Mike Woodson is the coach who will deliver the Indiana again to Indiana basketball
by Kent Sterling
March 30, 2021
Mike Woodson stood on the podium, told the truth, and Indiana became Indiana again.
That wouldn’t be enough at most universities as they are introducing a new basketball coach, and it wasn’t enough in Indiana when it went through regime changes for the last two times. IU needed the battle song, allusions to past and future banners, and guarantees of future success. Aside from all the pomp and circumstance of yesterday, the reveal was addition by subtraction; and it was lovely.
For so long, it seemed like Indiana was ashamed of its past for fear of accepting what it was under Bob Knight, as if the national media were talking about his 29 years in Bloomington with a chair, choke and chung interview Would have correctly defined misstep. More important to the evaluation of Knight than the often-recited lowlights are the young men who have completed his program into adulthood with lessons he has taught through relentless repetition and reinforcement.
Woodson is one of those young men, and his return to Bloomington felt right yesterday. It is difficult to explain what this means for people who do not know the Hoosiers for all or part of the Knight era from 1971 to 2000. It’s like going back to your hometown after moving. Suddenly things just click back into their rightful order.
After a generation sold and then sold by charlatans who could just as easily become mortgage brokers (no insult to mortgage brokers) as basketball coaches, Indiana returned to its roots of nonsensical honesty than its embassy from a man who would rather teach basketball to sell to the media.
The last two hires were announced with great enthusiasm and enthusiasm. Yesterday’s Zoom meeting in the media room of the assembly hall was without fans, an encouraging band, a promise of banners or even media. Woodson was joined by family members AD Scott Dolson, Thad Matta, Quinn Buckner, Scott May, and members of the late Wayne Radford’s family. That was it – simple and sublime, just like the state, the university, and the program.
Woodson said he returned to Indiana to teach young men how to play basketball, prepare them for adulthood, and win some games. He will do that by holding them accountable and with a staff who may be the most experienced in college basketball history when Larry Brown joins.
Between Woodson, Matta, and Brown, Indiana players have access to a century of championship-level basketball coaching experience. And that without one of the three NCAA-approved assistant coaches.
These employees are not only experienced and smart, they also enjoy working together without a huge ego. That was the most obvious aspect of Woodson yesterday – he has a rare humility for the position of basketball coach at Indiana University. Not that he lacks confidence; he does not do it. What he lacks is arrogance, which is often driven by insecurity. There was no hint of arrogance in the thoughts that Woodson shared yesterday. Coaches are there for the players, according to Woodson, not the other way around, despite earlier evidence to the contrary in Bloomington.
Woodson is there to help – and to be helped. He never mentioned a specific amount of winnings, the number of Big 10 championships, or banners to display. Woodson knows it’s about the process – recruiting high profile talent, adopting a minute-by-minute approach to getting the highest level of work a sports student can muster, and then the plan to get them in the best position, to win every possession.
Yesterday, Indiana took a giant step toward a future that has an enticing chance to succeed with a product from its past.
After years and years of square pens trying to change the size and shape of their program, Indiana finally found a fit. And Indiana felt like Indiana again.