Mike Woodson Can Certainly Work
Get That Bobby Knight Dust Off The Program
Certain former blue-blood programs aren’t sleeping giants waiting for echoes to stir. For most, they’re not even in a coma. They’re dead. Flatlined years — if not decades — ago.
Still, for every St. John’s or DePaul fan claiming some magical hint of yesteryear is right around the corner, there are legitimate powers one solid hire away from reanimating the corpse of a once-prominent college basketball program.
Hell, just look at what happened with the UCLA Bruins this past season. Maybe it ends up being an outlier, or the opposite harbinger, but Mick Cronin immediately turned a hot-then-cold-then-Steve-Fucking-Alford program into a nationally relevant commodity by the end of the weirdest college hoops season most of us can remember.
Now that we buried the lede just enough, this brings us to the Indiana Hoosiers hiring Mike Woodson — an alleged Bobby Knight guy and card-carrying Indiana family member.
Whatever the hell all of that means.
Before we get to the entire Knight stuff, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. No human trotting about planet Earth has any idea how Woodson will do as the person tasked with lifting the Hoosiers from the ashes.
Sure, some will immediately craft a take, painting opinion as fact, yet as evident with every hire in the history of all sports — unless it was the Kevin Stallings hire by Pitt. Everyone knew that was awful — it’s barely educated guessing.
If you want to naysay NBA-tilted coaches, you can do that, as many have, but we have as much data to suggest “NBA guys” are as qualified for college coaching positions as we do that suggest they aren’t. It’s merely a matter of how/why we quantify certain former college (but later NBA) assistants as NBA guys, and others as college folk. Also, there’s the entire Michigan Wolverines thing that literally just happened with a legit NBA guy. A small sample size using that specific hire, though it never stopped folk from attempting to use limited data to make hyperbolic points.
College hoops is full of picking data to fit narratives, ignoring nepotism if it makes for a good story, and access merchants deathly afraid of “outsiders” pushing them away from their living.
I can go on and on… and on about trying to grade coaching hires. It’s a pointless endeavor. Not even multiple months into Woodson at IU, and we already have hot-take artists who originally panned the hiring backtracking since he’s done a great job of bringing transfers and the like to the program.
You see, it’s all very fluid. A hiring one day, basing it off paper alone, can appear drastically different the next. Again, it’s why the endeavor is usually pointless.
Aside: To be clear, I get why we all try to do it. I’m sure I’ll do it here at some point. It’s fun. It’s to help spread the word on things that might not be well known. It can be for a billion reasons that have nothing to do with having a take for the sake of it. Nonetheless, whenever you read that take, if it doesn’t come with a caveat reading something like “and, honestly, the fuck if I know,” you should take it with an increased grain of salt.
From an outsider’s perspective, Indiana is dusty as hell. Nothing fun about the place, the program, or its history. I never jerked off to a Bobby Knight poster hanging from my bedroom wall, so the appeal of the school wanting to wrap itself in his lore is lost on me.
I’d try like hell to run from it. Let the banners hang from the rafters. Allow the old people who are secret bigots to worship at the altar of Knight.
Whatever. Nothing is appealing about Bobby Knight to the kids Mike Woodson will be recruiting. He is, at best, a meme they saw or a YouTube clip they giggled at.
He is a punchline. Not the recruiting tactic.
The only appeal is to blowhards like Dan Dakich or Dick Vitale, and… I mean… kinda politely here, I guess… but fuck them and their caping for everything that’s been wrong with college hoops and the coverage of it for multiple decades.
Now, there’s no reason for Woodson to go out of his way to anger those who orgasm at the mere thought of Knight, either. It’s nice to pretend it’s just a bunch of decrepit white guys who idolize him, but there’s plenty of young Indiana fans who believe Bobby Knight walked so Donald Trump could run.
Plus, Woodson is no idiot. Covering himself in a little of the Knight dust, at least out of the gate, protects him slightly, especially since Hoosiers fans aren’t exactly known for their patience.
On the recruiting trail, and the grand scheme of things though, Woodson should wipe that dust off as quickly as possible. Not only to make Indiana a program in his image, even if IU fans want to believe that image should always mirror Knight’s, but to make it feel fresh for the first time since Knight was in his thirties.
As mentioned earlier, programs like St. John’s — or the dozen or so other alleged sleeping giants — get stuck in the mud for several important reasons ($$$); though plenty of it has to deal with the staleness tethered to those fanbases clinging to some wayward idea that things were better “back in the day.”
As if, you know, back in the day will work in 2021 and beyond.
Stale, dusty, ringworm… ? A program should evolve instead. It should not attempt to purposely move backward. In a perfect world, sure, a program without a problematic person as its most famous and successful coach could theoretically marry the two (god knows UCLA tried this for decades); although the man Indiana has placed on a pedestal isn’t John Wooden.
People within the IU bubble will likely disagree. At least a good portion of them. They’ll say people who claim Knight was problematic (I’m being as nice as humanly possible when discussing him) are soft. That they are folk on the far too left or some other vague, hollow and flavorless “cultural warZZZZ” saying.
If I’m Mike Woodson, I say fuck’em. Then again, that’s easy for me to say as an outsider, as it’ll be his job to placate the past while slamming a defibrillator against Indiana’s figurative chest. To move it toward a brighter future and away from the grave it placed itself in by standing by Knight for too long, turning away from him too late, then attempting to pretend all is well with Knight-IU now when it shouldn’t matter anyway.
Maybe that’s why Woodson’s biggest obstacle with the Hoosiers has less to do with recruiting or winning a predetermined number of games, and it instead being the mythology built around a man who doesn’t deserve it. And yet, a man so beloved by those who believe he does that they’re willing to ignore his history… and the fact he made himself a legend at the young age of 36, then from thereon out wasn’t so spectacular a college basketball coach to warrant the unchecked power that resulted in fallout still impacting the school today.
The kind that’s marred the program, and the sport, for far too many decades.
Joseph Nardone covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. He’s now trying to write fiction because he’s a fucking idiot and a glutton for punishment. Twitter is @JosephNardone. If you say mean things to him, he’ll just yell at his ceiling.