An Open Letter to Indiana University Athletic Director, Rick Greenspan
Dear Mr. Rick Greenspan,
I address you directly because I presume you will have much to say and possibly final say (1) on the hiring of a new men’s basketball coach. I hope you consult students, staff, athletes, faculty and alumni.
As an alumni, class of 1994, I was very disappointed with the way in which Coach Knight’s dismissal was handled. I did not feel that the “Zero Tolerance” policy was a credible path. Action had to be taken one way or the other at the time and the leaders of our fine institution took a stab at a spineless, politically correct compromise that took a stand on neither side. This error left them compromised, for the players recognized this duplicity for what it was, and were ready to revolt on Coach Knight’s behalf. Emergency measures had to be taken was the cry that went up, from an institution far from united on whether or not Coach Knight’s dismissal was a good idea. Mike Davis, an untested assistant was cast as that emergency measure. It was always going to be a very difficult task to be the successor to Coach Knight, it is the nature of the beast, (2) look at the immediate successors to Dean Smith or Ray Meyer or John Thompson or Norm Stewart. So into this very difficult situation was thrust, the overmatched, never been a head coach on anywhere close to this big of a stage, Mike Davis. His position already compromised with the alumni, the university power structure and the players by the abysmal manner in which Coach Knight’s discharge was handled. (A faux second chance, followed by a Galileo-esque judge and jury finding and firing.)
Mike Davis at this disadvantage, got off to a remarkably good start, albeit with Coach Knight’s players. But by two seasons ago now, things had clearly gone sour for him and he should have been let go. Then when the griping about the difficulty of the schedule occurred, and Indiana gave in and stopped scheduling traditional rivals like Notre Dame and Kansas, this was a dangerous compromising of our principles and standards, which were already damaged from Coach Knight’s firing. This should have been the time to examine what paths Mike Davis was leading us down. (3) Once again, it was not clear why the institution was not showing the structural strength to make a change when something obviously was not working, when something was obviously amiss.
This was not Mike Davis’s fault. Nor does it make him in any way a bad human being that he was not ready to coach at Indiana. An Alabama pedigree ? Wimp Sanderson, C.M. Newton ? Alabama is on the list of programs with the most NCAA tourney wins without ever making it to the Final Four. Yes, Indiana was backed into a corner by Bobby’s abrupt termination, but it was a corner of their own making. I say their when I could say our because, you were still in the Missouri Valley then, and I failed to weigh-in, other than the verbal haranguing of friends and fellow alumni. (4) Over and above the idea that a Alabama background isn’t an end all be all college basketball CV, Mike Davis was wrong for the program because he did not understand and has subsequently impugned the touchstone of Indiana University basketball, our integrity and our education first mentality. Bobby Knight’s legacy had no higher honor than this, Indiana University basketball turned out ethical humans, almost all of whom graduated, all of whom attended real classes alongside the rest of the student body and participated in the undergraduate experience. This was always what separated Indiana from the Kentuckys and Michgans of the world. This is what allowed us as Indiana alumni to hold our heads high. A win with honor is the only win. Sure Michigan’s “Fab Five” might have out performed our “Magnificent Seven” on the court, but Michigan paid them. Years later we were not giving back wins, lowering banners like they were. They cheat, we don’t. They have paid pros. We have student athletes. It was that simple. Bob Knight was our Joe Paterno. Integrity and honor were (and hopefully are) at the core of our institution, its value system and our athletic programs.
This is why you have such a great responsibility with the next basketball coaching hire. Mike Davis was the first step on the slippery slope to becoming a Jim Harrick U. Indiana is not supposed to be the kind of institution that recruits the Josh Smith’s of the world. We do not want young men who have no intention of attending class, spending four years in school and attempting to graduate. Please don’t call this naïve, unless you want to pay the student athletes, like universities pay the people who do the maintenance in the arena. There was and is a simple distinction between students and employees of the university. It is that students attend and complete classes at the university with the intention of obtaining a degree.
It was not a coincidence that Indiana was never on probation under Coach Knight’s leadership, while Kentucky was repeatedly in hot water during that same period. No coincidence. When you see the kind of kids Coach Knight is recruiting to Texas Tech and the JamesOn Currys of the world following Eddie Sutton and Son to Oklahoma State, it is not an accident of fate. It was and is about right intention, integrity, morality, sticking to and practicing what you believe is just and honest. (5) College athletics represents a bully pulpit, a window on to the impressionable youth of the world. Indiana University owes it to itself, the state, our alumni, its players, coaches, and fans to take that responsibility seriously. Character education is a fundamental part of the job.
One might say, Josh Smith was an exception, what would one say then, about another Mike Davis era recruit Bracey Wright ? A young man who served neither his own nor the university’s interest with his disregard for his senior year. Where was Coach Davis or somebody from within the program to advise this kind of kid, a young man entering the world without a degree, with more moxie than sense. If he was beyond guidance, what was this kind of individual doing at our at educational facility there in Bloomington ? Please do not even for a moment allow the excuse that everybody else is doing it to cross your mind. Standards are your own, and when the time comes to stand and be counted, Indiana alumni want to be able stand on the side of doing it right, with the John Woodens, and as far away from the Jerry Tarkanians and O% graduation rate, Bob Hugginses as possible. If I have children, I want to be able to proudly point out Indiana’s student athletes to them. (6)
Now that we have hit what we hope is rock bottom, no NCAA tournament appearance in two of the last three years, disappointing graduation rates, a coach who was on the verge of having a stress related breakdown midseason, people intimating that race was at the Indiana’s of this decision, (7) which thankfully Coach Davis himself refuted, I am very gladdened to hear that you are proceeding slowly and consulting widely in your search for a successor to Coach Davis.
The next coach does not have to be an Indiana Alumni, nor does this coach have to have a Bobby Knight connection. What this coach has to have is integrity, honesty, strength of character, and a winning mentality. When Coach Davis says Indiana needs one of its own he indicates he continues to misunderstand the priorities of real Indiana basketball fans. Honor was always the touchstone of the state of Indiana’s basketball, first and foremost, through its top to bottom everybody’s in it high school basketball tournament where participation of all comers large and small was a higher value than the all mighty dollar. (8) Other programs have their centerpiece, Kansas can claim the invention of basketball, UCLA the national championship tradition, North Carolina, Michael Jordan and quite a bit of other glory. (9) At Indiana we have Coach Knight, maybe a dash of Isaiah, a whisper of the last undefeated season and more than anything else our integrity. This is our most precious thing to defend, our hard earned, easier to blow than to fix, squeaky clean reputation. It is not an accident that there are not names on the back of the Hoosiers jerseys, to be a Hoosier means to represent a value set that says no man is bigger than the team, and you sing, not applaud, during the national anthem.
When one looks around the country at the way other programs are being run, there is one head and shoulders above the rest in operating with a combination of institutional integrity and on court success, not coincidentally it is being run by a member of the Bobby Knight coaching tree. Mr. Greenspan, I am not thinking Iowa City, but rather the Bull City, Durham, North Carolina and Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K runs his programs with the highest of standards and turns out class after class of solid citizens. Unfortunately, I think he is unavailable. Symbolizing the kind of dangerous erosion that has already reached edges of our program weathering our assets, Coach K’s lead assistant, Johnny Dawkins would probably rule himself out as well. (10) I read talk about Randy Wittman and Steve Alford, nice men, neither of whom I find inherently objectionable, but I think to go with either of them would be to prioritize the alumni over the students. The incoming students do not want a candidate who represents the past rather than future of the program. Coach Knight was a young man and a brave outside the box choice when he was hired. Indiana’s previous six or seven years prior to his hire had seen few successes. We find ourselves in a similar scenario. We need to employ similarly creative thinking. We need never to lose track of our integrity, honor first, mindset.
Those two thoughts in mind, may I humbly recommend placing a call to Jay Bilas. Obviously, Jay Bilas does not have a brilliant coaching resume, what he does have is a very high profile to recruits. He, equally importantly, has a long history of public statements about his morality, ethics and principles. Further, he has been steeped in the winning and winning the right way tradition of Duke. He has consistently taken the high road in his public persona. Going this far a field for a coaching hire requires having some patience with the person after you bring them into the program. We need to recognize that if we are setting off in a different direction and course than the one Mike Davis was leading us on, that it may have to get worse before it gets better. The Indiana University community needs to know that going in, to stick with our choice and get the program righted for the long hall. Another sign of good character, both in individuals and institutions, is perseverance. Please focus first, whomever you decide to hire as coach, on getting the right kind of student athlete in our program and then, secondly, on the W’s. If we get the right people in place, teach and support them, the W’s will come. One reason Mike Davis’s teams were so up and down was a lack of a foundation. A lack of teaching be it in the fundamentals of executing a half court set offense or setting a screen. (11) These kids played an entire half against Wisconsin this season without an assist. What kind of teamwork were they learning ? They could not run an out of bounds play. This was always Mike Davis’s greatest failure, his failure to teach. The team over and over could not execute the basics. He seemed a decent man. He might have even been a kind and moral man, I could not say from afar. But I can tell you his teams and his players were not well schooled and they did not get better over time. Look at his first star recruit Bracey Wright’s declining scoring averages and declining shooting percentages over his career. Unfortunately, Marco Killingsworth road the same rollercoaster in microcosm this season. We need a return to the Coach Knight tradition of a teacher and leader of young men. (Mind you, he does not have to be a Marine Drill instructor in Coach Knight’s mode, but one has to recognize that the Marines and Bobby’s first stop, West Point, have turned out quite a few good men and women over the years. I am quite confident as their former Athletic Director, you are familiar with United States Military Academy’s athletes.) Please give our next coach enough time to build a foundation. Remember that Coach K was 38 up and 47 down in his first three years at Duke. Frank Beamer, a man who just took a very strong stance on the side of character when he booted Michael Vick’s younger brother to the curb, was 24 wins, 40 losses and 2 ties in his first six seasons running the Virginia Tech football program. (12) I think a man of Jay Bilas’s character and background could/might/would lead Indiana to a level of success probably somewhere between that achieved by Coach Krzyzewski at Duke and that of Coach Beamer at Virginia Tech. We can’t hold any coach to unreasonable winning statistical expectations. High winning percentages and long tourney runs are good, but our first standard must be about character and education. Success at Indiana University will not be measured on the scoreboard alone. Let’s bring on Jay Bilas, he gets that concept.
Please Mr. Greenspan, regardless of the particular individual selected, emphasize morality and education first in our next coaching hire and all else will fall in line. Even we do not go back to winning NCAA tournaments our alumni can go back to holding our heads high. We can only aspire to be Duke, but rest assured your honorable alumni would rather have a program like this year’s Army women’s basketball than the UNLV men’s basketball of years past.
IUB Class of 1994
PS. If Jay Bilas says he is unavailable, stick with integrity first, teaching coaches, who graduate the great majority of their players. Consider John Beilein of West Virginia or Brad Brownell of UNC-Wilmington. Just as good or better, if you can do the due diligence to find a minority candidate, other than Johnny Dawkins, who meets these standards, hire him or her.
1. It is speculated Indiana’s President will leave in two years. See http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060217/COLUMNISTS01/602170435/1005 The Louisville Courier Journal, columnist Rick Bozich, 2/17/06.
2. It is just generally very difficult to succeed greatness on the athletic playing fields (and in many other professions.) The 20/20 hindsight, grass is greener on the other side gets’em. People’s nostalgia and memory of the predecessor is almost always better than the new status quo. (exceptions to every rule.) My paradigm example as a kid was Ray Knight trying to succeed Pete Rose in Cincinnati. No matter what he did, he couldn’t measure up. In the end he had to leave and find his greatest success elsewhere.
3. More likely this should have been the second or third time to institutionally examine what paths Mike Davis was leading Indiana down. But it is not surprising that people were blinded by the bright light of Coach Davis leading the Hoosiers to play in the championship game.
4. I am weighing in with an opinion now because I hear Mr. Greenspan is seeking opinions. I have undertaken with this project an intention to write when my opinions, feelings and beliefs converge to feed a sense that something is relevant, at least to me. http://www.taylormali.com/index.html
5. At minimum living by the golden rule. Trying to live by an ethic that says I will give back as much or more than I take out of the whole.
6. At the moment I have a family full of cousins of all ages who have graduated from Indiana University.
7. Indiana Media Relations website quotes Coach Davis, “I definitely want to clarify what I mean by one of their own because I heard someone thought it was a black-white thing. It definitely isn’t a black-white issue.” http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/2974.html This is not to argue that there are not some racist Indiana basketball fans. Nor is it to deny there is a long history of abysmal racism in the state of Indiana, not even that far geographically down the road from Bloomington, itself. But sources wider than Davis deny a link to racism in this decision, African American columnist of the Kansas City Star and ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, Jason Whitlock. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=whitlock/060216
8. The almighty dollar having since won out here, too. Indiana just last week finished its sectional basketball championships, which though they include all comers, divide the schools by criteria and do not ultimate play them all off, the way they used to do (as famously depicted in the movie Hoosiers with ole’ Gene Hackman and an under appreciated Dennis Hopper role.)
9. Duke, well as Pete Gillen would say, “Duke is Duke and they’re on TV more than “Leave it to Beaver,” reruns. Inside joke for Clones.
10. Johnny Dawkins has high hopes that some day down the road he gets to move into Coach K’s seat.
11. The converse of this, a super solid grounding in the fundamentals, the basics, is one reason why Bobby, Dean, Coach Wooden and Coach K’s teams were/are so consistent.
12. Beamer stared down the idea of Michael Vick’s future bequests to the university and did the right thing, eventually.