BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) - Somebody should have told Archie Miller he didn't have a game to coach Monday. The reason I say that is, he had his game face on throughout his introductory press conference at Assembly Hall, his face pinched, his words precise and to the point, all business and no nonsense. Even when Miller walked in the building to the raucous applause of fans that joined the press conference, he remained stoic, serious as a heart attack, a smile never threatening to crease his lips.
I asked Fred Glass, IU's athletic director, if Miller ever cracked a smile during the time they met in advance of his hiring, which became official Saturday afternoon.
He paused, one of those rare moments when Glass is at a loss for words.
"Well, I spoke to (school president) Dr. (Michael) McRobbie after he spoke to Archie," Glass said. "And he said" – Glass adopted an Aussie accent – "'My, he's quite precise with his lexicon.'"
If you came to Assembly Hall expecting a dog and pony show, you left terribly disappointed. (This is not a shot at Tom Crean, not in the least, but I recall how he showed up with "Crean and Crimson" t-shirts). No t-shirts with Miller, no "Miller Time" incantations, no messing around. Just quiet but palpable intensity. Even when he tried to make a bit of a joke, telling the assembled players they need to be in Cook Hall "24 hours, seven days a week," the players squirmed uneasily and wondered if he might not be serious.
"That's Archie, always serious," said his mother, Barb, who was watching the press conference from her home in Beaver Falls, Pa. "And I'm sure he was very nervous. I'm sure in a couple of weeks, he'll be more relaxed."
"It brought tears to my eyes, though," she said of watching the press conference.
I don't know if Miller won the press conference – does it matter? – but there's every reason to believe he's going to win basketball games, lots of basketball games, win those games with real-life student athletes who go to class, and that's ultimately all that matters to anybody. In Miller, IU is getting a hoops lifer, one who closely identifies with the basketball mania that infuses our state. He was an overachiever as a 5-foot-9-inch guard at North Carolina State, and has been overachieving ever since.
"The reason I'm here, and I really believe this, is the state of Indiana," Miller said. "You know, the state of Indiana in many ways is me. It's how I grew up. You know, I'm from Beaver Falls, Pa., right outside of Pittsburgh, and I'm the son of a coach who sat around all day long with a ball in his hands from about five or six years old, and the only thing that was ever preached to me was, 'You have to outwork everyone. You have to be the hardest-working person or player every day.'
"…You know, Quinn Buckner told me on the phone the other day, he use the term 'OKP' – our kind of people…"
As you know by now, Miller is not from Indiana. He didn't play at Indiana, didn't coach at Indiana, although I'm guessing he's driven through Indiana several hundred times. He is not, to paraphrase Glass, a double-check-plus, whatever that's supposed to mean.
Which raises this question:
Are we really so provincial, so small-minded, that we can't comprehend the idea that somebody from outside the state's borders might have massive success here? What is it? Arrogance? Hoosier exceptionalism? Seriously, why does geography matter so much to people?
Bob Knight, he came here from Ohio and Army. Mike Krzyzewski, he went to Duke from Chicago and Army. John Wooden, the coach of the legendary UCLA teams, he was born and raised in Indiana, several thousand miles from Westwood.
Either you can recruit and coach or you can't recruit and coach, and Miller has established in a very short time that he can recruit and coach. Miller knows the score, knows what Glass expects: He wants Big Ten titles. He wants deep NCAA Tournament victories. And he wants at least one more of those banners that hung tauntingly over Miller's shoulders, the five championship banners from 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987. It's been 30 years. Glass is done waiting.
"I was at a special place (the University of Dayton) and I never talked to one school in my six years (there) other than Indiana," Miller said. "I think that speaks volumes about the power of the brand of basketball. I'm a basketball guy. I love the Big Ten. I think it's an excellent league with the best coaches, the best road venues in college basketball, and in my time in this league (as an assistant coach for Thad Matta at Ohio State), I was blown away.
"I was blown away by this place the most, though, my first instance here, or really my lasting impression here was nine years ago in coach (Tom) Crean's first year when things weren't off to a good start. He had inherited something that wasn't very easy to take over. 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.' I've always come back to that."
Miller said all the right things, the most important being that he's going to recruit "inside-out," meaning he will concentrate on owning the state of Indiana while continuing to recruit top players within the Midwest and all over the country, wherever they happen to reside.
And he's got to win. Maybe not right away, not with the possibility (likelihood) that Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon, Jr. will be leaving, but he's got to win sooner rather than later, and he's got to sustain that success. You heard Glass the day he fired Crean, a move some of us disagreed with from the start: He wants banners. Miller wants them, too, and will have plenty of time, having been given a seven-year deal that averages $3.35 million per year.
"I don't think you come to Indiana if you don't want to live in the neighborhood," he said, answering a question about the school's lofty expectations. "If you don't want to move into that neighborhood, then you shouldn't be here. If you like the neighborhood, then you come…Expectations are set high, and they are very achievable."
And if they achieve the achievable, if they return to the heights IU once knew back in the day, we might even see something from Miller we haven't yet seen: