When Indiana University announced the hire of Dayton’s Archie Miller as the new head basketball coach, I had mixed feelings. Miller has had success at Dayton—a consistent NCAA Tournament team and an Elite Eight run back in 2014. He’ll have more resources at Indiana and is presumably already familiar with the recruiting turf, so what’s the problem? The problem is that this might be the rerun of a movie we’ve already seen.
The basics of Miller’s resume—strong performance with a relatively lower-budget Catholic college in the Midwest and good recruiting within those constraints—those are the same things Tom Crean had going for him when he was hired from Marquette prior to the 2008-09 season. And Crean had actually recruited Dwayne Wade and been to the 2003 Final Four because of it.
This alone doesn’t make Miller a bad hire—based on everything we knew eight years ago, the Crean hire was a good one. The fact it didn’t work out doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater—it’s not as though Indiana should look for a coach who hasn’t won at a smaller school, or that it should it look for someone who isn’t familiar with recruiting in the Midwest.
I just have a hard time getting past what I saw in the Round of 64 in this year’s NCAA Tournament, when Dayton played Wichita State. The Flyers seemed to me to be clearly the more talented team. I didn’t watch Dayton and find myself overly impressed with how well-coached they were. I found myself impressed with the talent level. It was Wichita State that left me thinking “that team is really well-coached.”
And this gets to the rub I have with the Miller hire, and that I suspect a lot of Indiana fans do (though I can’t be called an “Indiana fan” in the post-Bob Knight era, I did spend three years there in school and maintain a deep respect for the fan base and the program). The rub is simply this—was Miller really the best the Hoosiers could have done?
For the time being, I’ll accept that Brad Stevens wasn’t leaving the Celtics, at least not this year—although in the unlikely event Stevens ever calls to ask my advice, I’d tell him that if he has any designs on going back to college ball, he should be willing to walk from Boston to Bloomington to take the job.
But what about Gregg Marshall, the architect at Wichita State? He’s also familiar with the recruiting terrain. He has a demonstrated record of overachievment and creating fundamentally sound basketball teams—and from a pure artistic standpoint this matters more to Indiana fans than other places, even beyond the impact on wins and losses.
Marshall is getting paid $3 million per year at a place with modest expectations, so maybe he didn’t want to leave. Which gets us to the rub behind the rub, and it’s this question—is Indiana still a big-time job?
Indiana fans unhesitatingly say yes. The mainstream media outlets I’ve seen address this issue seem to say no. But the mainstream is wrong. They based their assessment of “elite job” based on recent performance, which is a superficial measure. Of course IU basketball’s results in the post-Knight era haven’t been elite—no one disputes that. The measurement of true elite status is not about recent results, it’s about the resources to win championships in the future.
The state of Indiana hasn’t lost its passion for basketball and its recruits haven’t lost their quality. IU’s fall is no more a permanent state of affairs than when Alabama football spent almost two decades in the wilderness prior to 2008. Sometimes you just need the right person to lead. Archie Miller is probably a good coach—I’m just not sure he was the best one available for a premier job.