Conversations about Indiana Basketball remains the same. The Hoosiers are underachieving. The cause is debated on message boards and sports bars.
Some Indiana fans, tired of the entrenched mediocrity, believe coach Archie Miller is the cause and want him fired. Others believe five years is the minimum a coach needs to build a roster that reflects his culture, and Miller deserves that amount of time to establish his culture.
Many point to coaches like Louisville’s Chris Mack, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann and Butler’s LaVall Jordan as examples of coaches who took over a program and achieved success well inside that five-year window. They believe patience is wasted because of their ability to win quickly.
I’m more pragmatic.
The reality is that outgoing athletic director Fred Glass will not fire Miller at the end of this season – period. If Indiana goes 1-19 in the Big 10, Glass won’t fire Miller. The new AD is not going to fire Miller as one of his first acts. That means Miller will be Indiana’s coach until March, 2021, at the minimum, so IU fans need to marshal all resources behind helping Miller be the best coach he can be for as long as he is at IU.
That means empowering him to accelerate the cultural development. Miller’s efforts to maintain continuity as he rebuilt after Tom Crean’s firing were laudable, but Crean’s lack of understanding that talent without culture yields uneven results continues to plague Indiana 33 months after he drove to the airport instead of the meeting where he would have been canned.
Miller admitted after the loss to Arkansas that a lack of control over his Hoosiers has been problematic, “There were a few times we called the play, (and) we didn’t execute the play.” No basketball team can function successfully without players listening to a respecting the coach, and Miller needs to exert consequences that compel players to play as they are directed.
Fans need to support Miller at a level that allows Miller the latitude to do what is necessary to gain his roster’s attention. If that means a talented player transfers, that’s the way it goes. If it means a talented player sits, good. If that means Indiana takes a loss now to win later, that needs to be celebrated, not criticized.
Miller needs to control the team instead of hoping they succeed by wildcatting. Sure, a team can win by being more talented, but the Hoosiers aren’t close enough in talent to compete consistently with Kentucky, Duke or the other blue bloods. Indiana needs to out-execute to win, and if they are not running the plays as called, how can they out-execute?
There is some good under Miller at Indiana. The recruiting has been exactly what Indiana needs as the culture shifts away from Crean’s East Coast focus. Miller has done a great job establishing relationships in Indiana and getting the state’s best talent to commit to the rebuild. The last two Mr. Basketballs have come to IU, and they have Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway on the way this summer. The 2021 class will be crucial for Miller with Caleb Furst, Khristian Lander and Trey Kaufman among home state targets.
I don’t know whether Miller underestimates the Indiana fan base’s willingness to accommodate attention-getting measures he might take to get his third Indiana team to do the right thing offensively and play connected basketball on the defensive end, but the time has come for the dog to start wagging the tail at Assembly Hall rather than the other way around.
Indiana fans are willing to be patient if there are signs of growth in understanding the game. When IU players show they care more about their teammates than their individual agendas, IU fans will get behind Miller with enthusiasm.
The key to making that happen might be a healthy dose of presumptive support and positive energy.