The idea started, as most good things do, with a late night discussion with someone who I've never met in person, but know as verbosedutch over on OTE. The discussion had turned to basketball season approaching (though some want to believe it's already here), and to the throughly covered suspensions of the Hoosiers. My comment that the suspensions would be over soon since they included our exhibition games prompted this response:
My comeback suggested a possibility that, to my knowledge, has not received terribly strong consideration among large portions of the Hoosier Nation for some reason or another. While many people are convinced that Tom Crean is not going to be the coach of the Hoosiers long term, most of their thoughts as to a replacement drift East towards Brad Stevens, currently occupied coaching the Celtics, or possibly West, to former IU star Steve Alford (cue Iowa fans shuddering), presently the coach at UCLA.
A name that doesn't seem to be on a whole lot of lips is that of former IU stalwart Dane Fife, currently an assistant coach under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. With all the recent talk of "understanding tradition" at Indiana, getting a former player back to coach the program might be just the force needed to satisfy whatever expectations such a discussion will bring. And getting a coach who played on IU's only Final Four team this millennium might provide a boost to get back to those lofty heights.
There are two major obstacles to putting such a plan in place. The first, as I briefly mentioned, is the looming specter of "When will Steve Alford come back to his alma mater?" There certainly exists a portion of the fanbase who will not rest until Steve is prowling the sidelines of Assembly Hall, and will do whatever it takes to get him there some day. However, despite his fairly gaudy coaching record (489-242 lifetime), his greatest achievement as a coach is probably either a Sweet Sixteen (his last year at Missouri State, his first year at UCLA) or a Division III runner up (his final year at Manchester). In 8 years at Iowa, he made three NCAA tournament appearances, and only one of those teams made it to the round of 32 (back when that was still considered the "second round" by the NCAA). Those are fine accomplishments, but no less a coach than one Thomas Aaron Crean has made 4 trips to the round of 32 and beyond. Consider me unimpressed with Alford in the grand scheme of things.
(A brief interlude: No, Dane Fife has never coached a team to any NCAA tournament appearance. That said, IPFW has never been to the NCAAs in their brief history as a Division I school, and Fife led them to their first double digit win season in D1 in his first year as coach. He would go on to lead them to their first two winning records in D1 before moving on to MSU. Again, all of this at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.)
The second major obstacle, and the reason I'm not advocating hiring Dane right this minute, is that he's only been at Michigan State for a little over three and a half years. As verbosedutch would mention a bit later in our conversation, he's not had great success bringing recruits into the program in East Lansing. There's probably still more he can learn from Tom Izzo, who is one of best basketball coaches in the Big Ten right now, if not the best, and arguably one of the B1G's best all time. If we give him another couple years, he can further develop as a coach and maybe as a recruiter (if not, it's conceivable he'd be able to find some assistant coaches who could), and give us more time to think about the Crean situation (as well as lower his buyout a bit should that be needed).
This article is not advocating the immediate departure of Coach Crean, nor the immediate pursuit of Dane Fife to replace him. My hope is that it will, if nothing else, stimulate some discussion on the idea I presented, and give people another option to consider. And if it turns out that this is something people like and the university agrees with, should we find ourselves greeting the 2016-17 Indiana Hoosiers and their coach in his first season at Indiana, Dane Fife, you can say you heard it here first. Until then, this is all speculation and simply the result of a late night moment of clarity.