was a nice blend of younger and older guys and I admired the spirit they had.”
Davis said he is still a fan of UI athletics and keeps an eye on what’s happening in the Hawkeye Nation.
“I think the world of Coach Ferentz and what he’s done,” Davis said. “Another part of the story when you talk about success at Iowa is how well the coaches in all the sports got along. It was a good family atmosphere.”
Davis thinks current Hawkeye men’s basketball head coach Todd Lickliter is “a real solid guy who is on the right track.”
And although he is very appreciative of the Hall of Fame induction, Davis said that more than anything, the honor makes him reflect on his co-workers over the years at the UI.
“It’s a tribute to all the people who were so important to our program,” Davis said. “It was a solid corps of people — Earl Yoder, Bump Elliott, Dr. Dave Johnston, John Streif, Jerry Strom, Dr. John Albright, Gil Barker, Lloyd Bender, Steve Roe, Phil Haddy and George Wine.”
Solid is an adjective that also describes Tom Davis. So does the title Hall of Fame Coach.