Ole Miss introduced Kermit Davis as its new men’s basketball coach on Monday, and the Rebels did so confidently in spite of his history with a long-ago NCAA infraction.
That is notable, considering the school’s recent issues with NCAA investigations that cast a cloud over the Hugh Freeze era and led to sanctions that included a scholarship reduction and postseason bans for the football program.
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork believes Davis’ history is, well, just that — history. According to a report from The Clarion-Ledger’s Antonio Morales, the school took a good look at the 27-year-old incident that ended Davis’ tenure at Texas A&M after one season and landed him with a two-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA.
“First of all, we had the report. We checked into it on our own, and we talked to him about it,” Bjork said, per Morales’ report. “The answers were consistent. The way we looked at it also was he accountable for it. He took responsibility, and he has not had an issue since.
“You wrap those things into how long ago it was, three decades ago, what he’s done since. To me, he’s one of the safest hires you could have from a compliance standpoint because he knows what it’s like to be in that position and never wants to be in there again, just like us. We never want to be there again.”
Davis, who arrived at Ole Miss after his Middle Tennessee squad lost at Louisville during the second round of the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday evening, has an extensive history of clean work as a coach since the 1990-91 season at Texas A&M. He compiled 322 wins during a 16-season run with the Blue Raiders from 2002 to ’18.
But even that opportunity came after a decade of clean work following the investigation into recruiting violations in College Station that accompanied a 7-21 debut season there.
According to a 1991 report from UPI’s Richard Luna, Davis stepped down under pressure from the university. The report also provides some details into the situation:
Davis’s attorney, George Parnham of Houston, said Davis will announce Friday his response to the university’s request. Davis did not comment.
“He [Davis] charged that the report does not establish intentional violations of major rules that justify his termination,” Parnham said. “A lot of smoke has been created by the media surrounding Kermit Davis and Texas A&M, as the report properly assesses. There were mainly wild, unproven charges, many of which were made by a disgruntled Tony Scott, admittedly for the purpose of trying to get A&M on NCAA probation to transfer.”
Scott, a transfer from Syracuse, alleged Davis violated NCAA rules by using the services of Robert Johnson, a talent scout, to recruit him. Davis has denied the allegation.
“Any objective review of the whole situation can only lead to the conclusion that while Kermit Davis may not have acted wisely in his relations with Robert Johnson, he did not believe he was engaging in rules infractions,” Parnham said. “In conclusion, the report fails to evidence any intent on Kermit Davis’ part to violate any rule or regulation of the NCAA or Texas A&M.”
Davis’ ancient past will be the last thing on the minds of Rebels fans who are hopeful of a return to NCAA Tournament relevance. Davis, who replaces Andy Kennedy, provides hope there. Davis reached the Round of 32 in the 2016 and 2017 NCAA tournaments with his underdog squads at Middle Tennessee.