OLIVER: End Of Story

One man's suspicion is another man's demise. That's why even though this was penned last week in Madison, we waited until today to let it see the light of day.

One man's suspicion is another man's demise.

That's why even though this was penned last week in Madison, we waited until today to let it see the light of day.

This is a sad story to write, this recounting of the final minutes of a man. We didn't want to do it prematurely.

But now is the time to tell this tall-less tale, this un-euphoric eulogy, this story any sportswriter worth his drab wardrobe wouldn't want to write.

That may sound strange, but it's true.

You see this time around the story's tragic hero is a man who has provided quite a bit of copy for the writing dogs that have filled the Assembly Hall press room the last five-plus years.

The hounds can always smell a good story and Mike Davis was always that, at the same time a forthright quote and a tempest's tale, 16 to 18 inches of good copy for sure.

So writing about the undeniable demise of Indiana's latest basketball coach has been a party-throwing occasion for no one.

But there we were last Tuesday, John Decker and myself, lured north by the promise of bratwurst dinners at the The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company over there on Doty Street and a basketball game up the street at the Kohl Center.

By the end of the night we were stuffed on sausages and basketball, and we were resolved to the fact that while it was a decision that would eventually have to be determined by an athletic director, a chancellor, a president, or Davis himself, the coach's fate was sealed.

This would indeed be Davis' last year at the helm of the Hoosiers.

What makes it an ugly story to tell is that Davis never had a fighting chance in Bloomington.

That's what happens when you replace a legend in a Basketball Mecca. Every game is a fight for your career, the masses judging your every counter punch, the effectiveness of each jab.

In Madison, the bout should have been stopped early and often. It was that bad.

A weekend later, things didn't get much better as Davis missed the home game versus Iowa with the flu, fueling speculation over his looming exit from Bloomington. On the court the Hoosiers, under the surrogate eye of Donnie Marsh, lost their first conference home game of the year.

Later that afternoon, Davis spoke with ESPN's Andy Katz.

The coach's focus was on the fans that had turned out at Assembly Hall that afternoon wearing black shirts in protest of his position as the Hoosiers' coach.

"You can say what you want to me, but that affects the guys," Davis told Katz. "I watched [Saturday's] second half and you could see we were playing with no energy. It's really a shame. They have no idea what they've done to the players."

On Monday, during the Big Ten's weekly teleconference, Davis was at it again, this time sounding like a doomed man.

"I just think Indiana needs to have one of their own," he told those listening. "They need to have someone who has played here, so they can embrace him. And they need that. I'm not upset about it, I'm not disappointed about it. I think they need that, I really do…these players deserve better."

Then yesterday in joyless Happy Valley, Davis and Co. suffered through another loss and before the Hoosiers could return home, rumors had turned to speculation, speculation had turned into "unnamed sources in Indiana's athletics department" and overnight sports talk shows had Davis taking a turn riding busses from Bolivar to Joplin in Div. II.

As such, Davis' hopes of another year as the head coach of the Hoosiers had turned into his worst possible nightmare.

These are now the last days of Mike Davis, head coach of the Indiana basketball playin' Hoosiers.

Tabbed to replace Bob Knight as much as he was anointed to prevent a roundball mutiny, there has always been a hard-line group that has made Davis feel as welcome in Bloomington as Gene Keady might.

Of course, there have been those nights lately when Keady, the former henchman at Purdue, would have felt more loved by the Hoosier faithful than the current IU coach.

This would be one of those times.

Liked or disdained, ultimately it will have been Davis' inability to keep the Hoosiers in the fashion their fans were accustomed to seeing them, winning, that will have cost him his job.

Still, when Mike Davis first became coach at Indiana, he exuded confidence, cockiness and flashed his signature teethy grin.

His shoulders were broad and he could just shrug off the doubters who lacked confidence in a man that had the gall to start his head coaching career at one of America's finest basketball academies.

In his eyes and those of his players, he was going to succeed.

It was at once his signature and his defect.

He would be and has been judged by a different measuring stick than was his predecessor, when it comes to antics and superlatives.

Every sentence he has spoken has been examined, every play he has drawn has been dissected.

He has been more abhorred than adored, for who he isn't rather than who he is.

Mike Davis, when given the reins of Indiana basketball, wasn't many things, but most of all he wasn't the people's choice, a man with a name like Steve Alford, Dan Dakich, Quinn Buckner - men from within Indiana's storied tradition.

He was only the player's choice.

But even when he took the Hoosiers to the Final Four in 2002, he was said to have done it with Bob Knight's players, and was given less credit than he probably deserved.

It's a tone that has never changed, because for Davis, in Indiana, it has always been about more than winning basketball games, no matter what anyone says.

It was about gaining acceptance.

And now, with Rick Greenspan's edict from last April serving as a constant reminder, expectations are as high as ever and finally, Davis is out of time.

You could see it last week down the street from the Great Dane, the glimmer was lost in Davis' eyes.

You could see it in his posture at his press conference. He slouched, looked tired and answered questions in muffled tones.

In the end, Mike Davis and Indiana will part ways because he didn't win enough games, because he didn't hang enough banners and because he didn't carry on a tradition.

But what will never be reflected in his record, after he is gone, is the fight he had to fight just to be accepted as the coach of a program called Indiana Basketball.

It was a fight he never had a chance to win.

It was a fight he'll officially lose later today.

And that's our story.

The End.

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