Humbled But Happy, Mike Woodson Ready to Go to Work at Indiana

Mike Woodson was a great player at Indiana and in the pros, and he's spent 25 years as a coach in the NBA. Now he's the head coach at Indiana, his first college job, but he's not the least bit concerned about the lack of college experience.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The goal was to keep it in the family, and that's exactly what Scott Dolson did in hiring Indiana Hall of Famer Mike Woodson to be the Hoosiers' next basketball coach.

Woodson was introduced Monday in Bloomington during a Zoom press conference that was watched by many across the country and attended in person by a few friends and family, too. It was an epic moment, one that was overwhelming emotionally at times. And that's OK.

For Woodson, who was raised on the streets of inner-city Indianapolis and played for Bob Knight at a very high level from 1976 to 1980, what happened on Monday was a dream come true. He came home, after all these years.

He's a Hoosier through and through, and now he's in charge. And everyone, especially ''all the old-timers'' are welcome to come back home. 

"I said I wasn’t going to get sensitive, but boy, this is a great day for Mike Woodson and his family, and it’s a great day for the fans and Hoosier Nation,'' Woodson said. "It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap between young people who don’t know who coach Woodson is and the old-timers who know who I am. 

"I’m going to bring all the old-timers back like the old days, and we going to bridge the gap between old and new. At the end of the day, it’s about two people – or two things – and that’s the fans and our basketball program and our players. Our players will be first and foremost.''

Woodson was introduced by Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson, a former IU basketball manager from 1984 to 1988 who took his first major decision as AD seriously, basically locking himself in his basement, making hundreds of phone calls to vet several candidates. From the beginning, Dolson worked off a vision of bridging the past with the present in this program, and he kept coming back to Woodson.

And when his first conversation went well with Woodson, he knew it was time for a more formal, more deeper-dive type of interview. Dolson suggested a Zoom call, but Woodson, a New York Knicks assistant coach who turned 63 last week, had another idea.

"Scott had called me and said he wanted to speak with me, and he wanted to do a Zoom,'' Woodson said. "And I told him, I said, 'if you’re interested in Mike Woodson, either I get on a plane or you get on a plane and you come see me.' And he said, 'I’ll be there tomorrow morning.'

"I thought it was a great interview in terms of getting to know one another. I didn’t know if I was going to get the job, but I felt good about my position and what I had presented in terms of helping to move the needle here at Indiana University.''

After that face-to-face meeting, this was basically a done deal. Dolson's vision statement, quickly crafted by a few members of staff in a matter of days while on vacation. was falling into the place the way he wanted it to.

It was clear to Dolson that Woodson checked off all of his boxes. And he's not the least bit worried that Woodson hasn't been a recruiter on the college level.

"I will sleep great at night knowing Mike Woodson is in the homes of recruits talking about not just basketball but talking about the important qualities IU will value in players,'' Dolson said.

Woodson answered questions for 30 minutes, and touched on several subjects, the first being his former coach, of course, the legendary Bob Knight. He talked slowly and with emotion, and the moment meant a lot to him.

So did thanking some of the ''old-timers'' who were there in attendance. guys like Scott May and Quinn Buckner from the unbeaten 1976 Hoosiers ''who have always had my back.'' And then Woodson was nearly brought to tears when he introduced Wayne Radford, Jr., the son of his best friend and former teammate Wayne Radford, who passed away suddenly in January. Woodson got choked up several times and had a pause to collect himself. 

Being home, it was obvious that it meant a lot to Woodson.

"To be able to circle back and come back home and coach Indiana University basketball means a great deal to me,'' Woodson said. "It’s never been about me as a person. I do what I do because I have a beautiful wife and two daughters who allowed me over the years to do what I do.

"And Terri, Alexis, Mariah, they're unbelievable people. I mean, they are the rock that I stand on. So for me to come back here to be in front of all my fans and family and friends, I mean, it’s amazing. You know, I never dreamed that this would ever happen to me.''

And then it was time to get to work. Woodson, who's been an NBA coach for 25 years and has never coached at the college level, has a lot on his plate. He needs to hire a staff, but he gets a huge assist there by having Thad Matta on board. The 53-year-old coach who went to two Final Fours at Ohio State has been hired by Dolson to be Associate Athletic Director for Basketball Administration, something of a liaison between Dolson and Woodson, and helping them both with things they need help  with.

"Mike Woodson is 100 percent  the head coach," Dolson said. "The partnership with Thad really came about after my first meeting with coach Woodson and we talked about how to bridge the past with the future. Mike is aa collaborator. He said, 'Scott, you and I will be joined at the hip. This needs to be a unified effort.' And the more I thought about Thad, there more there were things he could do to help me, and there were things he could do to help Mike.''

Here's what Woodson said about his most immediate concerns:

Meeting with current players

Woodson flew to Indiana on Sunday and met with the current players on Indiana's roster on Sunday night. He's going to meet with them individually on Monday, and those conversations will be huge because six players have already entered the transfer portal. 

But they all also said that they would wait to see who Indiana was going to hire. The six – Armaan Franklin, Race Thompson, Khristian Lander, Jordan Geronimo, Parker Stewart and Al Durham – will have to make decisions soon after talking to Woodson.

"I spoke to the guys (Sunday) night, and I think they understand who Coach Woodson is early on because I’ve told them that this whole program is going to be about family. And being about family, there’s a lot of things that come with that. You know, they are looking for me to get them where they need to go, and I’m looking at them to get Indiana Basketball where it needs to go, and that’s going to be huge because I’m a coach that pushes and grabs and I try to get the most out of my players. 

"And that word 'accountability' is so important when you look at players and you talk about coaching. I’m going to meet with each player individually (Monday) and see where their heart and mind are and talk about moving this program in the right direction, and that’s getting it back on top. That’s why I’m here. I’m excited about being here.''

What Bob Knight means to him

Woodson's opening statement was all about Bob Knight, the coach ''who took a chance on me.'' Their relationship has been strong for 40-plus years and it was most obvious that Woodson was right next to him on the Assembly Hall floor last February when Knight returned to Assembly Hall for the first time since he was fired in 2000.

Their bond is eternal.

"Coach Bob Knight, who means so much to Indiana basketball, he took a chance on a kid out of Indianapolis many years ago to come here and play basketball,'' Woodson said.. "It was a journey for Mike Woodson. And coming to Indiana University to play basketball, he taught me how to play the game of basketball from a fundamental standpoint. He taught me how to be a man on and off the floor. And that was huge for me coming out of the inner cities of Indianapolis.

"So I pay tribute to Coach Knight in the utmost way because Indiana basketball will always be Bob Knight. Will always be. It was great he came back in February a year ago and all the ex-players that surrounded him, the fans, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. So Karen, Coach, I love you guys – and for me this is a complete circle.''

The love went full circle, too, when Indiana tweeted out a comment from Knight on Woodson's hiring.

"We are all very pleased to have Mike Woodson as the person in charge of our program. He will do an excellent job. He will be an outstanding disciplinarian and teacher working with his team. I've never known a better person than Mike. He is just a great man.''

Hiring a well-versed staff

Woodson said he's already put a lot of thought into who he wants working for him, and he knows how critical this is going to be. Woodson doesn't have any college recruiting experience, and even though he said that doesn't bother him one bit, hiring great recruiters is going to be important.

"I have staff people in mind and I will sit down with Scott and Thad and assess some of the coaches,'' Woodson said. "I’m getting all kind of calls from friends and coaches that want to come and help me, and I have my list of coaches that I think can help me. So we will collaborate together and figure out what’s good for Mike Woodson and the Indiana University program moving forward.

"Coaching is important. I think you’ve got to put people around you that you trust, people around you that’s willing to work hard. That’s what I’ve done in my two stops as an NBA head coach. I try to put people that are going to work and be loyal and help me to develop young players that are going to be good basketball players and good people off the floor.''

Working closely with Thad Matta

Thad Matta will be a helping hand for Woodson in his new role, something of a general manager in NBA terms. The two know of each other, but that's it. There's already a high respect level, though.

"I’ve always watched Thad from afar,'' Woodson said. "Thad has had major success in the Big Ten as a head coach, the 13 years he coached Ohio State, and I had my battles with Herb Williams, who was a great Ohio State player and who worked for me in New York, so we always go around about with one another during the Big Ten season. This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to sit and talk with Thad.

"He has a great basketball mind. My ego has always been intact in terms of being able to accept great basketball minds and what they are thinking. I think that’s healthy from a coaching standpoint and I think it can’t do anything but help me as I move up the road and try to build this basketball team. I’m grateful that Thad is on board. Again we have to put a staff together and we’ll work towards that here in the next week or so.''

Related stories on Mike Woodson

  • BREAKING NEWS: Indiana is hiring former great Mike Woodson to be its next head coach, replacing Archie Miller. CLICK HERE
  • TOM BREW COLUMN: Some might complain, but this is a home run hire for Indiana and its basketball program for many reasons. CLICK HERE
  • OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE: Here is the exact press release from Indiana announcing Mike Woodson's hire, with quotes from IU athletic director Scott Dolson. CLICK HERE