Thank You for Calling The Dan Dakich Show. Now Shut the Hell Up.

He’s opinionated. He’s controversial. And depending on whom you ask, this trash-talking, mean-tweeting radio host is the most honest personality in Indy sports media—or the most infuriating. Either way, we can’t stop listening.

January 2015Add a comment

Photo by Tony Valainis
Photo by Tony Valainis

“What Paul George did today was give you a little insight into the soul of professional athletes.”

It is shortly after noon on a Thursday, and Dan Dakich is on the air. Earlier in the week, a video of NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee appeared in the news, sparked a national conversation about domestic violence, and cost Rice his job. And then this morning, Indiana Pacers star Paul George weighed in on social media, tweeting, “I don’t condone hittin women or think it’s coo. BUT if SHE ain’t trippin, then I ain’t trippin.. Lets keep it movin lol let that man play!”

Before hosting a sports-talk radio show on WFNI 1070 The Fan, Dakich coached college basketball. George’s comment is one of those dumb player blunders that drive coaches nuts.

“I do not want professional athletes, or any athletes, really, on this show, ’cause I’ve dealt with them for years and years and years,” Dakich tells his audience. “You all love them. You don’t know them. Paul George sat two seats from me and was absolutely awesome. And then you read this, and you go, Man, I wonder what he really thinks about women.

Next, Dakich picks apart a statement from Larry Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, that called George’s tweets “thoughtless.”

“See, I disagree with that,” says Dakich. “I think Paul George thought about his tweets. I think what was going on with Ray Rice infuriated Paul George to the point where, as a lot of athletes say, ‘I don’t care.’” Dakich criticizes George for “hiding behind words” instead of apologizing in person, at a press conference. “Paul George—what’s his contract?” he muses. “It doesn’t buy you guts.”

In just the first 15 minutes of his show, Dakich has called out, by name, a rising local superstar and an all-time sports legend, while diving into the kind of hot-button social issue that would make a lot of sportscasters stutter. He’s on a roll. “Domestic violence,” he says. “There’s not a more cowardly act for a man, and it scares the living hell out of me how many men today on Twitter thought what Paul George was saying was right, particularly the part about if a woman ain’t trippin’, then I ain’t trippin’. Scares the living hell out of me how many people somewhere between 18 and 30 thought that that was all right. Thought that that was just speaking the truth, keeping it 100 percent. That’s just showing you’re an idiot and a coward.”

Reactions pour in as the program continues. People call. They tweet. Dakich agrees with some, disagrees with others, and rips a few more for being stupid. In other words, a typical Dan Dakich Show.

As a former basketball player, assistant coach, and, oh-so-briefly, head coach at Indiana University, Dakich has been connected to some of the state’s most controversial sports moments of the past three decades. Now, his opinionated, unfiltered commentary—and sometimes downright meanness—consistently earn him top-five ratings among all radio programming in his timeslot, ahead of four nationally syndicated sports-talk shows. They’ve also made him the most compelling media personality in an otherwise polite sports town. He will talk about anyone, any organization, any topic. He takes on all comers. The most entertaining part? You never know what he’s going to say next.

 

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Photo by Tony Valainis

Six years into his radio gig, Dakich admits that he pushes people’s buttons partly to amuse himself. But those who know him insist that the persona is genuine. He just turns up

the volume on the radio version of himself as a function of doing his job. When Dakich was a coach, he was supposed to win. Now, “the perspective is to entertain and drive people to listen to his radio show,” says his brother, Tom Dakich. “He can do that just by being himself.”

It’s not that every position Dakich takes is controversial; few reasonable people would disagree that domestic violence is “cowardly.” But he isn’t afraid to come down on the less-popular side of an issue. Last year, NBC analyst Tony Dungy said he wouldn’t want Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL, on his team because of the distractions; the remarks provoked widespread criticism, including allegations that Dungy was homophobic. On his show, Dakich said he agreed with the former Colts coach. “I just can’t stand ‘media guy’ that determines [what’s] right or wrong, in terms of somebody’s belief,” he said. “It drives me nuts.”

“He’s one of the few guys in Indy who’s got a point of view,” says longtime Indianapolis Star and now WTHR columnist Bob Kravitz, who appears on Dakich’s show weekly (and is himself no stranger to tipping Indiana’s sacred sports cows). “I like the fact that he’s not afraid to put his balls on the line.”

It’s not surprising that Dakich would side with a coach over the critics. In fact, “media guy” might be Dakich’s favorite bogeyman. He hasn’t quite come around to the idea that he himself—a radio host and color commentator on ESPN college-basketball telecasts—is now one of them. Twenty-three years of instructing players while journalists weighed in from the cheap seats can have that effect. Colts punter Pat McAfee once came on his show and told him he approached broadcasting with a coach’s mentality. Dakich doesn’t disagree. “It’s exactly what I get out of it,” he says. “It’s like, you know what? You need to learn from somebody who needs to tell you.”

“Coach” is like “president” or “judge”—a title that sticks even after you leave the job. Some callers still address Dakich that way. When you tune in, you are on Dakich’s team. He will teach you. Lecture you. Tell you to “sack up.” He will hang up on you and call you an idiot. As he once said on the show, “Some of you need verbally abused.”

In June, after the Miami Heat eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs, guard George Hill tweeted his displeasure with fans’ negativity. Dakich ripped Hill repeatedly on the air over the next several weeks, as well as Hill’s girlfriend, who had tweeted about “fake Pacers fans.” Hill called Dakich a bum. Dakich egged him on, tweeting, “Fans that pay $100’s watch half an effort..While you worry bout ‘feelings.’”

“For anybody to criticize the average fan just pisses me off,” says Dakich. “And when I get pissed off, I can’t stop.”

On social media, blogs, and other Internet forums, Dakich’s detractors call him a jerk and an attention hog. When a player-conduct scandal rocked IU basketball last fall—with two team members failing drug tests and two others involved in an alcohol-related car accident—an “embarrassed” Dakich rode the offenders relentlessly, decrying the players’ lack of respect for the program, the program’s falling standards, and fans’ stupidity for accepting all of it. “That’s funny coming from you DD,” wrote an online commenter. “You have been an embarrassment since the first day you opened your big mouth as a part of the media.” One tweeter asserted that Dakich “has so much teenage girl in him! Always trying to piss someone off.”

Dakich’s buddy Kravitz tends to ignore critics, but Dakich doesn’t just engage them—he searches his own name on Twitter to seek out people talking trash about him. “If somebody comes at me, that’s cool,” he says. “But I’m going to come right back.” In 2013, a recent sport-communication grad from IU tweeted to point out the irony of Dakich’s disdain for the “media.” The critique set off an exchange that led to Dakich threatening to make it difficult for the kid to find a job. (Dakich eventually invited him to co-host the show. He said it was because the “kid has sack,” but it seemed like a mea culpa.)

The Fan’s program director, Greg Rakestraw, describes Dakich’s approach as “brutal honesty, and no holds barred.” At times, it can be a headache for station management. Last year, Dakich’s frequent shots at the Pacers—including a personal feud with team radio announcer Mark Boyle—finally prompted a complaint from the Pacers, who share a broadcasting partnership with the station. But folks at The Fan can’t argue with the results. The Dan Dakich Show, which airs weekdays from noon to 3 p.m., consistently ranks in the top five in its local timeslot among men ages 25 to 54 (a coveted demographic), holding a substantial lead over other sports-talk shows with popular national personalities such as Jim Rome, NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, and ESPN’s Colin Cowherd. Dakich’s main competitors for the demo, in fact, are classic rock, country, and news on FM. The Fan’s 50,000-watt AM daytime signal—known in the industry as a “blowtorch” for its range—can blast The Dan Dakich Show across three-quarters of the state and into Ohio and Illinois.

Dakich may be at his best, though, when he explores topics outside of sports. The issue of domestic violence in the NFL gave him a chance to interview his sister, Jackie Dakich Ehman, a deputy prosecutor who handles domestic-violence cases in Monroe County. When actor Robin Williams committed suicide, Dakich opened up about his own battle with depression. One day he might slam IU for hiring a women’s basketball coach who played at Purdue, and the next speak from the heart about mental illness.

The show does have plenty of lighter moments. In September, Dakich auctioned off a sweatsuit—complete with a cigarette burn on the butt—that belonged to his old boss, Kelvin Sampson, the former IU coach who resigned after committing NCAA recruiting violations. The stunt raised $600 for Riley Hospital for Children. That same month, when news broke that Bob Knight had hit a cow while driving in Wyoming, Dakich showed off his impression of the General, which he honed at IU.

Dakich doesn’t have the voice of a radio guy. He has a common touch and an everyman delivery. His timbre was conditioned in gyms, arenas, and locker rooms. Sometimes he hollers like a bullhorn, other times he practically whispers. When he’s in a good mood and the lead-in music catches his ear, he sings along. Poorly.

This is all Dan Dakich being himself. Outspoken. Pugnacious. Playful. Aside from his profanity—which he uses frequently in everyday conversation but changes to “chickenblank” and “horsebleep” for the radio—the Dakich you get on the air is mostly the Dakich you get off of it.

 

Dakich is walking a dark hallway. It’s the Monday of a long holiday weekend, and he is among only a handful of people at the headquarters of Emmis Communications, parent company of The Fan (and Indianapolis Monthly).

“Quiet today, Kyle,” Dakich says to his producer, Kyle Knezevich, before asking how many listeners he thinks they’ll have that day. “Fifteen?”

“Seven,” Knezevich replies.

Dakich is 6-foot-5 and 52 years old, and he often wears shorts to work, despite having admittedly skinny legs and, as he describes it, a “backside up to my neck.” In a bedroom-size studio overlooking Monument Circle, Dakich does the talking, and Knezevich keeps the show running, chiming in when needed, which isn’t often.

After the program gets underway, Dakich breaks down the Pacers’ recent play, critiquing the team’s entry passes to center Roy Hibbert, and takes a call from a show devotee. “You are 77 years old, you are a woman, and you listen every day,” he tells her. “Do you know how much I love you?” (Despite his reputation for antagonizing callers, Dakich can be polite—and sometimes patronizingly so with women.) Dakich eventually strays from sports to current events and personal matters, as he often does. He decries a pair of Indianapolis shootings and a gun rampage in California that happened over the weekend, questioning why anyone needs automatic and semiautomatic weapons and why the nation doesn’t have better mental-health care. He talks about pedicures. (He has tweeted photos of himself and his kids—Andrew, 20, and Laura, 17—getting pedis.) He implores listeners to quit chewing tobacco, like he did after 30 years with the habit, and says it’s even harder to quit ice cream, his current vice. During a break, he confides to Knezevich that he ate a gallon of ice cream over the last two days. “A gallon,” Dakich repeats. “But it was kind of low-fat.” He has a noticeable belly, despite working out, golfing, and trying to walk 10,000 steps a day. He jokes that his doctor calls him “the world’s healthiest fat guy.”

The Dan Dakich Show is just the latest segment in a lifetime in and around sports. Born in Gary and raised in Merrillville—blue-collar towns where toughness is valued, Dakich says, and people will tell you if you’re full of crap—he was the middle of three kids born to two teachers. He shot hoops or played pick-up games for hours every day on a basketball goal in the driveway. When his mother went outside at 10 o’clock to tell him to come in, he would negotiate for 30 more minutes. “If he didn’t have a basketball in his hand,” says his sister, “it was only because he had a baseball.” He played both sports at Andrean High School, and was probably better at baseball, but in Indiana, basketball trumped all. He was named an Indiana All-Star and once scored 49 points in a game—still an Andrean record.

Bob Knight offered Dakich a scholarship at IU, and he enrolled in 1981. In A Season on the Brink, the classic book about Knight and IU basketball, author John Feinstein described Dakich as the “prototype slow white kid who couldn’t run or jump.” But he was a gritty player. What he might have lacked in athletic ability, he made up for in smarts and toughness.

Photo courtesy Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

In the 1984 NCAA tournament, the Hoosiers played a top-seeded North Carolina team that featured six future NBA players, including Michael Jordan. Knight assigned Dakich to guard him. “Jordan took a turnaround jump shot, and I remember thinking, as I had my hand up, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could not block this shot,” he says. But Dakich committed to Knight’s game plan of taking away offensive rebounds and back cuts to the basket, even while battling foul trouble and a stomach bug that had him throwing up before and during the game. Jordan scored 13 points, seven fewer than his season average, and the Hoosiers won. Dakich became The Guy Who Stopped Michael Jordan.

If you ask Dakich about the game—and one or two people a week still do—he’ll tell you IU’s victory was a lesson in toughness and the effectiveness of Knight’s system. “Coach Knight was the greatest coach in the history of basketball,” Dakich says, “because he won with guys like me.”

Off the court, Dakich was the kind of fun-loving guy people gravitated to—even Knight laughed at Dakich’s impersonation of him—but he also owned up to his mistakes and held teammates accountable for theirs. “He wasn’t afraid to tell you, ‘Here’s what we need to do,’ or ‘Here’s where you’re screwing up,’” says Todd Meier, an IU teammate. “He’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks, and that’s the way he was as a player. If you’re screwing up, he’ll be on your ass.” Despite averaging a mere 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds for his career, Dakich was a team captain his last two years.

After graduating with a degree in telecommunications in 1985, he joined Knight’s staff as a graduate assistant and soon became a full-fledged assistant coach. In his first few years, the Hoosiers earned at least a share of the Big Ten title four times and routinely advanced to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond in the NCAA tournament. Other schools contacted Dakich about head-coaching positions, but Knight told him that he would eventually get the job at IU.

Dakich stayed and, true to his nature, spoke up to Knight if something was on his mind. When Knight appeared to choke player Neil Reed during a practice in 1997, Dakich, who says he didn’t see what happened clearly at the time, let Knight know he had gone too far. “Fuck, what are you doing?” Dakich asked.

IU lost in the first round of the tournament that year for the third season in a row. It was starting to look as though “the greatest coach in the history of basketball” was phoning it in. “He wasn’t happy with the way the program was going, and I wasn’t happy with him, truthfully,” Dakich says. “He wasn’t recruiting. It was frustrating.”

Dakich left to become the head coach at Bowling Green in Ohio. After going 10–16 his first year, the Falcons had four straight winning seasons. In 2002, Dakich agreed to be the head coach at West Virginia—with a salary of $500,000, a hefty raise over the $125,000 he was making at the smaller school—but he uncovered several potential NCAA violations in his first few days on the job and had a falling out with the president of the university. He returned to Bowling Green without coaching a single game.

Dakich’s second stint with Bowling Green produced only one winning season in five years. He became depressed. He slept on the couch during the season—every night, at home or on the road—because the only way he could motivate himself to get up in the morning was to roll onto the floor.

His contract was up in the spring of 2007. He knew the university wouldn’t offer him a new one, so he put in his notice. He was out of work for the first time in his professional life. His kids were scared. He spent every day hunting for a job.

Then Kelvin Sampson called.

 

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Photo by David Snodgress, Bloomington Herald-Times

IU fired Bob Knight three years after Dakich left Bloomington, and Knight’s replacement, Mike Davis, resigned in 2006. Sampson came on as head coach that spring, even as he and his staff at Oklahoma were under investigation for making impermissible phone calls to recruits. Soon after Sampson arrived at IU, the NCAA barred him from recruiting off campus or by phone for a year. The Hoosiers still won 21 games in Sampson’s first season.

Sampson knew Dakich from the recruiting trail. Dakich liked Sampson well enough and was eager to return to what he calls “big-time college basketball.” They talked about the recruiting violations at Oklahoma, but Dakich figured that since Sampson got caught, he’d straighten up. Dakich joined the staff as director of basketball operations, a non-coaching position. Before long, he learned the NCAA was yet again investigating Sampson and the staff for violating rules involving phone calls they made to IU recruits the previous season.

“I could not believe that anybody would be dumb enough to do it again,” Dakich says.

IU announced the new violations in October 2007. Assistant coach Rob Senderoff resigned, and Dakich took his spot. The team was talented and played well to start the season, but the program “was run so poorly and so ridiculous by Sampson,” says Dakich, that players routinely showed up late to practice and skipped classes. “I used to sit there and go, ‘This is what Indiana basketball has become?’”

In early February 2008, the NCAA alleged “major” recruiting violations at IU, which amped up public pressure to fire Sampson. Later that month, Dakich was summoned to athletics director Rick Greenspan’s office. As he walked across the court at Assembly Hall, he knew he would either be fired or become IU’s interim head coach. It was the latter.

NCAA, ARKANSAS, INDIANA, BASKETBALL
Photo by Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times

IU was 22–4 and ranked 14th in the country. Sure, Sampson left the program in a shambles. And the team, Dakich says, was “a wreck.” Nevertheless, they went 3–1 in Dakich’s first four games at the helm, and he saw improvement. Dakich had ended up in the job Knight promised him after all. He was IU’s head coach. His dream job. He started believing things might work out.

Dakich won’t explain what happened next—he’s vowed never to say—but while he was away on a recruiting trip, something personal transpired among the players that left the team hopelessly divided. They gave up on one another, and Dakich lost them for good. “I don’t care if you brought John Wooden in there,” he says. “It was done.” The Hoosiers didn’t win another game.

After the season, Dakich instituted new team rules: If you miss a meeting or class, you run. If you don’t run or you show up late, you’re finished. Two players got tossed, and Dakich was on the verge of dismissing a third. By starting the housecleaning, Dakich cleared the foundation for rebuilding IU basketball. His thanks for performing that service for the cream and crimson? A pink slip.

 

On the day IU Hired Tom Crean to be Sampson’s permanent replacement, Dakich cleared out his office at Assembly Hall. Then he called Kent Sterling.

A veteran broadcaster, Sterling had known Dakich for two decades. When Dakich left IU, Sterling was the founding program director at The Fan, which had launched in 2007. “He was just such a good storyteller, and he was able to get to the point quickly,” says Sterling, now a host on CBS Sports 1430. “I told him that if he ever wanted to go into radio, to call me.”

Dakich isn’t entirely sure why he phoned Sterling that night. “Part of me was tired of coaching,” Dakich says. “Part of me was tired of dealing with what I was dealing with at Indiana.” He thinks his family felt the same way. “I know my daughter still to this day is happy I’m not the Indiana coach.” Besides, at Bowling Green, Dakich had enjoyed media days and his weekly coach’s TV show, which included a segment called “Dan Asks Dan,” where he posed questions to himself about sports, movies, TV shows—anything he wanted to talk about.

The timing of Dakich’s call to Sterling was perfect. The Fan was planning to replace three hours of ESPN’s national programming with a new local show. Dakich got a tryout with several co-hosting and solo stints on the air. Sterling thought Dakich was a natural. “He never backs down, and that’s one of his most charming traits as a radio host, because you can’t,” says Sterling. “If you express a piece of insight or a perspective, and then somebody disagrees, and you come off your position in order to be a nice guy, who the hell wants to listen to that?”

The Dan Dakich Show debuted in 2008. At first, Dakich thought it was terrible. (“Maybe it still is,” he says.) He was nervous about filling three hours. Sterling told him those should be the most fun three hours of his day. “Most times they are,” Dakich says.

The exception may be days when he also works ESPN college-basketball telecasts as a color commentator, a gig he picked up in 2010. When he and ESPN’s Mike Tirico started calling games together, the pair became sports broadcasting’s best bromance—one of the more entertaining duos in college hoops. At the IU–Ohio State game in Bloomington two seasons ago, a woman held up a sign that read “Dan Dakich dated my mom … seriously.”

“Is this true?” Tirico asked, tickled.

“Yeah,” Dakich said. “And her name, the daughter’s name—”

Tirico cut him off. “No no no, don’t name the woman. Don’t name the woman. Don’t embarrass her.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dakich said. “She’ll wear that as a badge of honor.”

Dakich approaches his ESPN duties with much the same candor as his radio show. Some coaches even watch recordings of Dakich’s broadcasts to get his perspective. “I can tell you more than a dozen times last year, in an off-the-record, casual conversation with a coach or assistant coach, where they would say, ‘That’s what I wish I could say to the kid,’ or ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been telling him,’” Tirico says.

Dakich still identifies with coaches more than he does colleagues in the media. “Here’s why I don’t want to be considered ‘media,’” he says. “I was involved in three national stories in my life. One when Coach Knight got fired—I had every news thing in America trying to get ahold of me.” The second was when he left West Virginia after a week. Then it was Kelvin Sampson. “And not one time did any of those guys that were reporting on it, so-called basketball writers, ever get it right,” he says. “I read stuff like, ‘Fuck, are you crazy?’”

Last summer on his radio show, Dakich broke news about where a college basketball player had decided to transfer. When other outlets began reporting the decision, Dakich called them out for not crediting him. “Whatever happened to all the ‘journalists’ and their J-school teaching of crediting ???” he tweeted. And then, “I know I’m not media but when I feel like breaking a story..I break em.. How bout..a lil something..you know..for the effort.”

Jim Romenesko, who writes a popular blog about media, took Dakich to task in a post titled “Note to ex-basketball coach: When you’re on ESPN radio, you *are* a member of the media.” All of which led to a Twitter exchange where Dakich pointed out an error in Romenesko’s post.

It drives Dakich-haters nuts when he bashes the “media.” But what his critics regard as hypocrisy can probably be chalked up to semantics. Dakich acknowledges that he is an entertainer. And what he really seems to mean when he says “media” is “journalists.” In the case of Knight, for example, Dakich thinks sportswriters went out of their way to chronicle his bad behavior, to the point of publishing stories that weren’t true. Even though Dakich stood up for Knight in interviews, he says their relationship crumbled after the firing. “He got mad at all of us,” Dakich says, except “guys he really needed,” former star players like Isiah Thomas, Scott May, and Quinn Buckner. “He didn’t get mad at them, but he got mad at all the rest of us. He got mad at me. I don’t know why, but he did.”

Dakich has spoken to Knight only a few times since. In 2006, when Knight was still coaching at Texas Tech, Dakich traveled to Lubbock, on Knight’s invitation, to visit his old coach. But Dakich says Knight’s goal wasn’t just to reconnect—it was also to convince him to help with a lawsuit.
“I appreciate what he did for me,” Dakich says. “I hope he appreciates what I did for him. But you move on in life.”

 

On a hot Wednesday evening last August, Dakich pulled his gray Chevy Traverse—a perk of having a car dealership as a sponsor—into a parking lot in Lawrence. He was with his son, Andrew, who normally plays basketball for Michigan but during this visit home was set to fill in on his dad’s fast-pitch softball team.

Before the game, Dakich jogged to the outfield to play catch with Andrew. “Let’s go,” he bellowed. “Tourney time. Pissed away the regular season. Our pitcher’s on his eighth cigarette. We’re ready!”

Not quite. A few innings in, the opposing team had a 6–1 lead. His first at bat, Dakich hit a chopper and got thrown out at first. (Thanks to multiple knee surgeries, he runs as if he’s on hot coals.) His second time up, he popped out to the catcher and grimaced on his way back to the dugout. “That’s why he’s our four-hitter, folks,” a teammate joked.

Dakich loves these games. No one asks him how he thinks the Hoosiers will do this year, or how he stopped Michael Jordan. He can just hang out with friends and play ball. And talk—to a guy on the bench while drinking a beer; to the other team’s pitcher; to his team’s catcher, who leisurely walked to retrieve a foul ball. “I love the hustle,” Dakich told him.

In the bottom of the fifth, his team’s bats came alive, and Dakich hit a ball up the middle to get on base. They were ahead 7–6 before an error in the next inning allowed two more runs. Now they were trailing 8–7, and the game’s timer had run out. The bottom of the sixth would be their last chance at bat.
Andrew came to the plate with two outs and one man on base. Dakich watched from the first-base coach’s box. “Hit it hard, Buck,” he said.

Andrew smashed a line drive that curved toward the left-field foul pole. Six-foot-2 and fast, he sprinted around the bases. By the time the ball reached the catcher, Andrew was sliding headfirst across home plate for the game-winning run.

The team yelled and mobbed Andrew. Dakich gave his son a one-armed hug. “Good job, Buck!” he said, smiling.

When Dakich was at Bowling Green, he became friends with Urban Meyer, then head of the school’s football program. Both were in their first head-coaching jobs. Meyer went on to win two national titles with the University of Florida.

“There’s nothing worse in the world than losing,” says Dakich, “and winning isn’t even that great.”

When the stress became too much, Meyer quit and went into broadcasting. But he couldn’t stay away from the field. He left in less than a year to return to coaching at Ohio State. “We would talk about this all the time—the only thing you miss about coaching is winning,” Dakich says. “Because there’s nothing that can really replace that—I’m talking about professionally.”

Meyer’s career in coaching is what Dakich’s might have been if he had stayed and won at West Virginia, or if IU had stuck with him after Sampson resigned. Like Meyer, he’s had opportunities to coach again. Schools have contacted him, and he’s turned them down. “There’s nothing worse in the world than losing, and winning isn’t even that great,” he says. “I don’t want to go back to that, because losing just killed me.”

Maybe Dakich is lucky not to be coaching anymore. He took a lot of hard knocks in college basketball. And the job was a grind. If he were still in that life, he might have been able to play softball with his son on an August evening—but would he have been able to savor it? Or would he be obsessing over recruits, team workouts, and offensive sets?

He found a new line of work he enjoys, and he’s good at it—maybe better than he was at the old one. And he likes his life now. In 2012, he and his wife of 22 years, Jackie, divorced. Now he’s dating Leigh Ross, the softball coach at Syracuse University. They met when they both coached at Bowling Green, and they stayed in touch. He expects to marry her within a couple of years, “if she’s dumb enough to.” He attends some of Andrew’s games at Michigan, and hangs out with his daughter, Laura, who will start college this fall. He still gets to coach in his own way—dishing out tough love on the radio—but now he usually works only a few hours a day.

He even feels a little sorry for friends like Meyer, still caught up in the pressures of winning and losing, the job consuming their lives. For Dakich, that meant skipping some of his kids’ basketball and soccer games, celebrating his wedding anniversary only after he got back from recruiting trips, spending the holidays thinking about his team instead of loved ones, and forfeiting simple pleasures like lazy Saturday mornings with the family. As a coach, he says, “you miss so much.”

 

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