JOE BIDDLE: MTSU basketball on fire

Photo: WKRN

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – I remember when then MTSU Athletics Director Boots Donnelly was in Atlanta trying to hire a men’s basketball coach.

I got a phone call from Boots in my motel room, as I was there covering the NCAA basketball tournament.

Boots wanted to pick my basketball brain. He knew football from A-to-Z, but basketball wasn’t his strength.

We went over a number of candidates and I gave Boots my thoughts. He told me he really liked one candidate he interviewed and wanted to hire him, but didn’t think he could.

That was Kermit Davis. He was the son of a college basketball coach. Boots liked Kermit’s knowledge of the game and how much Kermit reminded him as a football coach.

I asked Boots why he didn’t think he couldn’t hire Kermit. He told me Kermit had fallen in NCAA trouble and Boots couldn’t take a chance on hiring him.

I thought it over and eventually told Boots that he could hire Kermit because he was the safest hire he could make. I told him how much Kermit loved the game and he knew if he did as much as got a jaywalking ticket, he would never coach a college basketball game at any level.

I don’t know if my recommendation helped Kermit, but Boots hired him.

Sixteen years later Kermit Davis has won his 400th career victory in Division I. He has maintained a clean slate and this season his team is 22-5 going into Saturday’s game against UAB.

MTSU has made the Top 25 for the first time in school history. His team has won a school record of 12 road wins in a season. They beat Louisiana Tech for the first time ever at Louisiana Tech.

“This was one of our most complete games of the season,’’ Davis said after the game. “We got out of sorts a little bit in the second half but were able to withstand their scoring runs.’’

They now close out the regular season with UAB, followed by rival Western Kentucky March 1, and Marshall two days later. They will make the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to make some waves.

Before Saturday’s game, CBS had MTSU as a No. 10 seed, going against Virginia Tech. Joe Lunardi had the Blue Raiders as a 11-seed paired against No. 6 Florida State.

Kermit Davis has made a mark in MTSU history. Other schools may make a run at hiring him, but I predict he will finish his career in Murfreesboro.

The school has upgraded its facilities. Murfreesboro is a growing city and MTSU has more undergraduate students than the university in Knoxville.

Middle Tennessee is a recruiting hot spot. His family is settled and Kermit has put MTSU basketball on the map.

Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at