When Michael Dean Woodson was appointed Indiana University’s fifth men’s basketball coach in the past 20 years, many people were surprised. Despite a stellar career as a player and coaching tenures with two NBA teams to his credit, the unreasonable faction that is the beloved “IU Nation” lit up various social media platforms voicing their dismay and concerns that their candidate wasn’t chosen to replace the recently jettisoned Archie Miller, who was handed $10 million just to leave Monroe County quickly and quietly.
Many were convinced the new coach should be a cream of the crop hire with a track record of success in the college game, and of course there were those who pointed to the prerequisite for the new sheriff in town to be a member of the IU family.
Even yours truly, who really doesn’t care who runs the show in Bloomington, had a candidate in mind, and while I’m probably the only person in the state who wanted Rick Pitino, l, too, was a bit taken aback by the Woodson hire. It’s not because he’s not qualified to take the reins and run with the opportunity, as he clearly is.
He made his bones some time ago in the NBA coaching ranks, and anyone who can lead at that level can certainly make the transition to college, provided they have talent and a strong staff of assistant coaches, including those who can be effective at recruiting.
I have no doubt Woodson can assemble the aforementioned staff, and l certainly feel he can coach. The bigger question is can he tolerate the win-now mentality that comes with the job, and will the expectations of the big donors wear thin upon him if he doesn’t catch lighting in a bottle right out of the gate?
With the cupboard at Woodson’s new professional address being somewhere between bare and second tier in terms of true Division 1 talent, the biggest challenge for the immediate future will be what can be accomplished this offseason for a new coach who will undoubtedly have to look hard at both the transfer portal and junior colleges for a quick infusion of talent.
As if all that isn’t enough, Woodson must also determine which players he will ask to return on scholarship and which he will bid farewell to.
Navigating that process will be key to any early success he may experience while building a foundation for the future.
The real elephant in the room is how patient the Indiana faithful will be with a man who clearly bleeds cream and crimson.
Will they give him more time and importantly more respect than their previous coaches received? If Woodson is indeed granted the time and support he deserves, he may be able to make the program relevant once again. If not, the revolving door will continue and another search will undoubtedly begin.
Contrary to popular belief, the search that landed Woodson wasn’t an extensive one, and after Brad Stevens made it clear he had no desire to leave the Boston Celtics for the college fishbowl that is IU basketball, the focus reportedly turned to Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, who also said no thanks. Woodson was apparently the choice at that point and quickly agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him $23 million over that time.
Again, will “IU Nation” allow one of their own to orchestrate a new era or will they turn on him if there isn’t significant progress shown by year three of his deal? Based on history, the answer to that is easy, but just maybe Woodson will be left alone to run the program as he sees fit and in the process set his own mark and enforce it as he tries to rebuild a once proud program that has been clearly dysfunctional for some time and in need of a strong leader whose voice must be the only one that counts as things move forward.
Danny Bridges, who feels Mike Woodson is imminently qualified and can be successful despite the obstacles at IU, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.