Being fired is inevitable in sports, fans are not patient when it comes to producing a winning product. Mediocrity is also tolerable for only so long in a state that identifies itself with basketball at the core of it's culture. But after just 4 seasons at the helm in Bloomington, Indiana Basketball parted ways with Archie Miller, prompting another search to redeem a program stuck in mediocrity.
It's hard to come up with an argument for how Miller could have been retained for next season with his tenure ending on a six game losing streak. Bringing Miller back would literally be the definition of insanity, doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Even if Miller managed to nab the last three Mr. Basketball award winners from the state, the results were understandably not enough to keep Indiana fans interested.
Even under the extenuating circumstances of COVID-19, Indiana's program could not keep Miller for another season knowing that their would only be incremental improvement at best compared to the previous three seasons. For a program that hasn't won a national championship since Ronald Reagan's second term, another reboot has become necessary in Bloomington. The tarnishing of Indiana basketball's prestige has been declining long before Miller's time though and it's key for the Hoosiers to stop what has become a revolving door of coaching changes.
While fans had grown tired of the Tom Crean era, where talent outweighed the importance of fit, Crean could have managed a .500 record with this roster at his disposal. Kelvin Sampson will lead Houston into the NCAA tournament this year, ironically playing his first contest at Assembly Hall due to COVID restrictions. Despite allegations of tampering with recruits during his time with the Hoosiers, Sampson has built the Cougars into a better program than before he got there. Mike Davis who led the Hoosiers to their last Final Four in 2002 could have managed to carry Indiana this far with the same set of circumstances.
The biggest problem isn't coaching, personnel, talent, fit, or development. What has been holding Indiana back from success is a fan base that becomes disgruntled at the first sign of trouble. Accountability and results are expected with any coach and group of talent, but for a fan base that never seems to be satisfied, it's hard to believe they will be content with the next hire. The truth is that Indiana Basketball has been mediocre for the better part of the last 30 years, holding onto a fading legacy that most fans in the next generation weren't even alive to see first hand.
The generation of folks ages 18 to 34 grew up watching Butler make two Final Four runs with Brad Stevens. This generation grew up watching Purdue win their last 9 games against Indiana. Maybe a former player like Dane Fife or Steve Alford can rebuild the culture in Bloomington, but Alford hasn't coached since being fired midseason at UCLA, a program in similar denial of it's former glory. Fife has found a comfortable gig under Tom Izzo without the pressure of blame from media or fans. Maybe a guy like Fife who played for Bobby Knight can save the program and make them competitive in a balanced Big Ten conference. But any kind of success tends to be overblown, while any failure is relentlessly criticized.
The sympathy for Miller should also be short lived too considering he will be paid $10.5 million to not coach next season. This is after Miller lost 12 of 13 games in regular season play two years ago. Only in sports can someone fail at their job and make that kind of living. Consider for a moment too this move was made with Indiana's athletic department already struggling to cover lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It won't be long before schools start printing money again in college sports, but Indiana Athletic Director Scott Dolson is paying a lot cash to start this thing over again. Just last week it was Dolson who agreed to extend Indiana football's Tom Allen after the best year in program history. Dolson as a former manager for Indiana Basketball knows the importance of this hire. He's also someone who was in charge of fundraising for Indiana's athletic department before becoming AD. If there is someone who can get checks written from alumni and friends of the program, it's Dolson.
But now the real challenge is cut out for Indiana Basketball, who will be the person tasked with trying to salvage a once storied program? Whoever it is better prepare themselves for the unending criticism they will receive from a bitter and frustrated fan base.
A fan base that has become predictable through every era, Davis, Sampson, Crean, and now Miller. Thoughts and prayers go out to the person who will be given the keys to this program, knowing at the first sign of trouble, it will turn ugly quick. Indiana Basketball has been wildly disappointing and mediocre, but this has been going on for the better part of the last three decades. Maybe it's time Indiana fans humble themselves and realize they should look internally instead of being this upset about a game. After all, it's not like Indiana has shown any kind of real championship pedigree recently. So for the good of everyone's mental health during an already challenging time, let's take pressure off this next regime. It's been a long time since Indiana has been a top tier program and it's about time their fans realize it.
Jimmy Kennedy, who is beyond tired of some Indiana Basketball fans and their naïve arrogance, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org