In the beginning, Mike Davis walked into a coaching situation that was as poisonous as any in college basketball history.

Almost to a man, players threatened to leave one of the most legendary programs in the nation. The Indiana University campus was torn apart. But almost to a man (no IU fan was shedding tears over the loss of Tom Geyer), they stayed and IU didn’t suffer the calamitous fall many predicted. And Davis deserves a lot of the credit.

In the end, however, it is Davis who has to take primary responsibility for IU being torn apart anew.

In the beginning, Davis faced down the Kafka-esque long knives of a vociferous segment of IU’s fan base that relentlessly wanted to see no one coaching the Hoosiers but Bob Knight or one of his own anointed successors.

Davis won early on, in spite of never being able to unite a fractious IU fan base, and his early success was a defiant signal to anyone who thought IU could only win one way. This likely pleased the silent majority of IU fans who wanted Davis to succeed all along.

In the end, however, Davis was never completely felled by those long knives. Instead, Davis fell on his own sword.

His stated desire on Thursday to “reunite” Indiana basketball and for it to “come back together”, while undoubtedly genuine, came off hollow. After all, through his actions of the last month, and publicly over the last week, Davis is primarily responsible for creating the strife he desires to fix.

When it comes to exit strategies, Davis might have redefined how not to do it. The odd sick out, the critical comments of the fans, the now-public admission that he’s wanted to leave for a month. Keep in mind, IU was 10-3 when Davis said he made up his mind to leave. This goes against conventional wisdom that it was losses at Minnesota and Wisconsin that sealed his fate. If IU’s season was pushed over the cliff, Davis’ handprints are on the back as much as anyone else’s.

Davis certainly saw handwriting on the wall. But his means of interpreting it has done more harm than good.

“These players can reunite with the past players and be a part of it again,” said Davis, on returning unity to IU basketball. “When I was here as an assistant, we had fans waiting for us by our bus, we’d have the band play when we left for a game. But since I’ve been here, that hasn’t been the case and it should be. It should be where Indiana basketball is.”

You get the sense that Davis is genuine about that statement, when is he not genuine? But you also get the sense that Davis has been bitten by his naiveté ... again.

Nothing Davis did in the last five days would unify anything. There was the rampant rumors about Davis’ status when he missed last Saturday’s game at Assembly Hall against Iowa with the flu, speculation that went into overdrive when Davis felt well enough that day to complain to the media about the lack of support from IU’s fans and what it was doing to his players.

But didn’t Davis consider what his actions were doing to the psyches of those players? No one would expect Davis not to be simmering privately about some of the pressures he’s dealt with in Bloomington, but how does going public with it make his players feel better? How does it right the ship?

Davis’ reiterated some of the fan criticisms during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference, adding fuel to that already unstable brew by saying that someone with an IU background was best suited there.

Finally on Thursday, Davis said he wanted to announce his resignation to end speculation and to give everyone, including his players, some closure.

What Davis doesn’t or won’t realize, was that his actions made him the lightning rod for the speculation. If Davis sits out with the flu last Saturday and doesn’t talk to the media, matters never would have came to the head they did this week. He also lost much of that “silent majority” of IU fans, who threw up their hands and said enough’s enough.

And there’s no closure, especially for IU’s players. Davis implored the media not to ask his players about his future, what about theirs? He might be a lame duck, deflecting some of the spotlight, but now the bright lights go on players like Robert Vaden and D.J. White, who will be the subject of rampant speculation for the next month, something neither player seemed to deflect when both gave hints they wouldn’t be back at IU.

None of this does much for team unity in a season that, despite sky-is-falling talk from fans, is still salvageable for the Hoosiers.

Davis is one of the kindest men you’d ever meet. He is a guy who is very easy to root for. He is a coach who definitely deserves a chance to coach again. He’s a wonderful recruiter (the commonly-held perception among some that he won with Knight’s players in 2002 doesn’t entirely wash, since Davis recruited some of them) and he does have proven ability to lead a program to prominence.

In the end, though, even though enemies were ranged around him, Davis was his own worst enemy. And one sincerely hopes that Davis learns from that lesson when he gets another chance.

Todd Golden can be reached by phone at (812) 231-4272; or by e-mail at todd.golden@tribstar.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.