Text messages started appearing on my phone roughly five minutes after Indiana University announced who would be its next men’s basketball coach last weekend.
“Archie Miller? Seriously?” said one acquaintance who had been prepared to bet whatever he drives to work that Steve Alford was riding in from the West on his white horse to return his alma mater to an elusive sixth national championship banner.
“This hire will get Fred Glass fired,” blared another, this person’s anger toward IU’s athletics director emphasized by capitalizing all 20 letters.
Most amusing were messages bashing IU for not hiring Brad Stevens, as if the Boston Celtics coach was going to drop everything he was doing with one of the NBA’s best teams to board the first available private jet to Bloomington.
I applaud Indiana fans for their passion.
However, their elevated assessment of the program they love and support is largely colored by accomplishments of long ago.
In the 30 years since Alford led the Hoosiers to their most recent national title, six different men’s basketball programs have taken scissors to nets a minimum of two times. Duke leads with five, followed by Connecticut with four.
North Carolina and Kentucky are locked in at three championships apiece since Keith Smart’s baseline jumper in New Orleans (the Tar Heels can make it four at this weekend’s Final Four in Phoenix).
Two of this season’s Elite Eight qualifiers, Kansas and Florida, picked up two titles each during this span of time.
It should never be debated if Indiana remains one of this country’s blueblood programs. It does. However, one must wonder whether those in the coaching profession still consider it an elite destination.
Miller, a 38-year-old fireball who led the University of Dayton to the Elite Eight three short years ago, undoubtedly does.
He might not be the home-run hire so many IU fans felt they were entitled to (Alford, Stevens, Billy Donovan), but in my view Miller is nothing less than a stand-up triple at this juncture.
A tireless recruiter, Miller will eventually bring back the Hoosiers’ long-lost reputation for playing in-your-jersey defense.
Now, those who continue to believe Glass set the coaching bar low when it comes to the school’s most-recognized athletics program need to understand a few things:
• Bob Knight is not walking through that door. If he does, he’s likely muttering something highly offensive, based on recent comments regarding those who actually had the temerity to fire him 17 years ago.
• Alford, as an Indiana University legend, ran the risk of placing smudges on his reputation should one or two of his ballclubs underachieve.
• Stevens, a Zionsville native who graduated from DePauw University, has no built-in allegiances to the school other than the fact that he pulled for the Hoosiers as a kid.
• Current Big Ten coaches Thad Matta (Ohio State), Matt Painter (Purdue) and Fran McCaffery (Iowa) enjoyed success at the mid-major level before moving on to greener pastures.
• Miller, who recorded a record of 139-63 in six seasons at Dayton, led the Flyers to four NCAA tournaments and one berth in the NIT.
Indiana fans wanted the moon, but in Archie Miller, they landed a rising star instead.
In time, they’ll be happy they did.