My Two Cents: There's One Candidate for Indiana Job That Checks All the Boxes

There are 10 things that are most important when it comes to picking the next Indiana head coach, and there's only one person who checks every box, and the name might surprise you.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For the better part of a month, people have asked for my opinions on what should happen next if and when Indiana moved on from Archie Miller. I abstained from that conversation and conjecture out of professionalism, because Miller was still the coach.

Well, after Monday, he's not the coach at Indiana anymore, fired after four seasons in Bloomington where he never finished with a winning record in the Big Ten, never coached a game in the NCAA Tournament, and never beat Purdue, not once.

So now I can look ahead and talk about the coaching search publicly. It is, without question, the most important work decision that new Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson will ever have to make, for one simply reason.

He has to get it right.

This critical hire has to accomplish two things at once. It has to lead to more victories on the court, of course, and restore Indiana to previous heights. But just as importantly, it needs to help repair a fractured fan base that has soured on Indiana basketball. There is nothing worse than apathy, and apathy is running rampant throughout the fan base right now.

This new coach will need to do both, bring the experience necessary to win games, but also be out and about and engaged with the fan base. He needs to show them the love, and they'll show it back.

For me, this next hire has to check ALL of the boxes. Not just some of them, but all of them. And, for me, those boxes are:

  • Strong Indiana ties
  • Championship pedigree
  • Established head coach experience
  • Great player development skills
  • Creative offensive mind
  • No coaching or personal scandals
  • Loves Bloomington and Indiana
  • Personality skills and popularity
  • Would have Bob Knight's blessing
  • Would have former IU players' blessing

That's a long list of must-haves, and I'm well aware of that. But there really is someone who checks every single one of those boxes, and the name might surprise you.

And for all the reasons above, Keith Smart should be the next basketball coach at Indiana.

Oh sure, I'd love it if Brad Stevens would leave the Boston Celtics, based on his track record at Butler and his state of Indiana ties, but even he doesn't check all those boxes, mostly the last two. And all the other names that get mentioned this week -- John Beilein, Rick Pitino, Chris Beard, Scott Drew -- can't check a lot of these boxes either.

Keith Smart checks every single one. And Scott Dolson, whose time as a basketball manager overlaps Smart's playing days, knows that. 

Let's just quickly run down the list. There is no question that Smart has strong Indiana ties (CHECK) and a championship pedigree (CHECK), because it was his shot that won Indiana's last national championship in 1987. Thousands of Indiana fans still have that poster in their man caves of "The Shot.'' He's an Indiana hero, for sure. An enduring legend, forever.

Smart would have the blessing of former IU players (CHECK) and his former coach, Bob Knight (CHECK) because he's one of their own. Every single one of them would be embraced to be part of this program again, and that's a very underrated piece of this puzzle, That disconnect between past and present has to end. We saw that in February 2020 when Knight returned and all those former players were together. We need one of their own, and of the former player group, it really is Smart who checks every box.

Smart has no scandals, personal or professional, to shade his resume (CHECK), and he knows how to work a room with his bubbly and engaging personality. Watching fans congregate to him when he was back for the Knight reunion was great to see, and Smart posed for every picture, signed every autographed and even FaceTimed with a few parents. So yes, he absolutely has the personality necessary to reunite this fan base (CHECK).

And he loves Bloomington. He played here, met his wife Carol, a Bloomington native, here and they've come back and forth often. Calling Bloomington home again (CHECK) would be a dream come true for the Smart family.

That's all the ancillary stuff, but what about coaching skills? They're all there.

During his two decades in the NBA, both as a head coach and an assistant, Smart has been praised for his teaching skills, especially with young players (CHECK). He's also been something of an ''offensive coordinator'' at some of his stops, and he knows what works and what doesn't. He's studied analytics and has broken down what actions work on offense and what's a waste of time (CHECK). He hates sideways-moving dribble handoffs, which gets me right there. A creative offense at Indiana, how refreshing would that be?

He's been a head coach too, and knows what it takes to be a leader. (CHECK) The naysayers would point out that his record isn't very good, but you have to remember that he coached the Cleveland Cavaliers when they were tanking to draft LeBron James, and he coached strafed teams in Golden State and Sacramento that were basically starting over. The NBA is a players league, and if you don't have great players, you aren't going to win. Keith Smart never had great rosters, but he still improved the Warriors by 10 games during his year there.

To be honest, he's best known for being a great teacher as an assistant in the league. And that matters. He's learned from the best, from Don Nelson back in his early days to Erik Spoelstra lately in Miami with the Heat.

His fellow assistant in Miami went back to his alma mater two years ago, and look how that's worked out. Juwan Howard is the Big Ten Coach of the Year at Michigan, and might even with national coaching awards, too.

That SAME EXACT THING could happen at Indiana. Howard and Smart are great friends and talk often. Michigan loves having one of their own in charge, and they are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana could have that vibe, too.

You'll say that Smart doesn't have college recruiting history, and I'll say that neither did Howard when he arrived at Michigan. He has the No. 1 recruiting class here in 2021. It doesn't take much. Keith Smart could do that too, with the right staff. That's what Juwan Howard did.

You'll say that Smart hasn't coached in college, and I'll say that Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean and Archie Miller all did, and how did that work out for Indiana?

That's every boxed checked. Every single one of them. 

Hire a great staff and Keith Smart could do some great things at Indiana. He'll run good stuff, he'll focus on player development, which will be a refreshing change. He's a shooter, so he could quickly fix the mechanical flaws in Indiana's perimeter guys.

He's been through this process before, sort of. Four years ago, while he was an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies, he sat in a San Antonio hotel and talked to former Indiana athletic director Fred Glass for an hour about his vision for Indiana's program if he was hired. It was an interview of sorts, but Glass was already zeroed in on Miller, so nothing happened beyond that phone. Glass was already love-struck with Miller.

That's too bad that it didn't.

You didn't think I'd go Keith Smart, did you? And you didn't think I really could check all those boxes either, right?

I think he'd be an awesome hire, for every one of those reasons. An Indiana guy coaching Indiana would be a refreshing change. Count me in.

  • ARCHIE MILLER FIRED: Indiana fires Archie Miller on Monday after four subpar seasons at the helm of the Hoosiers program. 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
  • DURHAM ENTERS TRANSFER PORTAL: Indiana guard Al Durham played four years for Miller, but he's entered the transfer portal to take advantage of that fifth-year opportunity granted by the NCAA. 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
  • HOLTMANN, UNDERWOOD MAKE MILLER LOOK BAD: Just like Archie Miller, Ohio State's Chris Holtmann and Illinois' Brad Underwood were hired four years ago. And while they were playing for a Big Ten title, Miller was fighting for his job. CLICK HERE