The noise has been loud each and every time Indiana has had a vacancy at the head coach position since Bob Knight left.
“Hire an Indiana guy!”
Never has there been an obvious choice in that regard, someone who has had elite success at the college level like Roy Williams at Kansas before he went to North Carolina. The lack of a clear cut alumnus candidate has always made this an incredibly divisive topic for Indiana fans. In a strange twist, it seems only a former IU fan, Brad Stevens, could truly unite this fan base, something that became clear after the message boards trafficked his name all week before he broke Hoosier hearts.
But one recent success story has emboldened the “IU Guy” crowd tenfold.
Michigan’s Juwan Howard has already been named the 2021 national coach of the year by multiple outlets, and he is clearly worthy of that honor. Exceeding preseason expectations, Howard’s Wolverines won the Big Ten conference regular season title, and they are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Howard left Michigan in 1994 and played in the NBA for 19 seasons before a six season stint as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. That’s it. That is the entire resume that led Michigan to hire Howard in 2019 to replace John Beilein.
But Howard also has something intangible that no former IU player has to anywhere near the same degree: a near iconic brand that high school kids and his current players could identify with. Howard was part of Michigan’s still well known 1991 “Fab Five” recruiting class, spent nearly two decades in the NBA as a player, and coached on the staff of several good Miami Heat squads.
While he had never been a college recruiter, Howard has four sons who he has gone through the process with to varying degrees. He wasn’t coming into that mission critical part of college basketball completely blind.
So can an alumnus with a non-traditional resume succeed as the head coach? Yes. Can Indiana catch lightning in the bottle with a former player the way Michigan has? They could, but it sure looks like a crapshoot.
But why are we even here, talking about “IU Guys” again?
Indiana’s most beloved coach ever, Bob Knight? An Ohio State guy. Mike Krzyzewski? An Army guy. Bill Self? Oklahoma State guy. John Calipari? Clarion guy. Tony Bennett? Wisconsin Green Bay guy. Jay Wright? Bucknell guy.
For every Juwan Howard comes home and does good story, I’ll give you 100 who had no ties to the program. While Howard’s success might have given new life to the idea of hiring an alumnus, he could have had the same success anywhere, especially if he stepped into an already solid foundation like he did at Michigan. Howard’s success has very little to do with the fact that he is a Michigan guy. He isn’t running Steve Fischer’s system. Literally the only thing that resembles 1991 to 1994 Michigan basketball are the uniforms.
In much the same way, no Indiana alumnus is going to come to Indiana and resurrect the Bob Knight days. If an IU alumnus is going to come to Bloomington, they must do it with their own system, and on their own merits. While Knight’s former player tree has produced some great humans, there really aren’t any former players who have ever demonstrated an elite aptitude for coaching at the high major level. Instead, former Knight assistants such as Krzyzewski and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, and a trio of former managers are some of the best success stories in his tree.
Absurd articles, interviews, and social media posts have been written over the last week suggesting that an “IU Guy” is essential because they understand Indiana’s past and culture. Here in 2021, over 20 years removed from Bob Knight, what does that even mean anymore? Some have even suggested that the hire should “have Bob Knight’s blessing.” That is patently ridiculous. Knight wasn’t hired to resurrect the Branch McCracken days, and no one is or should be held to the standard of resurrecting the Knight days. Instead the next hire should be what Knight was to McCracken — and that was decidedly not McCracken. Knight was his own man through and through.
Everyone gets that Indiana is a special college basketball program and special basketball state. Go ahead and hire someone who gets that Indiana. But if you think getting Bob Knight’s Indiana is a prerequisite for the job, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It was a unique approach at a unique time, and it is long, long gone. Scott Dolson needs to follow the path of Dr. John Ryan, who in 1971 went a completely new direction and abandoned Hurryin’ Hoosier basketball with the hiring of the outsider Knight.
We are at that point again. There are no clear-cut, sure-thing, former IU players who meet the high standards we all have of IU basketball.
Steve Alford has the most extensive college resume by far, but if he has proven anything during his time as a college coach, it is that he is no sure thing. He has never moved beyond the Sweet 16 in 26 seasons as a Division One coach. Alford and former IU manager and current UCSB head coach Joe Pasternack are really the only IU alumni turned Division One head coaches who you can look to and see a coherent argument, but Alford hasn’t proven enough and Pasternack isn’t proven enough.
Former IU great Mike Woodson has the best NBA resume, but unlike Howard, his name has no clout outside of IU fans over 50 and a small cult of New York Knicks fans. Along with Calbert Cheaney, Keith Smart, and Randy Wittman, would any of these IU legends be mentioned for the job if they didn’t star for the Hoosiers? You know the answer, and you know they don’t have any Knight pixie dust in their pockets. It is just a nonsensical notion that only has life because Indiana sold itself short and made four straight bad hires. Let’s just let these legends be legends.
That leaves former players turned college assistant coaches like Dane Fife and Michael Lewis. Fife seems poised to eventually return to being a head coach and Lewis is highly respected and will eventually get a good opportunity too. But do you really want their first high major job to be Indiana?
AD Scott Dolson should embrace the past, this past: It is 1971 all over again. It is time once again to move in an entirely new direction.
Dolson, a former manager under Knight, is the “IU Guy” in this whole equation. And he needs to be the AD who finally treats the IU program like the blue blood it aspires to be. He has already shown us he is on that path by utilizing his fundraising prowess to secure $10 million for Archie Miller’s buyout. Dolson means business here, and he needs to swing for the fences until he lands a legitimate top prospect.
That means no more hiring mid-major coaches on a budget with your fingers crossed.
And that means no hiring fellow “IU Guys” to desperately grasp for a past that is long, long gone.
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