OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Kermit Davis was comfortable at Middle Tennessee, but after 16 seasons he was ready for the challenge of leading a program in the Southeastern Conference.
The 58-year-old has been given that opportunity at Ole Miss, where he was introduced as coach on Monday. The introduction came less than 24 hours after Middle Tennessee fell to Louisville in the second round of the NIT.
"It was just one of those things that I knew it was the right place for me," Davis said.
Davis — a Leakesville, Mississippi, native — replaces Andy Kennedy, who coached Ole Miss for 12 seasons and was the winningest coach in program history before he resigned with two weeks left in a disappointing season.
Davis will earn a base salary of $2.5 million annually on a four-year contract, which is the longest allowed by state law. He can earn incentives for accomplishments like boosting average attendance and conference championships.
Middle Tennessee became one of the best mid-majors in the nation under Davis' guidance. In his 11th season, Davis led the Blue Raiders back to the NCAA Tournament after a 12-year absence. The Blue Raiders had upset wins in the NCAA Tournament in both 2016 and 2017, beating Michigan State and Minnesota, respectively.
He is taking over a program at Ole Miss that last made the tournament in 2015. Ole Miss is coming off a 12-20 season and finished last in the SEC with a 5-13 record.
"We're not going to have eight or nine years (of rebuilding) here," Davis said. "We've got to improve those (returning) guys. There's talent in that locker room. We've got to individually get their development to go up."
Maybe the most notable portion of Davis' contract is the bump in assistant pay. The salary pool Davis will have to work with has been pushed to $900,000, and two of those positions have already been filled.
Middle Tennessee assistants Win Case and Ronnie Hamilton will come with Davis to Ole Miss. Davis said the third assistant position could be filled by a current member of the Ole Miss staff or he could open up the spot for a national search.
Davis has some experience in the SEC. He was the associate head coach at LSU for five seasons under then-coach John Brady before taking the Middle Tennessee job in 2002.
Davis' father, Kermit Sr., coached at Mississippi State from 1970-1977. Davis played for the Bulldogs and served as a graduate assistant there.
"Nobody wants to beat Mississippi State's tail more than Kermit Davis," Davis said.