CRAWFORD | Miller Time: Will this hoops hire bring high life back to Indiana?
WDRB's Eric Crawford on the introduction of new Indiana basketball coach Archie Miller.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) -- Everybody talks about wanting a “home run” when hiring a new coach. You’re looking for a guy who is a “slam dunk.” The problem is, those things aren’t as common as we think they are, and the terms are thrown around so much they begin to lose their meaning entirely.
To define my use of the terms: When Kentucky went to get John Calipari, it hit a home run. When Tom Jurich announced that he had one coaching candidate to replace Denny Crum at Louisville, and that it was Rick Pitino, then he hired him, it was a slam dunk.
Joe Maddon to the Cubs? Roy Williams to North Carolina? Jim Harbaugh to Michigan? Urban Meyer to Ohio State? Insert your metaphor for sports success after those. Home run hires have the nation talking. They give you that, "Well, crap," feeling of the Empire hiring Darth Vader.
Everyone else? Well, you’re hoping to reach down into the ranks and pluck a Billy Donovan, who led Florida to back-to-back titles, or Brad Stevens, who led Butler to back-to-back title games. Barring that, you’re hoping for a guy who just doesn’t strike out, a guy who gets on base and builds toward a big inning.
So it is that Indiana hired a new basketball coach, and you couldn’t ask him to strike a better tone in an introductory news conference. He talked about the great tradition of Indiana and building bridges to that past. He talked about mining the great talent reservoir of the Hoosier State, and said his recruiting philosophy would be “inside out,” starting at home, then moving across the region and country. He brought a reputation for winning, for developing NBA talent, for an unmatched work ethic and for hard-nosed, physical defense.
His name is Tom Crean. Indiana just fired him after nine seasons.
And on Monday, Indiana introduced its new coach -- Archie Miller, from Dayton. He was hailed by many as, you guessed it, a “home run.” He doesn’t quite bring the resume Crean brought. But resumes aren’t everything.
Miller was outstanding in his introductory news conference. He embraced the expectations. He reprised the “inside out” recruiting theme. He talked about leveraging the history. And there’s no doubt he’ll work at it. His work ethic at Dayton has been widely praised.
Miller has a plan. His older brother, Sean, has worked it with successful results at multiple stops.
More than we media types, I tend to listen to recruiting analysts when evaluating a coaching hire. And those guys are Archie Miller fans. Evan Daniels of Scout, for one, called it a “terrific” hire.
There’s really no reason to think otherwise. Of course, there’s rarely reason to think otherwise.
IU athletic director Fred Glass wouldn’t talk about who he approached about Indiana’s head coaching job. The rumor mill percolated with talk of Billy Donovan or Tony Bennett or Steve Alford.
But as I got to thinking about possible “home run” hires out there, I came to a couple of realizations. One, I’m old. The guys I view as “home runs” are actually in the home stretch, and they’re not likely to leave where they are.
And two, the real “home runs,” then, are young guys like Miller, who know the game, who have a great rapport with today’s young players, who have a system that has proven successful, and who are waiting to take it to a higher level. The home run comes in finding the right guy with the right mix of basketball sense and the knack for communicating with and motivating the young players of today.
Forgive me for lapsing for a moment into a line from Ralph Emerson, who wasn’t a coach, but who knew a thing or two anyway in the days before James Naismith. He wrote: “Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.”
Archie Miller is 38 years old. When Bob Knight led Indiana to a perfect season in 1976, he was 35.
It’s not about your age, young men in gymnasiums. It’s about your leadership, your knowledge of the game, your knowledge of people and your ability to acquire talent and polish it and mold it.
And it’s about a word I’ve heard Jurich use dozens of times, more than he uses the word talent or skill. The word “fit.”
That, in the end was what got Crean. For some reason, it wasn’t a “fit” anymore, if it ever really was. It took this long to mention Knight, so let’s linger here for a moment. This is the fifth coach Indiana has employed, post-Knight. (One of them, Dan Dackich, was an interim coach.) Mike Davis. Kelvin Sampson. Crean. Now Miller.
It’s not that Knight still casts such a long shadow. But his success surely does. One of Crean’s sins might have been that he just wasn’t part of that tradition. It was fine when he was trying to rebuild the program’s brand. When he took over as coach, he couldn’t even visit area high schools, because of NCAA recruiting sanctions. Despite that, he had success, won a couple of Big Ten titles, sent some players to the NBA.
But that’s not enough, not at Indiana, not when they introduce you with five NCAA championship banners hanging overhead.
It’s funny how “fit” also seems to coincide with how many really good players you can get to campus, and with how much those players are able to win. On Day 1, they tell stories about your little habits as a coach and people laugh, even cheer. Did you hear about that football coach who put mouse traps in players’ lockers to warn them about trap games? How about the basketball coach who made managers run sprints because they didn’t wipe up sweat the right way?
Yeah. I was at the introductory news conferences of those guys: One named Kragthorpe, the other Gillispie. On Day 1, those are charming stories. But lose a few games, and they’re making fun of you, or worse. Crean didn’t forget how to coach. He got caught in the meme zone.
A lot depends on good will, on support, from fans, from boosters, from administration, from your own players. Sometimes, it’s easier to get that when you’re the new guy. A coach not only has to win, but he has to maintain that contact.
One of the great things going for Miller is that the brand is healthy, even if the team did miss the NCAA Tournament this past season. He doesn’t have to clean up anyone else’s mess. He just has to hope he can get his guys to guard somebody and cut down on the turnovers. And he has to follow through in recruiting, preferably quickly, preferably within the state of Indiana.
Wherefore art thou, Romeo Langford?
Miller takes over not really needing to hit a home run. He’s just needs to be a contact hitter -- and be ready to go from first to third on a base hit, then hope to get home soon.
From that standpoint, there’s no doubt, Miller, by virtue of his experience and by virtue of where the program stands, takes over at IU in scoring position.
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