BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Mike Woodson and I both arrived in Bloomington in the fall of 1976, and we spent the same four years in Bloomington. He's been one of my all-time favorites for a long, long time.
That long relationship has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with the fact that I think he's the perfect coach for Indiana right now. And for many, many reasons.
He will be better than Mike Davis and Tom Crean and Kelvin Sampson and, without a doubt, Archie Miller. There is no doubt about that in my mind that Indiana will be better at basketball going forward.
First among them, of course, is that Mike Woodson is an Indiana guy through and through. Many of you have said that shouldn't matter, but it does, it absolutely does. And it should. Those championship banners are there for a reason, and the goal should ALWAYS be to pursue more.
Being average can never be allowed. And no one knows that any better than Mike Woodson. Indiana isn't even average now, but that's about to change.
It took a lot of courage for new Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson to make this decision. It's not the easy choice, not the safe choice. His time as athletic director – no matter what he does going forward – will be defined by this hire. It has to work. And it will.
Mike Woodson is a great basketball mind and a tireless worker. Ask NBA legends like Doc Rivers, who loved having Woodson on his staff. Ask Tom Thibodeau, his current boss at the New York Knicks. They are much improved this season, and he'll tell you that Mike Woodson has has a lot to do with that.
Mike Woodson, a Bob Knight guy, knows basketball. He knows what it takes to put a team together, and most importantly, he knows the value of player development. It's the most important thing a coaching staff does, and he knows that.
He will hire a great staff, and I have no doubt about that either. It's not official yet, but it looks like former Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who's been to two Final Fours, is coming aboard too in a new role. And Woodson knows the value of coaching talent, too, and he will hire three assistants with great recruiting resumes. There's no fear of that not happening.
But there's also a lot of work to be done
Recruiting his own players first
In the past week, six Indiana players entered the transfer portal, Armaan Franklin, Al Durham, Race Thompson, Jordan Geronimo, Kristian Lander and Parker Stewart. They all said the same thing, that they would wait to see what Indiana did with their coaching hire before moving elsewhere.
Now, that becomes first priority for Woodson. Outside of Durham, who has graduated already and is probably ready for a change of scenery, the other five are important pieces to this team. Woodson is going to want all five of them back, and those conversations could very well be happening right now.
It's that important, but that's just a start.
He also needs to sit down with Trayce Jackson-Davis and his parents and have a serious talk. He was Indiana's best player last year, but he's not NBA ready. There are critical parts of his game that were never developed by the previous staff, and Woodson needs to convince him to stay another year.
Woodson will make him better, without question. Add some perimeter threats to his game and he could be a first-round pick in a year. He's not there right now. Woodson knows what an NBA forward looks like – Archie Miller didn't – and he can get Jackson-Davis there.
There are also spots that can be filled from a transfer portal that's bursting with talent. It's a free agent meat market now, and Woodson needs to go shopping immediately. Archie Miller spent the last two years with only 11 scholarship players, leaving two spots open. That was pure stupidity. Fill those spots with talent, too. Let's have a full roster for a change, and figure out playing time later.
During Miller's four years at Indiana, he went 67-58 overall and was just 33-45 in the Big Ten. But truth be told, from a talent perspective, Indiana might not be that far off. If Jackson-Davis comes back and Joey Brunk is healthy, the turnaround could be immediate, especially with one or two perfect transfers.
Miller ran an offense that wasn't effective, and that was clear for four years. Fans complained about it from the beginning. Opposing players – like Illinois' Ayo Dosumnu and Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic – basically said they knew Indiana's offense better than the Hoosiers, which is embarrassing.
That final dagger, of course, was Miller's last game as the head coach of the Hoosiers, a loss to Rutgers that will be remembered for Indiana going the final quarter of a game without making a single field goal.
We all remember that, and then we all remember afterward how Miller had no real answer for it.
Woodson will change all that. That's a guarantee.
The offense will look dramatically different. Player development will be an important priority. There will be a fire that will now burn inside Indiana's head coach to return this program to glory. We didn't have that with Miller, the golden-boy hire at the time in 2017 that turned into a disaster.
But as I've mentioned since Feb. 20 when I said it was time for a change, this was just a job for Miller. He'll get another one.
This is life for Mike Woodson. This Indiana? It's his school too.
I have said often that Archie Miller was a Pennsylvania high school basketball player who played college basketball in North Carolina.
Mike Woodson played high school basketball ... in Indiana. He played college basketball .. at Indiana.
Two thumbs up right now.
Don't worry about what he hasn't done
Former Indiana star Keith Smart was also a candidate for this job, and he would have made a fine head coach, too. All this talk about Woodson not having any recruiting history should be irrelevant, said the guard who hit the game-winning shot in the 1987 national championship game.
"When you're looking to fill a position like that, the most important thing first is hiring the right head coach. Indiana did that,'' Smart said by phone on Sunday night. "Then you go from there, and I have no doubt that there are going to be a lot of great assistants who have been great recruiters for years who are going to want to work with Mike at Indiana. No doubt at all.
"Look, I've known Woody for a long time. We worked together in Cleveland (2000-01) as assistant coaches, we've been friends ever since and he is a great basketball mind. He really knows how to develop talent and he's got a great way about him in regards to getting his points across to players. I think he's a perfect guy to work with college players.''
Smart is disappointed that he didn't get the job, but he's thrilled that Woodson did. He thinks its very important to have an IU guy at the helm right now, because the past 20-plus years have been difficult on former Indiana players since Knight was fired. There's a disconnect, but that's gone now.
"It great to see one of our guys running the ship,'' Smart said. "I think for us as former players, we can all get behind this hire. We'll all be rooting hard for Mike, and we'll all do whatever we can to help. There's no doubt in my mind that every former IU player is happy for Mike and confident that he will do a great job.
"To us, it matters a lot that our names are still in that locker room and our pictures are around that building. All of that tradition, man it's real, especially among us as players. No one wants Indiana back on top more than we do, and we can't wait for Mike to take us there. He's going to be great.''
Yep, that's all true.
And now? It's time to go to work. Together.
Related stories on Indiana basketball
- INDIANA HIRES MIKE WOODSON: For the first time since Bob Knight was fired in 2000, Indiana has hired one of his former players to be the Hoosiers' head coach, former great Mike Woodson. >>> CLICK HERE
- WOODSON MUM ON IU SEARCH (March 22): Former Indiana star Mike Woodson talked to Sports Illustrated Indiana, but didn't want to discuss in any detail about the coaching search. >>> CLICK HERE
- SCOTT DOLSON VIDEO: Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson met with the media Monday and explained why he fired Archie Miller, how tough the decision way, and his vision for the future. Watch all 26 minutes here. >>> CLICK HERE
- TOM BREW COLUMN: Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson didn't let that big buyout get in the way of making the right decision for the basketball program. >>> CLICK HERE