by Kent Sterling
I tweeted during the Texas Southern play-in loss that coach former Hoosiers coach and current Texas Southern leader Mike Davis is to basketball coaches as Jimmy Carter is to U.S. presidents. For the next hour, people offered additional parallels, and thus the birth of this post.
Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, durations, and volumes. Some are prickly, some demure, and others volatile. Not all are successful, and like presidents, not all who are unsuccessful should be blamed for the performance of the entity they oversee. Some last a long time, and others serve all too briefly.
We will omit most coaches prior to Everett Dean because who wants to read about which president is most like Phelps Darby or Ewald Stiehm.
Oscar Rackle is the one pre-Dean coach we indulge in this list, and not for his personality, stature, or 11-5 record during the 1911 season. His only notability comes from how unique his name is, which is a direct parallel to Millard Fillmore. I know nothing of Rackle and a coach, nor Fillmore as a president. Other than their names, both served without distinction or awareness that someday wikipedia would exist to list their accomplishments.
Everett Dean – Dean is most like Herbert Hoover, whom ironically was president while Dean was coach. Dean’s best work came after his time at IU, and Hoover was a stellar former president. Dean both won an NCAA Championship while at Stanford and led the Cardinal baseball team to the College World Series. Hoover did yeoman work in fighting hunger. I’m amazed I know enough to draw any comparison at all between the two.
Branch McCracken – Dean called McCracken “Rough and tough”. Teddy Roosevelt was the leader of the Roughriders. Both were big men, with large appetites for life. Roosevelt famously said “Speak softly and carry a big stick!” McCracken said, “We win games, or we lose games.” You might think those quotes seemingly have nothing to do with one another, and you would be right.
Lou Watson (1965-1971) – Take your pick – Gerald Ford, Calvin Coolidge, or Benjamin Harrison. Little is known about any of the four.
Bob Knight (1971-2000) – A more apt comparison for Knight might be Ivan the Terrible – whose hygiene and temper were objects of derision (at least behind his back). Other than that, he was said to be a good czar who propelled Russia to great heights. The best comparison for four reasons is Franklin Roosevelt. #1 – both have been elevated to near saint status by the insane, #2 – both tried in vain to change rules to suit their own selfish needs, #3 – Knight refuses to talk about the famous episode when he threw a chair near an opposing player, while Roosevelt hid the fact that he was confined to one, #4 – Knight will hate being compared to FDR.
Mike Davis (2000-2006) – No Indiana coach in history more recalls the malaise filled single-term administration of Jimmy Carter. Davis was a purposefully corrosive agent to Indiana fans, and Carter scolded the American public during a televised address. Both were consistently certain they were plotting a positive course while steering their respective ships in circles. While the economy was in the tank during the late 1970s, Carter blamed the consumerism of his constituents. Davis continued to ensure “Help is on the way!” during his final seasons.
Kelvin Sampson (2006-2008) – This is the easiest of all as Sampson demonstration a toxic level of both hubris and insecurity shared by only one president – Richard Nixon. Both were staunch supporters of the ends justifying the means, and both were run out of office. The aftermath of the Nixon and Sampson eras were among the bleakest in their entities’ histories. Some say America has yet to recover from the damage done by Nixon and his henchmen. The same can be said for Indiana Basketball. Throw in the uncanny similarities between Watergate conspirator and Nixon counsel John Ehrichman and Sampson lackey Rob Senderoff, and this comparison is remarkable.
Dan Dakich (2008) – Because of his short duration, Dan is most like William Henry Harrison who died after only 41 days in office. Dan was the head coach at IU for only seven games, but was instrumental in ridding the program of the nefarious elements welcomed by “Tricky” Kelvin. Whether WHH or Dan would have been huge successes in the positions in which they served so briefly is anyone’s guess. My guess is that Dan would have been outstanding. Very few coaches understand basketball or people at the level Dan does.
Tom Crean (2008- ?) – Both Crean and Woodrow Wilson are fans of fashionable eyewear, work(ed) tirelessly, hold their own abilities to lead in high regard, and married strong wives. Wilson was known to enjoy a daily brisk walk, and Crean logs several miles per game pacing on the sidelines. After a stroke, Wilson’s wife led the country in her husband’s stead. I have little doubt that if bloodlines are meaningful that Crean’s wife Joani could lead the Hoosiers. She, of course, is the sister of NFL head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh, and the daughter of Jack, who coached football for many years.