Kermit Davis has Ole Miss basketball trending in the right direction. How does he compare to other current SEC head coaches?
After twelve seasons under Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss basketball entered their first head coaching search in over a decade, inevitably landing on Kermit Davis, who was then the head coach at Middle Tennessee. He was brought in after a long tenure with the Blue Raiders, entering Oxford with the hopes of turning around a program that hadn’t accomplished much in recent years.
The Rebels made just two NCAA Tournament appearances during Kennedy’s tenure, more often than not finding themselves relegated to the NIT. Kentucky and Florida dominated the SEC for much of Kennedy’s tenure, and he never could really challenge either of those programs for conference supremacy.
Combined with interim head coach Tony Madlock, Ole Miss ended the 2017-18 season at 12-20, their worst mark in more than two decades.
During this hiring process in 2018, Kermit Davis was a coach who was building a solid resume. He had just recently upset 2-seed Michigan State and 5-seed Minnesota in back to back NCAA Tournament with the Blue Raiders. He had experience as head coach at the junior college level, at Idaho, and at Texas A&M. There was a lot of experience under Davis’ wings, but he still had a thirst to prove himself on the national stage again.
The initial process of rebuilding this program looked like it was going to take a few years, but Davis wasn’t about to sit back and wait for results. His Blue Raider teams were not expected to pull off those big upsets, and likewise, immediate results were not expected from the Rebels.
Ole Miss was predicted to finish in dead last in what was a clear rebuilding year but actually finished in the top half of the league standings. In his first season, Davis led this team to the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Auburn twice along the way, long before the Tigers would make the Final Four.
There’s no guarantee that Davis’ rebuilt roster will lead the Rebels to more success in year two, but his accomplishments over the last few years with MTSU and Ole Miss have been impressive. The fact that his team made the NCAA Tournament in a year where the SEC was as challenging as it has been in years makes the feat even more impressive.
How does he compare with the other coaches in this tough league? With the coaches hired in the last few offseasons, the SEC is suddenly filled with some serious coaching talent. The additions of coaches like Buzz Williams and Eric Musselman in recent weeks has only increased the future profile of the conference. If winning wasn’t already hard enough, imagine when those two coaches — as well as Nate Oats and Jerry Stackhouse — start bringing their own guys into their schools.
Davis has a lot of experience, but he certainly lags behind coaches like John Calipari, Rick Barnes, and Bruce Pearl. There is some deep tournament experience in the SEC, with Tom Crean, Ben Howland, and Frank Martin all having Final Fours on their resumes. There are some solid recruiters like Cuonzo Martin and Will Wade also in this league. Simply put, this conference will be a bloodbath in the upcoming years if even half of these teams play up to their full potential.
So where does that leave Kermit Davis? He has just two NCAA Tournament wins, though his efforts to rebuild success at both MTSU and Ole Miss can’t be ignored. That being said, he’s probably somewhere in the lower half of the league, which speaks to the success of some of these coaches. I would put him in the same tier as Cuonzo Martin, Michael White, and Nate Oats; coaches with moderate tournament success and a bright future ahead.
Not all of these teams will build consistent postseason contenders. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year or the seasons after that. Davis already proved that preseason expectations won’t matter in this league, but can he pull off great success again?
When facing talented teams like Kentucky and Auburn on a regular basis, it’s hard to build a consistent winner. If Davis can find a way to build consistency and win a few games in the Tournament with the Rebels, then he’ll soon find his way shooting up the SEC coach rankings.