Oct. 22, 2002
By Sean Finerty
Success is no stranger to the Santa Clara University Broncos' men's basketball head coach Dick Davey, who has compiled a 173-117 record over his 11 years as head coach, including three NCAA Tournament appearances, three West Coast Conference regular season championships, one WCC Tournament title, and four wins over Top 25 teams, making him the winningest active coach in the WCC. In addition, he has received three "Conference Coach of the Year" awards.
What's the secret to his spectacular statistics? "Longevity," Davey jokes. "I've been here longer; you're supposed to win more if you're there longer."
Though Davey takes his job seriously, he doesn't come to work in an Armani suit. Rather, his "business attire" usually consists of a polo shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. His appearance, friendly and approachable, yet professional, is consistent with his character. He has the eyes of a kindhearted grandfather, and his facial expressions imply experience and confidence. His soft, yet stern voice implies compassion, but also authority. His maxim, as he says, is to "always hussle" and to "never embarrass yourself or your teammates."
"There is a definite correlation between fan support and winning, whether it be in baseball, tennis, or you name it. There is a direct correlation between success and fan support."
Davey is truly a member of the "elite" group of coaches who not only cares about his players, but also cares about anyone with a vested interest in Bronco athletics. He answers his own phone, and if he's not there to answer it, as his voice mail will tell you, he will return your call as soon as possible. And he does mean as soon as possible; after leaving a message asking for an interview, not even 20 minutes had passed before my phone started ringing with a vibrant Coach Davey on the other end. When I met him, he shook my hand and greeted me with a smile. Throughout the interview, he was sincerely interested in the questions at hand as well as maintaining consistent eye contact. Such an attitude reflects nobly not only on himself, but also the athletic department and the institution he represents, illustrating a true sense of family. How many competitive, Division I coaches can do that in this busy world?
Coach Davey, along with the rest of the Santa Clara athletic department, has found a new home in the brand new, much-anticipated Leavey Center. The new multi-million dollar facility houses athletic department offices, a weight room, academic center, team room, press center, video control room, upper level seating, and an executive suite that overlooks the court. All in all, the Leavey Center can capacitate up to 5,000 Bronco fans. When asked if the expected increase in attendance (largely composed of enthusiastic fans) as a result of the new Leavey Center will affect how his team plays at home, Davey responded, "Absolutely. Tremendously. There is a definite correlation between fan support and winning, whether it be in baseball, tennis, or you name it. There is a direct correlation between success and [fan support]." Davey humbly adds, "Now, part of that may stem from the fact that the officials are a little more reluctant to call things against home teams when there's a fan base that's very hyperactive." And hyperactivity has never been scarce among Bronco fans; and coach Davey wants them to know "how important (critical, truthfully) they are to our success. I'm not telling you we can't win 27 games with them not there - we could -, but we sure have a greater chance of winning a number of games when the fans are out there supporting their teams."
Upon entering coach Davey's office, the main attraction, or at least the biggest (literally), is the enormous, magnificent photo of a Bronco basketball game being played before a packed crowd in the Toso Pavilion, predecessor to the Leavey Center. Above his desk sits a framed portrait of former Bronco and current NBA All-star and Dallas Maverick Steve Nash, whom Davey coached at Santa Clara. I asked Davey if he expected anyone in his program to exhibit the same intensity and athleticism that Nash exhibited while he was at Santa Clara. Davey, with the utmost respect for the basketball superstar, laughed, "You know, [Nash] is a pro all-star. You don't come across those very often." He adds, "He was surely unique. We were very lucky to have him come here. Do I hope that we have somebody that will play at that high level someday? Yes. But on the surface looking out there, there aren't many programs around the country that have a player like he was. He was un-recruited, basically; we were very lucky to have him come here." Davey pauses, and then says with a smile, "I hope we have one like him, let's put it that way."
On the far side of Davey's U-shaped desk sits a baseball. Now a baseball may seem out of place in the office of a collegiate basketball coach, but if one knows Davey's history, not having some kind of baseball memorabilia in his office would seem odd. "I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play college basketball and baseball," Davey said gratefully. "After that was over, I was not a good enough player to go on and play professional basketball, but I was barely a good enough player to go into the [San Francisco Giants] farm system for a year or two and play a little baseball." Well, how did he get into coaching basketball? "I liked both sports, but I always had a dream of coaching basketball. I wanted to play professional baseball and I wanted to coach basketball, either at the high school level, the college level, or whatever. I've been lucky enough to live out a lot of those dreams."
This season, coach Davey's Bronco squad is expected to finish a humble 5th in the WCC. However, he doesn't pay much mind to preseason rankings: "I don't think rankings mean absolutely anything," Davey responds earnestly. "They are an indication of what league coaches or the predictors feel your talent level is, and hopefully you're able to supersede their expectations. But rankings don't determine seasons for any team in any program."
Rankings sure didn't determine Davey's first season as the Broncos' head coach. In the 1992-1993 season, his Broncos were slated to finish 7th in the WCC. That same season, the Broncos finished 3rd in the WCC, and made it to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1986-1987 season.
The surprises didn't stop there. Davey's team defeated 2nd seeded, 5th ranked Arizona in the first round of the Tournament, one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. The Broncos ended their run when they lost to 7th seeded Temple in the 2nd round, 68-57. However, Dick Davey didn't leave unrecognized: after Temple's victory over Santa Clara, Temple's head coach, John Chaney, said that the Broncos "are easily the best-coached team we have seen all year." The Broncos would make two more appearances in the NCAA Tournament, again reaching the 2nd round in their last tournament appearance in 1996, led by Steve Nash.
Of course, this season, Davey will have to face some familiar foes in Gonzaga and Pepperdine: "I think everybody in the league would tell you that those would be the two dominant teams again this year," Davey responded. "We're very young. We don't have a senior on the team. Consequently, this is a two-year proposition: we want to win the league this year, but we really think we have an excellent opportunity the following year to be a contender. This year, it will depend on how quickly players mature."
But looking at the bigger picture, does coach Davey see a national championship in his future? "I think," he responds, "we're a team. If we do things right, we do a good job of improving, we work our tail off, we become so effective at what we do, then nothing's out of the realm of possibility." Davey continues with determination and courage in his voice, "It's not scary to have to go play a UCLA, or Arizona, or Maryland, or whatever. You go into that game with the idea in mind that you think you can win it, whomever it might be. So, yeah, I think there's a possibility of that occurring."