Is Indiana the best coaching job in the Big Ten?
I think not. True, it is one of the most storied programs in America, in an elite group of six or eight schools around the nation in terms of history.
But in the current world, I would rate the Hoosiers job no better than fifth in the Big Ten.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, after much speculation that sharp-shooting Hoosier legend Steve Alford might return to Bloomington, Dayton's Archie Miller was hired as the new IU coach.
Good move by the Hoosiers. Miller is an accomplished young coach who figures to restore Indiana to the championship-contender status it covets—in the Big Ten and nationally.
Second, my good friend Teddy Greenstein ranked the Big Ten jobs the other day in the Chicago Tribune, and he put the Indiana job at the top of the Big Ten totem pole.
The Tribune, as Midwesterners know, has billed itself as the ``World’s Greatest Newspaper’’ for a century. So we probably shouldn’t argue with the Big Ten coaching rankings of an authority like that.
But let’s do it, anyway.
Here’s why Indiana isn’t the best job in the league.
The Hoosiers have been very average, if not angst-ridden, for a quarter-century.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The end of the Bob Knight era was nothing special, and none of the coaches since then have distinguished themselves. Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean never won enough to suit IU’s vaunted fan base, and Sampson also brought shame along with losses.
That said, Archie Miller is the right choice to put Indiana back on top. The margin is very thin among the Big Ten's best schools. The right guy makes all the difference between glory and the middle of the pack.
So what makes a coaching job great in the Big Ten?
There is tradition, and Indiana obviously has that. There is the rabid fan base, and Indiana has that—but so do many other Big Ten schools. There is recruiting turf, and while IU has some of that, so do many other schools in the league.
Even in Bob Knight’s championship heyday, he drew from outside the Hoosier State. Chicago-area standouts Quinn Buckner and Isiah Thomas are just two examples.
Recruiting turf matters. But not as much as people think—not in basketball. Perennial powers Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina don’t limit themselves to geographical areas. Aspiring powers shouldn’t, either.
As for facilities, Indiana’s Assembly Hall is not a bad place. It has history and can be extremely loud.
If you tell me you love it there, I'm happy for you. But I find this 1971 arena kind of antiseptic—in a Three Rivers Stadium kind of way.
Then again, I’m not a huge fan of Illinois’ Assembly Hall, either. I respect that my Illini friends love it for the memories, and the '60s spaceship imagery. I thought it was great when I was 10. But in both buildings, the overall sightlines could be better. And I prefer other atmospheres.
If I can’t have old-school gyms like Minnesota’s Williams Arena or Philadelphia's Palestra or the Wisconsin Field House, then give me modern, state-of-the-art buildings like the ones at Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
More importantly, I think those four buildings are more attractive to modern recruits.
That’s one reason I would place those four jobs ahead of Indiana in my ranking of Big Ten jobs.
Another reason I would place those four jobs at the top of the Big Ten is their appeal to potential new coaches.
I don’t have strong feelings about ranking those four. They’re all about equal in my mind. But if forced, I’d keep them in alphabetical order.
Maryland is a job that has the rabid fan base, a great arena and fertile recruiting territory. It has a fine tradition that will improve as its Big Ten affiliation takes root.
Michigan State has the first three attributes. And I have no doubt that when Tom Izzo is finished, it will attract a top replacement, whether in-house or from afar.
Ohio State is in need of a slight revival, whether Thad Matta or the next guy does it. But it has all the ingredients. And Ohio State football helps the basketball cause.
With the transition from Bo Ryan to Greg Gard, Wisconsin has shown that it has staying power. It has the arena, the fan base and the blueprint moving forward. If it is short on recruiting turf, it also has shown that recruiting turf is not essential.
So let’s just keep them alphabetical.
I would put Indiana fifth. Michigan sixth, Illinois seventh, Purdue eighth, Iowa ninth and Minnesota 10th.
These are all razor-thin calls. Hiring the right coach makes all the difference.
Which is why I understand that coaches are worth the obscene amounts of money they receive even though those amounts make my stomach churn.
One huge factor in ranking coaches is who wants a school’s job.
Having covered Illinois for decades, I know a long list of coaches who have either turned down the job or shown no interest.
I also know that the last two Illinois coaches have been fired for under-performing. And the two coaches before them, Bill Self and Lon Kruger, left for greener pastures.
Other Big Ten schools have had even more tribulations with hiring—partly because of the attractiveness of their job, and partly because hiring a big-time basketball coach becomes even more of a crapshoot as you go down the program ladder.
One interesting program is Northwestern. With this breakthrough NCAA season, and a major arena renovation to be ready for the 2018-2019 season, the Wildcats obviously are on a huge upswing.
As long as Chris Collins stays, NU is in a great place. What happens if he receives an offer he can’t refuse? That’s the question.
Even if Collins left tomorrow, Northwestern is in a better place. Its next-coaching-hire potential already is dramatically improved, and so are its recruiting prospects.
The bottom rung of Big Ten basketball clearly is Rutgers, Penn State and Nebraska. I’ll put them in that order based mainly on recruiting-turf potential.
I will add that all three pretty much have the right guy in place.
With its hiring of Miller, Indiana ought to be a serious player again. Never mind where IU ranks. It has all the tools to know the kind of consistent success it hasn't seen since Bob Knight was winning three national championships.
The Big Ten is competitive enough now, however, that no one is likely to dominate. I expect Indiana to win. But I also believe it will have hands full in a tough league where no one school stays head-and-shoulders on top for long stretches.
At Illinois, the other Big Ten school changing coaches, Brad Underwood seems like a really good choice to hit the ground running. He uses an exciting uptempo offense, and he could have the talent to enjoy early success.
You just never know about high-level college-basketball coaching hires.[/membership]