Scott Dolson went out of his way to say that he hasn’t already picked his next coach and that no one else has picked it for him.
The Indiana athletic director said he didn’t decide until after the Hoosiers’ season ended that it was time to make a change in leadership and part ways with Archie Miller after four seasons. And it wasn’t until that point, he said, that he discussed his decision with IU President Michael McRobbie and concluded that private donations would be necessary to cover the $10.35 million buyout Miller was due so as not to affect the athletic department or university budgets during a pandemic that forced IU and the rest of college athletics to essentially forego ticket revenue for the 2020-21 school year.
Boosters, he said, did not force the change he announced Monday.
“Prior to my conclusion that we needed to move forward in a new direction, I had zero conversations with any donors about their thoughts on where we are as a program,” Dolson said in his Zoom press conference Wednesday. “Or any conversations about what I was thinking. I didn’t take their temperature at all. I felt like it was really important that I do all my due diligence in advance of any of that. Of course, you hear things out there, but that had zero impact on my recommendation. Zero. … I was not approached by any donors. It wasn’t a donor-driven decision at all. Zero. It wasn’t an anti-Archie effort where people came at me. Zero.”
Once he made his decision, he had two meetings with donors Dolson said will remain anonymous, one who agreed to fund the buyout and another who agreed to fund the remainder of the transition cost. Despite the generosity of those two donors to the program, he said, the decision on who he hires will remain his own.
“There was no discussion of future candidates at these meetings that I had,” Dolson said. “The final decision when I met with the donors was not 100 percent at that point. I just wanted to make sure that was crystal clear.”
But Dolson will conduct a national search. It will not include a search firm, he said, and it will not exclude any potential candidates, including those without head coaching experience.
It will, however, be directed by a North Star that the new coach should develop an identity for Indiana that fits in the modern game.
Under Miller, Indiana’s identity was never clear. His plan was to build around a packline defense that would slow the game and wall off the paint with length and tenacity.
The Hoosiers had some level of success, finishing in the top 70 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of his four seasons in the top 40 nationally in each of the last three. However, that didn’t stand out much in the defense-minded Big Ten because they never finished in the top half of the category overall and they were generally much easier to score on in league play. This season, they gave up 92.8 points per 100 possessions on the season, good for 38th nationally and ninth in the Big Ten. In league play, however, they gave up 105.8 per 100 possessions which put them 12th in the conference.
And offensively, the closest thing they had to an identity was that they got the ball in the paint and drew fouls, but didn’t always make their free throws and struggled to hit outside shots. In Miller’s four seasons, they never finished better than 162nd nationally in effective field goal percentage, 204th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage or 271st nationally in free throw percentage. Added together, they were never better than 64th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The 2020-21 season represented a downgrade almost across-the-board on offense and it was particularly ugly during the six-game losing streak that ended the season.
Simply put, they didn’t score much and they didn’t defend well enough to make up for that fact, which made for basketball that was hard to watch and not that much fun to play.
Dolson indicated he doesn’t want that to be the case anymore — that he wanted the Hoosiers to have a reliable style of play but also one that is attractive to recruits because it’s fun and because it prepares them for the next level. The fact that the NBA has become a more wide-open, up-tempo, 3-point oriented game over the last decade plus is part of that calculation.
“What’s important to us is that it’s a style of play that recruits want to play in and that recruits see that they can see themselves in, but then also is really on the cutting edge of where is basketball going?” Dolson said. “Where is college basketball going? And as you can see, basketball is different than it was three years ago, four years ago, six years ago in terms of how it fits into the NBA and moving on and playing professionally. I think we have to blend all of that together to have an attractive style of play, that obviously can win consistently, but that players want to play in and see themselves in. Playing in the Big Ten Conference is huge, you can see with the great league we had this year. You kind of want it all. You want to blend the ability to succeed in our conference, the ability to have a style of play the players want to play in, the recruits want to play in, and that ultimately prepares them for the next level, as well.”
Dolson was asked specifically if he meant the new coach would have to have a track record of better or more wide-open offense. He wouldn’t go that far and simply said he wanted someone who would work with him in creating a complete identity. He also wouldn’t exclude anyone in terms of their experience — where they’d coached or how high up the ladder he’d reached. He also said it wasn’t critical to him that the next coach be an IU grad as Dolson is, or to have been a part of the Indiana program in some way in the past.
“It’s really a combination of someone who understands and embraces our tradition and our history, but more importantly, has a vision for the future and believes in all the things that we believe in and embraces those, and so that’s critical,” Dolson said. “In terms of potential candidates, I really don’t want to exclude anyone. I want to make certain it’s an open process and we evaluate all the potential candidates that are out there that might be that perfect fit.”
Dolson said he still believes he has a lot to sell even though the program he’s pitching for hasn’t reached the Final Four in 19 years and hasn’t won a national title in 34. The next coach will be the sixth to hold the job since Bob Knight was fired in 2000.
The Hoosiers have missed the NCAA Tournament in five of the last seven seasons in which there has been an NCAA Tournament and they have won two tournament games since 2013. The Sweet 16 is the program’s high-water mark for NCAA Tournament success since 2002 and they’ve only got that far three times. The 2012-13 season is the only year since 1993 that the Hoosiers have entered the NCAA Tournament as better than a No. 4 seed.
But Indiana is still an athletic department that prioritizes basketball backed by a fanbase and a state that supports that. As high as expectations are and as long as it’s been since the Hoosiers met those expectations, there still is infrastructure in place to make a coach successful.
“I think that we have an incredible opportunity, I really do, and that’s not just the company line, me saying that because it’s my job,” Dolson said. “I think, again, given the fact that the tradition that we do have, I think the investments we’ve made in the program, I think where we are as a department, I think that this is an opportunity for someone to come in and really have some wind behind their back to really create that consistency.”
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