BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As introductory press conferences go, this was closer to a coaching clinic than a pep rally. That is the man Indiana hired when it chose Archie Miller as its next men's basketball coach. And that is exactly the man Indiana needs.
Miller spoke for a few minutes after being introduced by athletic director Fred Glass to a standing ovation before a few thousand Hoosiers fans assembled at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Then he answered media questions for another 20 minutes or so.
Throughout that period, his preternatural intensity made itself obvious to everyone in attendance. He responded to questions directly, firmly without any hint of political bombast.
DeCOURCY: Miller was destined to join Hoosiers
Perhaps the most fascinating moment occurred when Miller was asked a wonky question about how he prefers to manage the number of scholarship players on the roster, whether to fill all 13 allotted to Division I teams or hold some in reserve should late recruits ortransfers become available. It was the kind of question Arch might bat round with his brother Sean, the coach at Arizona, and his father, John, one of the great high school coaches in Pennsylvania history. Clearly it energized him.
As he spoke about how he would make Hoosiers fans delighted he had been hired to coach their favorite basketball team, many unsurprising themes were woven into the presentation: toughness, outworking the opposition and, above all, putting the Indiana back in Indiana basketball.
All the former IU players who first campaigned — given those involved, it was more like insisted — for a former IU player to be presented with the job were correct that the program had been disconnected from one of its two most precious resources: the in-state talent base that has served the Hoosiers so well over the years.
The Hoosiers alumni watched as such players as Zak Irvin, Gary Harris, Trevon Bluiett, Mitch McGary and so many others chose to go elsewhere while IU went scouring the nation in search of another Victor Oladipo miracle. They declared that only a Hoosier could rectify that. They were the ones, though, who were underestimating the power of the Indiana brand. So long as an excellent coach arrived with an understanding of the in-state talent’s value, and its importance to the program, he and his staff certainly could manage it properly. Miller went through it when he went to Arizona in 2009 as his brother’s top assistant, and the two of them built the foundation of the program that this season won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament championships.
“The reason I’m here, and I really believe this, is the state of Indiana,” Miller said. For all the interest from major-conference programs his four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 2014 Elite Eight run generated, he insisted that “I never talked to one school in my six years at the University of Dayton, other than Indiana University. I think that speaks sort of volumes about the power of the brand of basketball.
"I’m a basketball guy. I love the Big Ten. I think it’s excellent: the best coaches, the best road venues in college basketball. In my time in the league, I was blown away by this place the most. Really, my last impression here was nine years ago, coach (Tom) Crean’s first year, when things weren’t off to a good start, he inherited something that wasn’t very easy to take over. And I remember being in here and feeling the power of this building on that team, and I left saying, ‘I wonder what it’s like in there when they’re really good.’”
It is reasonable to expect that will happen under Miller. He promised to build Indiana’s recruiting from the inside out, concentrating first on the players in state and determining which, if any, fit the program, then searching elsewhere when possible or necessary. “I’ve had a couple instances to recruit the state in my time all over different parts of my journey. Any time I ever went in or out, I always got the same feeling of, ‘That is a high-level operation going on in there.’ We don’t expect anything. We’re going to have to earn it all.”
The second most precious resource of Indiana basketball is the phenomenal statewide support. There are other great programs here, from Purdue to Butler to Notre Dame, as well as mid-majors such as Valparaisoand Indiana State. But it is first the Hoosier state.
It is much different than Dayton, which owns perhaps the most loyal fan base in all of college sports. I know this because I saw crowds of 11,000 and 12,000 in the mid-1990s for teams that won four games and six games in consecutive seasons. They haven’t had to prove they’re still that loyal because Miller was so successful.
Indiana’s fans have not enjoyed a comfortable relationship with their head basketball coach for more than two decades. However great the best times were, the last several years under Bob Knight were a challenge for all but the most zealous supporters. Replacing him has gone poorly in so many ways that it no longer is productive to recount. But now it’s gone beautifully.
The spectacle of being introduced as head coach before an audience in one of the game’s great cathedrals was not lost on Miller.
"This is almost, I don't want to say too much right now, but it's eye-opening," Miller said. "I can feel where you're at."
There are colleges where a coaching search can be as much about hiring a standup comedian or a politician as a basketball coach. That’s not what happened here. Glass obviously understood the objective: If there is any fan base that can embrace a basketball coach merely for being a coach, it is located in the state where Norman Dale, however fictional he is, became an icon.
Archie Miller will talk ball with his Hoosiers. That is what wins a press conference at IU.