Hello, Indiana Basketball Fan. Welcome to my brochure!
If you’re reading this, you know that Indiana’s search for their next head basketball coach is over. You don’t need to Google Nate Oats’ buyout, Porter Moser’s recruiting rankings, or to compare the athletic facilities in Eric Musselman’s Fayetteville to those in Bloomington. No more obsessing over that text message from a friend who swears a buddy’s wife’s sister’s co-worker said that Tracey Stevens is “sick of Boston and is pushing Brad to move back to their home state!” And don’t mourn the opportunities to send hate tweets to Jeff Goodman and Garry Parrish. Trust me, you’ll get another shot — those guys say dumb shit all the time.
Mike Woodson is the new head coach of the Cream and Crimson, and if you’re like most Hoosier fans, you’re furiously trying to talk yourself into this hire. Let me help you.
MIKE WOODSON CAN COACH
Yes, he had a losing record in the NBA (315-365). But consider the trash-fire franchises he inherited. Woodson took over a floundering Hawks team in the mid-2000s, and nurtured them from 13 wins in his first year to 53 in the 2009-10 season. The team’s win total improved every single year. He had a similar effect in New York, where under his leadership the normally-incompetent Knicks enjoyed their only relevant season of the 21st century, a 54-28 campaign in 2012-13. He led the franchise to its only playoff series win since the Clinton administration, a run that ended because Roy Hibbert forced Carmelo Anthony to eat his own dunk attempt in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (remember that version of Roy Hibbert?).
Woodson was canned after a “disappointing” 37-win season in 2014 and the Knicks haven’t been relevant since, never mind reaching the playoffs. The Knicks welcomed him back as an assistant on Tom Thibodeau’s staff at the start of the current season, and the team’s on track for its first playoff appearance since his departure. What a coincidence!
The bottom line is that Woodson has won consistently with two franchises that never win anything. As an assistant he won an NBA championship on Larry Brown’s staff in Detroit (2004), and he’s coached stars like Melo, Ray Allen, Chris Paul, and Allen Iverson. The man is universally respected at the highest level of basketball.
MIKE WOODSON IS A “NORMAL PERSON”
When IU Athletic Director Scott Dolson said “we need a normal person” in Woodson’s introductory press conference, it raised a lot of eyebrows. It’s no secret that Indiana’sprevious two coaches were… let’s say “interesting” personalities. Tom Crean deserves credit for the on-court success he had in Bloomington, but by all accounts, he was painfully exhausting behind the scenes. His tenure ended because he strained the relationship to its breaking point. Archie Miller, who unlike Crean had no success at all, was also not well-liked by everyone. Woodson has yet to experience the extreme local scrutiny that comes with the top job in Bloomington, but I haven’t found anyone — former teammates, coaches, players, media members, random lifelong Broad Ripple residents — with an ill word for him. Everyone seems to like “Woody” (which I refuse to call him, but is apparently an affectionate nickname among his friends and colleagues).
Being “normal” and “well-liked” means nothing if you don’t win, and Woodson, with all his experience, obviously realizes that. If coaching was all about being a nice guy and having people like you as a person, Chuck Pagano would be ready to enter his tenth season as Colts’ head coach.
MIKE WOODSON CARES ABOUT INDIANA
Admittedly, I’m not big into the whole “he understands the Indiana culture!” thing. It’s something important to 50-plus-year-old fans who wear candystripe pants, faded “WE’RE BACK!” t-shirts, and spend an unhealthy amount of time on the Peegs.com message boards and at the Applebee’s Curbside Pickup. Didn’t Chris Mullin “understand the culture” at St. John’s? How did Sidney Lowe do when he took the reins of his alma mater? Remember the disastrous Matt Doherty experiment at North Carolina? All of those former players supremely underachieved. Knowing a program’s “culture” has not frequently translated to coaching success.
That said, it’s clear that Mike Woodson cherishes the place where he was once a basketball star. The same can’t be said of Indiana’s previous four head coaching swings. In fact, the only coach who’s had any sort of connection to the program in the post-Knight era was Mike Davis, a Knight assistant who was air-dropped into an impossible situation in the wake of his boss’s firing in order to quell a player revolt.
Loving Indiana and having a memory of when Indiana was good and relevant isn’t a pre-requisite for this job. But it can’t hurt, and this is the first time a real Hoosier has had a real chance.
WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO LOSE?
Some people thought Indiana made a mistake firing Tom Crean because, well, things could still get worse. They did, but that isn’t a concern this time around. IU basketball can’t possibly be any less relevant or interesting than they were the last four years under Archie Miller. Miller’s brand of basketball was not only completely ineffective, it was boring and unwatchable. If you’re going to be mediocre-to-bad, at least be fun, something from which most of Kevin Wilson’s IU football teams benefited. The Hoosiers haven’t made the NCAA Tournament or beaten archrival Purdue since 2016. Woodson striking out in both categories still wouldn’t be any worse than the previous era. Bottom line: Indiana already sucks.
To be completely transparent with regard to my own feelings, Indiana could’ve hired anybody (well, outside of Isiah Thomas) and I would’ve written the same article. I’ve used the modern-day Hoosiers as a bit of a punching bag in recent years, making sport of their constant shortcomings and reveling in the pain of “Five Banners!” guy. Still, as an alumnus whose universe once revolved around the men’s basketball program I obviously don’t want them to remain a punchline. For all the grief this fanbase takes, it’s largely comprised of good, passionate, loyal fans who have forced themselves to chug a lot of garbage water basketball over the past two decades. The Indiana administration has failed them, and they deserve better.
Mike Woodson has already given this program something unfamiliar in recent years: hope. That’s not a guarantee of restored glory for a program that clings so desperately to it. But for a program that’s tumbled down several rungs of college basketball’s prestige ladder, to say the least, hope might be the only thing the Hoosier faithful have to hold on to.