KRAVITZ: Miller has the coaching chops and the personality to handle the IU expectations, madness

Then-Dayton coach Archie Miller calls out from the bench during a 2013 game against Illinois State. (AP Photo/ Stephen Haas, File)
Bob Kravitz
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - We know that Archie Miller can coach. The numbers, the honors, the awards are there. “Let me tell you something,’’ Thad Matta was saying, sitting on a beach someplace warm while talking about how his former Ohio State assistant, Miller, had just accepted the IU head coach job Saturday. “The man can absolutely coach his a** off. He was working in a big basketball state (Ohio) and all he did at Dayton was win, and that wasn’t by accident.’’

OK, we know that.

But what we don’t know, what I wanted to know from Matta, is whether Miller, a basketball lifer from a basketball family, has the thick-skinned personality necessary to deal with the unique madness that perpetually surrounds the Indiana University basketball program. You know, the message boards, the blogs, the massive amount of media coverage, the fan craziness. It was the noise that destroyed Mike Davis. And it was the noise that sometimes got under Tom Crean’s skin, although he unhooked from social media in 2014 and thus saved himself a lot of heartache.

“Let me put it this way,’’ Matta said. “Arch gets it. He totally gets it. Because he’s got this attitude, like `(bleep) you’ but he’s also got this great sense of humor. He understands it. He’s got a great vibe about him.…But as far as dealing with the stuff that comes with the Indiana job, he’s going to take the approach of `You can take your Internet and all your whatever and you can shove it up you’re a** and I’m going to do my job. I’m here to win games.’’’

I asked Chris Holtmann of Butler about Miller.

“Believe me, he knows what he’s getting into,’’ he said. “He’s a really good guy and a smart guy and I think he’ll handle all that stuff fine.’’

But let’s get back to the issues that really matter, like whether he can coach and whether he can recruit, because in the end, that’s the only thing that matters to a school that has designs on returning to the ranks of college basketball’s blue bloods.

Here’s the answer: Yes, he can.

And he is the solid – maybe not spectacular and eyebrow-raising like a Billy Donovan -- but the solid choice by IU athletic director Fred Glass. Nobody can deny, Miller is the preeminent young (38 years old) coach in the entire nation. What he’s done at Dayton since 2011 is nothing less than astonishing. After two years of rebuilding the program, and winning 20 and 17 games in the process, Dayton went 26-11 and reached the Elite Eight. One year later, they were 27-9 with a depleted team and nobody above 6-foot-6 and reached the third round. Then a 25-8 record and a first-round NCAA Tournament loss and a 24-8 mark and a first-round Tournament loss. He was 139-63 at Dayton, won the Atlantic-10 each of the last two years, and won several coaching awards.

To simplify it, he won 24 games or more his last four seasons and reached four straight NCAA Tournaments, the first time that’s been done in Dayton history.

Beyond that, he is known as a dogged recruiter who helped his brother, Sean, bring top-shelf recruiting classes to Arizona, worked with Matta to recruit for Ohio State and consistently filled his Dayton teams with some of the best talent in the conference.

I know, I know, there were a lot of folks (me-me-me) who wanted Billy Donovan, who was always a long shot, at best, to leave Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. There were a lot of folks, mostly older Hoosiers fans, who fell in love with the idea of the return of the prodigal son, Steve Alford. But in more than two decades of coaching college basketball, Alford has never taken a team beyond the Sweet Sixteen. And as a father of daughters – shoot, as a human being – I remain hugely uncomfortable with the way Alford handled the Pierre Pierce sexual assault situation 15 years ago at Iowa. In my view, Alford wouldn’t have qualified to lead IU if he wasn’t one of the program’s greatest players and one of the state’s preeminent legends.

I could have handled Gregg Marshall – although I’m not entirely sure about his boisterous wife.

I could have handled Chris Mack, who has Xavier in the Elite Eight against Gonzaga.

I could have handled Holtmann, although it would have been a sad day for Butler.

I am overjoyed, though, that IU went after Miller and got their man. Miller has been waiting for this opportunity his entire coaching life, having turned down several power-conference jobs over the years to stay at Dayton. But when IU calls – IU, the sleeping giant, the school with almost unlimited cash and support unlike any school in the college game – you don't say no.

Look at what Miller did at Dayton and then ask yourself: What could he do at IU? I’m saying he can do a lot. He can win conference championships. He can return IU to the ranks as a consistent national powerhouse. If everything falls right, he can raise a sixth banner inside Assembly Hall. Or even more.

“Awful hire,’’ joked Matta, who didn’t know about the hiring until I told him. “Terrible. Worst hire I’ve ever seen. No…Arch is the best. He’s a total basketball guy. You go back to his dad, John, his brother, Arch is one of these guys, he’s a non-nonsense basketball guy. With that said, you’ll find this out about him: He’s got a great personality. He gets it. He’s always been one of my favorites.

“As a coach, he really knows the game. He’s a guy who played it at the highest level at North Carolina State. He’s got great knowledge of the game, the ability to relate to players, recruit players, all that stuff is top shelf. You look at his teams, you seen toughness, competitiveness, his teams are going to be skilled, they’ll play defense and they’ll play as hard as they can. You can talk about all the X’s and O’s, but we both know, the guy with the best players wins. And he can recruit.’’

A new era – a new and exciting era – begins.

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