Legendary IU basketball coach Bob Knight returned to Assembly Hall in February 2020 for the first time since he was fired two decades before.
Legendary IU basketball coach Bob Knight returned to Assembly Hall in February 2020 for the first time since he was fired two decades before.

EVANSVILLE - Indiana University formally announced on Monday that it parted ways with men’s basketball coach Archie Miller. Miller’s tenure ends after four lackluster years with no tournament appearances, a 33-44 conference record, and zero victories against Purdue. IU and Athletic Director Scott Dolson now embark on a critical coach search.

No state population identifies itself more with basketball than Indiana. We take for granted that garages serve as backboards. Here, a home without a basketball goal is not really home. California has wineries; Las Vegas has its casinos; in Texas, there are Friday night football lights.

But in Indiana, we connect through our gyms and basketball goals — some hung religiously at Assembly Hall and others hung simply on the side of a barn. For Hoosiers, the sport carries a deeper, almost spiritual element.

Plenty of other places possess basketball traditions — Kentucky, Kansas, Tobacco Road, to name a few. But in most places the devotion to the sport starts with the state university’s team. In Indiana, by contrast, the love affair starts as a grassroots passion that builds up from there. That is why 11 of the nation’s 12 largest high school gyms reside in the state. That is why pickup games permeate all regions, from suburban driveways to farm haylofts to inner city blacktops. Hoosier culture is wedded to basketball.

In other words, Indiana basketball is far bigger than Indiana University. But IU still matters, not only for alumni like me, but for all of us who recognize IU is an important ambassador of our state’s culture and what it means to be a Hoosier. Those who have never lived here may not understand our basketball obsession, and that is OK, but they do see IU and occasionally view our culture through that lens.  

That is why the next IU basketball coach needs to do more than simply win, though that ought to be a major priority for a club that has languished in mediocrity for nearly two decades. In the words of AD Scott Dolson, the next coach must also, “reestablish the brand and national presence of Indiana Basketball.”

Part of that involves representing the very best of who we are as Hoosiers. We take pride in the little things. We care whether the coach is running man-to-man defense or a zone. We care what type of offense he employs. The coach may certainly employ whatever offense or defense he or she deems necessary to win, but there must be well-grounded thought and strategy behind it that pays dividends.

We like that player jerseys only have the team name and not individual names on them. We take pride in the sacred, sanctuary-like feeling of Assembly Hall. We even care about particular cheers done during timeouts, especially one set to the William Tell Overture.

When the Hoosiers suffered the shame and stain of NCAA sanctions over a decade ago, the entire state suffered along with them. We certainly expect more wins, better tactics with the Xs and Os, and more championships. We want confidence that out-of-timeout plays will be successful. We want someone with an intelligent, purposeful approach to their basketball philosophy. But we also want someone who embraces what it means to be a Hoosier. 

Claybourn is an Evansville attorney and author.