It hasn’t reached a fever pitch by any stretch of the imagination, but they are out there. You know the ones. The crazies out on the margin.
“Glass settled for Miller.”
“Should have hired Alford.”
Surely you’ve seen or heard the variations of the silliness. Every fan base has them. The opportunistic blowhards that howl at the first sign of trouble.
These folks are in desperate need of some context.
No, not excuses. Context.
Indiana basketball needs to be better. On that, perhaps everyone can agree.
And no, this isn’t about ignoring that immediate success can happen. Coaches such as John Calipari and Bill Self accomplished that at their current jobs. It can be done, but we’re not on that express train.
This is about trusting a process, and looking to multiple examples that illustrate how, with the right coach and enough patience, good things can eventually happen.
Never was that more clear than on Monday night in Minneapolis when Tony Bennett led Virginia to its first ever national title.
Things didn’t start out rosy for Bennett. In his first two years leading the Cavaliers, the Virginia head coach went a combined 31-31 and completely missed the postseason both years. By comparison, Indiana head coach Archie Miller has gone 35-31 in his first two seasons.
Even as recent as last year when Virginia became the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, there was frustration with Bennett. And there were questions.
Questions about whether a slow, methodical offense can win in March. Questions about whether you can win a title with a pack-line defense.
Bennett’s pack-line defense has also been used by the crazies as a reason why Miller was the wrong hire at Indiana. You can’t win it all with the pack-line, right? Wrong.
Virginia trusted the process — and now they will hang a banner.
But Bennett isn’t the only successful current coach that needed at least a couple years to get things going.
Take a look at the following chart that shows the first three years of some of the more prominent current head coaches around the country —
The chart also shows the final year of the preceding coach to provide some context for what was inherited.
The bottom line here? You have no idea what you’ve got after two seasons. Sometimes you still don’t know after three seasons. Sometimes there was regression even after things got going in the right direction.
This. Is. A. Process.
And of course the process could be flawed. There are countless examples of coaches that never turned things around. But the point is, sitting here right now, we don’t know.
In the collective first 30 seasons of these coaches there were six NCAA Tournament appearances. Total. The only two coaches that reached the NCAA Tournament in the first two years were back out of it in the third.
The average winning percentage of these coaches in those first three seasons was 54% — essentially right where Miller is after two years at Indiana, and right where he was after two years at Dayton.
Expect more. Want better. Miller does. Fred Glass does. We do.
But be patient, and keep things in context.
Criticism is fair. It hasn’t been perfect. Far from it.
But calling for jobs after two years is misguided and capricious. That very mindset would have fired Krzyzewski, Izzo, Wright and Bennett before they could even get started. They all went on to win titles. They’ve won a total of nine in fact.
A revolving door of coaches accomplishes nothing, and perhaps signals to the coaching community that your leadership is misguided, your fan base is irrational, and your program is not desirable. When that happens, rather than upgrading your coach, you end up with your fourth or fifth option. See UCLA, circa 2019.
There is nothing toxic or inherently flawed about Miller’s Indiana program that suggests drastic action is needed. There are no red flags that scream panic. All signs point to a process, and one that might already look quite a bit different if the team didn’t shoot 31% from three point range and 65% from the foul line.
Indiana should be in it for the long haul with Miller. And by long haul I mean at least four years. That’s long enough to have Miller’s guys in the program as upperclassmen and seniors that have been with him for at least three seasons.
If by then we are still talking about sub-20 win seasons and the NIT, well, the crazies out on the fringes are going to look more like a mob.
None of this is any fun. We live in an instant gratification society, and the expectations are high in Bloomington. For that we should be grateful. This is still a cherished program. But we can’t love it so much that we destroy it from within.
You may not be happy with where Indiana basketball is right now — but ask a Virginia fan today how they feel about those first couple seasons under Bennett.
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