Legendary former IU basketball coach Bob Knight did his due diligence behind the scenes when Archie Miller was hired in 2017.
To check up on the incoming coach from Dayton, Knight called his friend Don Donoher, the Flyers’ all-time winningest coach.
Knight relayed his endorsement of Miller at a March, 2017 event in Bloomington.
“He comes from a really good basketball background, and I know a little bit about that, Knight told an audience of fans at the time.
“So you folks give him a good introduction, you get behind him, and I think you’re going to enjoy some good basketball.”
Upon arriving in Bloomington, it didn’t take Miller long to fully appreciate what Knight still meant to the program.
“When you’re here (at Indiana) you start to get a sense of who was here before you,” Miller said to former IU player A.J. Guyton in reference to Knight on the House of Hoosier podcast.
At the time he was hired Miller said publicly that he would not have left Dayton for any run-of-the-mill high major program.
It was going to take an offer from one of the nation’s best to lure the coveted young head coach.
While Indiana fit the bill for Miller, he quickly realized that Knight’s presence was figuratively everywhere in Bloomington — and later, literally.
Early on, Miller saw the three time national championship winning head coach everywhere he looked.
“There’s no doubt about it, the imprint of this program,” Miller said. “The tradition of the program, all the great players that came here and played, at some point it all starts and stops with him. You have to be able to recognize that.”
Knight moved back to Bloomington in 2019, and of course he made his memorable return for an IU basketball game in February.
While Knight’s legend looms large over the program, behind the scenes a relationship has been formed.
The college basketball coaching family is tight-knit. During the offseason, there are invites to campus to watch workouts, brainstorming sessions, phone calls and friendships.
Some of it is about basketball, much of it is not.
When Knight and Miller sit down, the conversation is much more about taking advantage of an opportunity to engage with a wise old sage rather than dissecting X’s and O’s.
“Coach (Knight) has been really good to me,” Miller told Guyton. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with him in person. The things we’ve discussed really don’t have anything to do with basketball.”
But while they don’t often talk hoops, what Miller has seen is the intelligence that formed the foundation of Knight’s success during his time at IU.
“You start to figure out, this guy is really smart,” Miller continued. “The way that he talks, the way that he’s able to describe moments in time, you’re in awe of him.”
Another part of Knight’s success is that he was always able to keep his players on their toes, rarely letting down his guard.
Miller has also seen Knight’s ability to let you know who is in charge. Or is it his playfulness and quick wit?
“He also scares the hell out of you,” Miller said. “You don’t know sometimes if he’s playing with you, or he’s really serious.”
It probably isn’t a coincidence that Knight was finally able to get comfortable with coming back to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for a basketball game during Miller’s tenure.
He did his homework on Miller, after all.
Under Miller, Knight has an open invitation from the IU program. And that comes along with respect for the privacy of the recently turned 80 year old.
“Now that he’s back in Bloomington, anything that he needs we want to be able to help,” Miller said. “But we also want him to be able to be happy and peaceful.”
While Knight will always cast a large shadow over the program, Miller isn’t shying away from it.
Does Knight’s success at IU put more of a microscope on Miller?
Yes, of course it does.
The pressure from the fans is palpable, and much of that stems back from Knight. Much like the coaching legend, the expectations are seemingly everywhere in Bloomington.
And just like he has embraced Knight, Miller relates to the fans, still fueled by memories of an elite era for the program.
It is easy for Miller to understand what the fans want.
He has their same expectations.
“I don’t get too bent out of shape about people wanting to win,” Miller said.
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