In May 2017, Archie Miller sat in his new office at Indiana University and described his vision for rebuilding a downtrodden blueblood program.
“The identity and culture over time has to start and stop with playing real hard,” Miller told me. “We have to be one of those teams where everyone we play knows, ‘This is going to be a little different tonight. It’s going to be hard.’ That doesn’t mean we win every game, but everyone has to know it’s going to be hard.”
Last Wednesday, in Miller’s 121st game leading the Hoosiers, the coach watched Rutgers—the worst program in the Big Ten when he arrived—dunk all over his passive team. The Scarlet Knights grabbed uncontested rebounds, swatted away shots and ran the floor with impunity. They took a 20-point lead before easing off and winning by 11.
Hard? This was easy. Laughably easy. Low-point-of-the-Miller-era easy.
Indiana followed that embarrassment with a third straight loss Saturday, 73–57, to Michigan. This was far less humiliating—the 18-1 Wolverines are the best team in the Big Ten and one of the three best in the nation—but it also was never in doubt. The desperation you’d expect from an Indiana team sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble was never evident.
“We’ve got to come out hungrier than the opponent,” said Indiana guard Al Durham after the game. “We’ve got to want it more.”
There was no indication the Hoosiers wanted it more than Michigan Saturday. Beating Indiana wasn’t quite as easy Saturday as it was Wednesday, but neither was it hard.
In four seasons, playing Miller’s Indiana teams has never been terribly difficult. The hard part never started. That identity and culture he envisioned hasn’t materialized. The most accomplished of all Big Ten programs, with five national championship banners hanging in Assembly Hall, has been a below-average league member throughout Miller’s tenure.
His current record: 67-55, just 33-42 in conference play. With a 7-10 Big Ten mark this year, Miller has earned the distinction of becoming the first coach in Indiana history to go his first four seasons at the school without a single winning record in league games.
Indiana was not an NCAA tourney team in Miller’s first two seasons, then probably would have squeezed in last year—but not by much. This year, the Hoosiers (12-12 overall) are on the outside looking in with two difficult road games left in the regular season.
We have seen enough evidence to know Archie Miller isn’t the guy to restore Indiana basketball. But what is the school going to do about it?
Miller has a reported $10 million buyout, which is real money at a time when IU and every other school are facing real revenue shortfalls. So it would not be shocking if athletic director Scott Dolson decides for financial reasons to give Miller one more season.
But if Indiana does feel compelled to make a change, the guy it should pursue to replace Miller is obvious.
He spent most of his childhood in the state. Graduated from an Indiana college. Coached at an Indiana college. He understands what Indiana basketball means. More importantly, he’s a massive winner who orchestrated what might be the greatest program rebuild ever.
The obvious choice is Scott Drew.
He grew up in Valparaiso while his dad, Homer, was the coach of the Crusaders. Went to Butler. Succeeded Homer as head coach at Valpo. Then left after a season to take on the murder-scarred program at Baylor.
Today, Drew is completing his 14th straight winning season. He has an undefeated team that is one of the favorites to win the national title. Over the past two seasons he’s 44-4 … at Baylor, which is a much more difficult place to win than Indiana.
Sure, Indiana could continue to press its nose against the NBA window and stare longingly at Hoosier State homeboy Brad Stevens. There is a chance Stevens’s tenure is winding down with the Boston Celtics: he hasn’t quite gotten them over the hump in eight seasons, and this year’s team is falling apart. But there is far less chance that Stevens would be interested in coming back to college basketball—he’d have other NBA options, and like Billy Donovan he doesn’t miss a lot of the junk that comes with the college game.
Or Indiana could make another run at Tony Bennett. But if he turned the school down four years ago, what would make him feel differently now? Especially since he’s proven he can win a national title at Virginia?
He’s not unhappy at Baylor, but Drew might be the big fish Indiana could land. Baylor has developed a good basketball following—for both the men’s and women’s programs—but Texas remains bedrock football country. If Drew wants one chance at a power program that prioritizes hoops, in a state he knows well, this could be it.
Indiana University has to decide whether it can afford to fire Archie Miller, who has failed to deliver the identity and culture—and victories—he envisioned. If Indiana can pay the eight-figure bill, there is an obvious choice for its next coach. Time to ask Scott Drew to go back home again to Indiana.