It’s time we discussed Dane Fife as an IU coaching candidate.
Originally, I wasn’t sure if he merited consideration, but after further research, and Fred Glass’s “double-check-plus” comment about Indiana alums being considered for the job, I think it’s fair to discuss his credentials.
A native of Clarkston, Michigan, where he was Michigan Mr. Basketball in high school, Dane Fife played at Indiana University between 1998-2002. Of course, this means that he was recruited by Bob Knight, but Fife stuck around IU after Knight’s firing to play for Mike Davis for two years. During his senior year, he was a starter for the Indiana team that reached the title game in 2002, and DEFINITELY DID NOT FOUL JASON WILLIAMS at the end of that Duke Sweet 16 game. After graduating, Fife was an assistant under Davis for two years.
Then in 2005, at age 26, Fife was given the keys to a burgeoning IPFW program. At the time, the Mastodons had recently gone through a transition from D-2 to D-1, and were struggling to gain footing against tougher opponents. Fife led the Mastodons into solid footing as part of the Summit League, where they still play today. Fife did a respectable job in his six seasons as IPFW coach, finishing 82-97 overall for a team that had never won more than 10 games in D-1 prior to his arrival, and had a winning record in conference play.
In 2011, however, Tom Izzo recruited him to be an assistant at Michigan State, where he remains today. At MSU, Fife has been critical in getting recruits from the Hoosier State to play for Izzo, most notably including former Indiana Mr. Basketball Gary Harris, and current McDonald’s All-American Jaren Jackson, who starts in East Lansing in the fall.
Dane Fife has proven to possess the recruiting chops, and has been a head coach in Indiana before. But at age 37, he’s still young and relatively unproven. Hiring an IU legend like Fife would be high risk/high reward, but would Fred Glass really pull the trigger?
WHY HE FITS
An “Indiana Guy” who isn’t morally objectionable. Look, I’ve made my case on Steve Alford being unhireable at IU loud and clear. If the IU factor is as important as it seems, Fife could be a decent candidate. He’s proven he can recruit the state, he has experience under the Dean of B1G coaches in Izzo, and has been a head coach in the Hoosier State before. Sure, it’s a risk, but sometimes you have to roll the dice.
His enthusiasm would be infectious. Fife isn’t openly begging for the job, but you can tell he’s interested:
Putting a young guy like Fife in charge could bring a bolt of new energy to Bloomington. Ideally, he’d get younger guys excited to play at IU without ticking off the old guard of Knight loyalists. If it all works, Fife could provide unity to a fractured fanbase.
WHY HE DOESN’T FIT
Lack of experience. Yep, this is the big red flag for Fife. Maybe if he had been successful as a head coach in the Valley or the MAC recently, I’d be more ready for the Dane Train to leave the station. He hasn’t been a head coach for six years now, and was under-.500 during his time in Fort Wayne. I’m afraid that Fife might be over his head at his alma mater
Another Izzo assistant. Tom Crean started his career as an Izzo assistant in East Lansing. The main difference, however, is that Crean had a gig at Marquette for a decade before coming to IU. In that time, he recruited Dwyane Wade to Milwaukee, got Marquette to a Final Four, and was critical in getting the school from C-USA to the Big East in 2006. While MSU has made a Final Four with Fife at the school, the Hoosiers would be making a much bigger leap of faith with Fife than they did with Crean 9 years ago.
Fife may be better in theory than in practice for IU. I’ve become more open to the idea recently, and I think Fred Glass should certainly extend an interview. But at the end of the day, I still think that there are more qualified candidates out there. IU fans were patient with Tom Crean during his first few years. While the program is in much better shape than it was 9 years ago, Hoosiers fans might still need to be patient with Fife as he learns to navigate coaching a big-time college program. And if Crean’s firing indicates one thing, it’s that IU fans don’t necessarily want to wait any longer before they are a winning program again.