It has been a challenging first year on the job for Indiana Director of Athletics Scott Dolson.
First he took over the department at a time when the country was in the throes of the pandemic. He had to lead the implementation of unprecedented testing and safety protocols, and he has had to navigate a significant reduction in operating revenue as fans have not been allowed to attend games and other sources of income were lost or diminished.
Now Dolson has to contend with uncertainty at the top of the school’s signature athletics program. He didn’t hire Archie Miller four years ago, but Dolson was around and involved at the time. And now with IU basketball not delivering the results anyone expects during the Miller era, Dolson has to figure out how to fix it.
Indiana has never had an AD more in tune with the men’s basketball program. Dolson was a fan of the team in the 70s and 80s, and he served as a manager under legendary coach Bob Knight before spending almost all of his career in the IU athletics department. He knows what peak Indiana basketball looks like, and he knows what fuels it.
On a podcast this week with former IU player A.J. Guyton, Dolson highlighted the one thing that cannot happen during Miller’s tenure — fan apathy.
“I would say to our fans to keep that passion going because what I worry about to be honest with you, is I want people to care and be upset when we lose and be frustrated,” Dolson told Guyton. “They want greatness because that’s what I want, you want, what we wall want.”
Frustration can have a dark side, and failing coaching tenures at Indiana can turn toxic. While Dolson wants the fans to care deeply, he also worries about who feels the brunt of the disappointment.
“We are dealing with 18 to 22 year-old-kids, and sometimes I do worry at times that it’s easy to forget that,” Dolson said. “They’re young people and they are growing and they will make mistakes. They’re human, and social media sometimes makes people numb to what happens out there and you know, you never want the negativity to be a bad reflection on our university.”
The spotlight is on Dolson, who now has to grapple with the direction of the men’s basketball program no doubt much sooner than he hoped. As a long time fan, former member of the program, and now AD, Dolson no doubt feels the pressure to get this right more than most would in his shoes.
“From my perspective, I think it’s important for the fans to understand that I want the same things they do,” he said. “I want it all. I want it academically, I want our kids to have the support and develop in every way, shape and form from a personal standpoint, and then I want to win. I talk about winning, and I want to win in everything, including basketball, but in everything.”
So what is he going to do with the men’s basketball program? Of course Dolson wasn’t going to give any clues on a podcast. The first order of business is to let the season play out. After that, an entire career spent serving IU will come to be defined by the way Dolson handles a single situation.
And he plans to take his time and get it right.
“We’ll continue to work at it and continue to draw what we can, you know I’ve got the same high expectations everybody does,” Dolson said. “I think that’s sometimes what the challenge is that when there is frustration, people think, ‘Do they care? Is winning important?’ And it is, but at the same time, there’s a process and we got to make sure we do all the things the right way to ultimately get to where we wanna go.”
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