Mike Roberts grew up in Terre Haute, Ind. before moving out to Oregon for high school when his father took a job on the West Coast.
But eventually, after a brief stop in New Hampshire, Roberts found his way back in Indiana when he started his college basketball career at IU.
And so began a series of circular moves that likely has Roberts’ head spinning at this point.
He went to work at Texas Tech as a graduate assistant under Bob Knight in 2005 before heading back out west to California, before heading back to Texas to serve as an assistant at Rice.
Roberts then went to North Carolina Greensboro, where he reunited with former prep school teammate Wes Miller, before coming back to IU to serve as an assistant. Now Roberts is back with Wes Miller at Cincinnati as an assistant coach.
While the patterns are interesting, the twists and turns are fairly common in the college coaching profession. Of course Roberts’ most recent move to Cincinnati came as a result of Indiana’s decision to fire Archie Miller in March. That decision didn’t immediately mark the end of Roberts’ second tenure in Bloomington. He continued on while Indiana conducted its search for a new head coach, helping to hold things together in multiple ways while Scott Dolson searched for a replacement.
Indiana had announced that Roberts would be kept on by new head coach Mike Woodson as an assistant athletic director for basketball administration, an off-court position that would have put him under the authority of Thad Matta. But ultimately the lure to stay on the court as a coach, rejoin Wes Miller, and pursue his longer term goal of becoming a head coach were too much to pass up.
Roberts took the job at Cincinnati, but he was able to leave his alma mater on good terms and with good feelings about the direction of the IU program.
“I think it’s a good decision (to hire Mike Woodson),” Roberts told A.J. Guyton on the House of Hoosier podcast. “Coach Woody is a great guy, he treated me great in the transition. I’ve got no ill will towards him. The University and Coach Woody were kind enough to create a position for me that I would have crushed to the best of my ability, but then this thing at Cincy came along, and my goal is to become a head coach.”
While Roberts was able to leave Bloomington optimistic about both his own career and Indiana, it was only a few weeks earlier that everything had gone dark during the final days of the Archie Miller era.
In his interview with Guyton, Roberts gave what we believe are the first public comments by anyone from Miller’s staff regarding what went wrong during the 2020-21 season. Roberts arrived in August of 2019, and he thought the first season — ultimately derailed by COVID-19 — showed that things were headed in the right direction.
“I thought in the first year we did a good job with that group,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t what the fans wanted but we were going to get in the tournament.”
Playing against a challenging schedule, IU started Roberts’ second season 12-9 and appeared to be on its way to the NCAA Tournament before a season ending six game losing streak.
“Obviously this last year, let’s call it what it was — disappointing,” Roberts told Guyton. “You and I both know, you can’t go 12-15 at Indiana. What happened, happened. I love Archie Miller, man, he treated me so great, treated my family great. He’s as good of a dude as it gets. I wish I had done more to help him. This has been a humbling year. When I came to Indiana, I’ll be frank, my hope was to never leave. I’d have been an assistant at Indiana until the day I died if they’d keep me, but we didn’t get it done. … I’ll be an old man disappointed with how this went. I know the fans were disappointed, but I promise you no one was more disappointed with how it went down than me.”
Roberts cited some games that Indiana probably should have won, and he believes a key preseason injury played a significant role in IU’s disappointing 2020-21 campaign.
“I think Joey Brunk’s back injury was a more significant thing than people thought because I thought that Trayce and Race had very productive good years, but I thought a lot of times at the end of games they were very fatigued from a lack of depth,” Roberts said.
It took a lot to pry Roberts away from Wes Miller the first time.
But when IU came calling, it was too much to pass up.
“I turned down a bunch of other stuff just because I enjoyed working with Wes so much, but my alma mater is my alma mater,” Roberts said. “Archie and I had been talking all summer (in 2019). I really liked him. (Former IU manager and current UCSB coach) Joe Pasternack is a guy who had worked with Arch, and he said nothing but great things about him. It was a chance to coach in the Big Ten at my alma mater. I couldn’t turn it down and I’d do it again. It was the first job that I had brought up to Wes, and he was like ‘hey man, if you can get that one, go.'”
But ultimately things didn’t go as planned for Archie Miller or Roberts.
And the IU alumnus takes it personally.
“We all know what the standard is there and we didn’t reach it. And I’m sorry that we couldn’t do better,” he said.
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