Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Revenge of Dr. Tom

So, I haven't commented on the greatest night of Dr. Tom Davis' life. Saturday night. Drake massacred Iowa. The game was not anywhere approaching close. It was not a fluke.

And you know what? Deep down, I loved it, and I doubt I'm the only Iowa fan who will say that.

Dr. Tom got a raw deal. Sure, he was often criticized for lackluster recruiting, thoroughly average performance, and that never-ending press on defense. But Iowa is, at its heart, a football school. Dr. Tom understood this and planned accordingly. His teams may not have ever been great, but they was never awful, either. They did enough to keep up interested and, occasionally, a little more. Look at the raw data on Davis' thirteen years with Iowa:
  • Overall record of 269-140 (.658 winning percentage)
  • Big Ten record of 117-107 (.522 winning percentage; at least he was over .500)
  • Only three seasons in 13 in the bottom half of the conference
  • Nine trips to the tournament, with one regional final and two more sweet sixteens
Nobody's going to confuse Tom Davis with John Wooden, but those numbers aren't too bad. His numbers are far better than the Golden Boy has posted to date. He won, and he did it with a style that matched the state: Simple, understated, unassuming. He always seemed a little lower in stature than the other coaches in the Big Ten (and not just because he's short and troll-like), but that seemed to fit well. And, say what you will about his recruiting (I think "pathetic" repeatedly applied), he always got more from his teams than anyone believed he could.

Then came 1998. When Bobby Bowlsby botched the Stoops hire, and thereby put his job on the success or failure of the unknown Kirk Ferentz, he needed a big name signing to divert attention. That meant the good doctor was gone and the Golden Boy was in. It was to be a new era of Iowa basketball, where fans would watch talented and well-coached teams that could compete for a conference title year-in, year-out. Gone were the days of J.R. Koch and Guy Rucker.

Except Dr. Tom wasn't going quietly. Publicly snubbed and coaching as a lame duck, he took his final Iowa team to the sweet sixteen with an upset victory over Arkansas and a near-victory over #1 UConn. Even with the promise of the Alford era, the departure of Davis never felt right. And so when Dr. Tom took over at Drake, a significant number of Iowa fans were openly rooting for him. Finally, Saturday night, as the final seconds ticked down on Dr. Tom's best impersonation of Beatrix Kiddo, we all got our wish. We gritted our teeth and lamented the sorry state of our program, but we were grinning inside.

Dr. Tom has Hattori Hanzo steel

The great irony in all of this is that the Iowa team that got stomped by Drake Saturday night looked exactly like one of Dr. Tom's Iowa teams, right down to the slow-footed small forward named J.R. wearing a t-shirt under his jersey. Sure, Tyler Smith looks great, but Iowa gets a great recruit every once in a while regardless of the coach. The promise of the Alford era has never materialized. Our qualms about the end of the Davis era proved to be true.

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