I covered many things and wrote many columns and stories before this blog was born. Since I’m on vacation and out of America for the week (my Dobermans are staying at home with my house-sitter, a burly fellow who has wild mood swings and a nasty temper), I’m going to try keep the blog moving this week with pieces from the past that will be new to almost all of you.
Tom Davis was a lame-duck coach in his final season leading the Iowa men’s basketball team. But he certainly didn’t coach like one, and his players played as hard for him that season as any of his teams ever did. Here is my column from Davis’ final home game at Iowa.
IOWA CITY – You live your all-too-public life as close to the vest as you can, and look how you end up. Spinning and grinning on a basketball court as you are swept away in a children’s dance .
Life is a funny thing.
“That rendition of the hokey pokey was pretty hokey,” Tom Davis said. “But we tried anyway, didn’t we?
“It’s just one of those things you do, just, I don’t know, just a little crazy, exuberant.”
Crazy? Exuberant? Davis’ behavior on the Carver-Hawkeye Arena playing floor after Iowa’s 65-48 men’s basketball rout of Northwestern Tuesday night was sheer madness by his standards. But once the winning players and coaches got back to their dressing room, normalcy returned.
“Coach Davis was his usual self,” Hawk junior Ryan Luehrsmann said. “He was really humble, giving us credit for everything. He’s so focused on the next task at hand, winning at Indiana, that he doesn’t stop and smell the roses.”
Hmmm, don’t be so sure. It sounded like the Iowa coach of 13 seasons had given more than a passing thought about this having been his final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He certainly reveled in the result.
“It was very emotional,” Davis said.
Yet, nothing official was done or said to note Davis’ farewell before the game, undoubtedly on the coach’s orders. Which was as typical of Davis as congratulating Northwestern on its winning record as he opened his postgame press conference.
“I wanted it to be business as usual, as much as I could make it that way,” he said. “Because I thought that was our best chance to play well and to finish strong, and keep the attention on the game.
“So I tried not to show emotion outside, but I think the players sensed and knew that this was a big game for a lot of reasons. For our seniors, for the team. And certainly I’m a part of the team.”
Twelve years ago, Iowa pressed and pounded a Northwestern team to pieces here, 80-44. That was Davis’ first Iowa club. A dozen years later in the same building, the Wildcats got similarly whipped, 65-48. A coach that was hounded out of his job is leading the Hawkeyes back to the NCAA Tournament. Tuesday, he was the people’s choice.
The student section chanted Davis’ name late in the game after chanting things not nearly so generous about Iowa men’s athletics director Bob Bowlsby. Most of the crowd of 15,123 stayed to the end to stand and cheer their team and its coach.
It was a striking reversal of the atmosphere here in Iowa’s home finale a season ago. The Hawks were defenseless in losing a first-round NIT tilt to Georgia, 100-93, in an arena that was two-thirds empty. Davis’ critics were never angrier. A month or so later, Bowlsby announced Davis would serve out the final year of his contract and be done.
But life is a funny, funny thing.
Despite losing his two top scorers and three leading rebounders, Davis has slapped together a ballclub that isn’t great, but has been good enough to reside in the Top 25 most of the winter. It is a squad that not only took on the harder non-conference schedule that Bowlsby correctly mandated, but became better for it.
This team hit some potholes, but has kept going. It earned the cheers it basked in Tuesday. It locked up the ninth winning Big Ten Conference record in Davis’ 13 seasons.
The home finale saw a sixth-year senior with an 86-year-old back wave a monstrous school flag and take a victory lap around the court.
“It was perfect,” Jess Settles said. “Being ahead that much at the end of the game, I was praying for that all week to tell you the truth. I didn’t want a barn-burner.”
Settles began orchestrating hokey pokey plans in the game’s last minute. The basketball team lifted the victory dance from Hayden Fry’s bag of quirks after the cagers won at Kansas in December, and hasn’t relinquished it.
Davis was right when he said Tuesday’s performance of the dance was hokey. Of course, he was in the middle of it with a smile as wide as his team’s margin of victory.
“I didn’t think Coach would join us,” Settles said. “I was hoping he would.”
Settles seemed the most emotionally churned of all the Hawkeye seniors who were introduced before the game. He channeled his feelings properly, scoring seven points in the first four minutes as Iowa began blasting to a 17-0 lead.
Two weeks ago, Settles missed two games with a recurrence of his back woes. It looked like it might be the actual end of a career that has seen several stops.
But he turned around and logged his second 16-point game in three days Tuesday. He dribbled on the break after some rebounds, possibly set a team-record for no-look passes, and had a grand time.
That is how you say goodbye.
“It’s been a tough career,” Settles said, “but it’s been all worth it. All my prayers have been answered.
“God’s given me my dream back.”
Impromptu ceremonies are always the best. Davis seemed to have everything he needed as he was hugging and ruffling the hair of Settles and other players on the sideline during the final minute of his 166th and final win at Carver-Hawkeye.
“You have some fun in this, because it is a pretty serious business,” Davis said.
“This is a business,” Northwestern Coach Kevin O’Neill echoed.
“I’ll know when to go, I guarantee you. I won’t get caught in one place too long.”
But O’Neill was caught somewhere too long Tuesday, and that was Carver-Hawkeye. Davis’ place.
Or at least, it used to be.