Hey, Indiana: Juwan Howard is an outlier.
After swinging and missing on Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann, Hoosiers athletic director Scott Dolson decided to keep it in the family and hire Mike Woodson, the 63-year-old NBA veteran coach who hasn’t coached a day in college basketball.
It could have a chance to succeed, but only if Woodson heeds the advice of someone who can put together a quality coaching staff.
But we’ve seen this fail far more than it’s been successful.
Chris Mullin at his alma mater, St. John’s. Avery Johnson at Alabama. Mark Price at Charlotte. Then there’s Mike Dunleavy at Tulane, Michael Curry at FAU, Isiah Thomas at FIU and Clyde Drexler at Houston.
Failures and more failures.
I could go on and on and on. Donyell Marshall at Central Connecticut, Terry Porter at Portland and Dan Majerle at Grand Canyon. Sure, Kevin Ollie won a title, but then he didn’t work hard enough on the recruiting trail and he was fired.
Most of these guys don’t understand how much more work it is to sit on the phone each and every night trying to persuade 17-year-old kids to join their program. Sure, there’s more travel in the NBA — but once you leave the facility, you can put your phone down and not have to look at it again.
“The NBA lifestyle and the college lifestyle are totally different,” said one coach who has experience in both the NBA and college.
In college basketball, it’s a 24/7 grind. And if you aren’t built that way, especially at a place like Indiana which is fighting from behind right now, you’ve got NO shot.
Fred Hoiberg caught lightning in a bottle at Iowa State with the start of the transfer craze, but it’s unlikely he’ll do anything close to the same at Nebraska, and other than the Big East tourney, Patrick Ewing has struggled for much of his four seasons at Georgetown.
Howard is unique because he’s both a name and a presence. He was a part of the Fab Five, and played in the NBA for nearly two decades. Recruits know who Juwan Howard is; They have no clue who Mike Woodson is.
Listen, I’ve heard great things about Woodson as a man. High-character. Other words I’ve heard in the last few hours to describe Woodson are “low-energy.”
I hope Woodson succeeds because college basketball is better off when Indiana is nationally relevant.
But he’s going to have a steep hill to climb. I’m not sure recruits, or even parents, in the state of Indiana know who Woodson is. Maybe grandparents.
The staff will be critical. Howard kept Saddi Washington from John Beilein’s staff, and Washington knew the recruiting landscape. Then Howard added veteran head coach Phil Martelli and brought one NBA guy: Howard Eisley. He also inherited two starters in Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske from a team that won 30 games, and two more key reserves in Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks.
Maybe Woodson can persuade a pair of former Hoosiers to join his staff. Go get one of Michigan State assistant Dane Fife or UCLA assistant Michael Lewis, and make sure you get another big-time recruiter. That would certainly give him a fighter’s chance.
What’s Woodson’s advantage over Howard?
He’s been a head coach in the NBA, and he had some success. The Atlanta Hawks reached the postseason in each of his final three seasons, and he won more games in 2012-13 than any Knicks coach since Jeff Van Gundy in 1997.
But it’s all about players in college, and if he doesn’t bring in guys who can recruit talent to Bloomington, the program will continue to struggle. This isn’t the Indiana program that Woodson left way back in 1980. Sure, there have been some upgrades in the last few years but the brand isn’t nearly as strong as it once was, and the fan expectations aren’t exactly in line with reality. Keep in mind that the Michigan brand is much stronger, Howard inherited enough talent to taste immediate success, and he was also familiar with the summer circuit from watching his sons — so he wasn’t a complete fish out of water.
High schoolers also don’t dream of playing at Indiana like they did during the Bob Knight regime. In fact, the Hoosiers often lose recruits to in-state rival Purdue these days.
I applaud Dolson, who was an Indiana manager for four years in the mid-1980s, for taking a cut at both Stevens and Holtmann (and likely a couple others that we never heard about). That’s exactly what he should have done.
But Howard has given new life to the former NBA player/coach hiring strategy, and most of the time, that plan has died quickly.