After a 13-day search for its next head coach, Indiana has found a new leader for the men’s basketball program: a 63-year-old man without any college coaching or recruiting experience.
Enter IU legend Mike Woodson, who on Sunday made the decision to leave his job as an assistant with the New York Knicks to return to his alma mater and attempt to rescue the Hoosiers from Big Ten irrelevance.
It’s a daring, venturesome — and, in some respects, puzzling — move by first-year athletic director Scott Dolson, albeit one that could make IU one of the most fascinating programs to follow over the next few seasons. Staffing will be crucial with Woodson, who has not been involved in the college game since he graduated from Indiana in 1980. While it’s not yet clear where Woodson will turn to fill his three assistant coaching positions, he already has some behind-the-scenes assistance lined up. IndyStar’s Gregg Doyel reports that IU is also hiring former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta as its associate athletic director for men’s basketball administration. In other words, Matta won’t be able to recruit in such a position, but he will be able to serve as a sounding board and advisor as Woodson dives into the deep end of the NCAA pool.
At the very least, Indiana basketball should be interesting again.
“This is a great day and a great fit for Indiana Basketball,” Dolson said in a statement. “Throughout this process, I was looking for someone I could partner with to return Indiana Basketball to a level of success that Hoosier fans have come to know and expect, and Mike is that person.
“During the last two weeks, I have spoken with numerous individuals at the college and NBA levels, and they were unanimous in their support of and respect for Mike. From his ability in terms of X’s and O’s to his skill at building relationships and developing players, his reputation is outstanding. As a coach, he’s succeeded at the highest levels of the NBA, and he’s mentored some of the game’s all-time great players. On top of all of that, as one of our program’s legendary players, Mike certainly gives us a bridge to our past. But more important than what he did as a former Hoosier player, he’s someone who shares my vision for what Indiana Basketball is about, and I’m thrilled about what this day means for our program.”
Woodson has head coaching history with the Atlanta Hawks (2004 to 2010) and New York Knicks (2012 to 2014), along with assistant coaching experience with the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers. He won a title as an assistant with the Pistons in 2004.
Although Woodson posted a .463 winning percentage during his nine seasons as an NBA head coach, he took a Hawks team that went 13-69 in his first season to back-to-back Eastern Conference semifinals in 2009 and 2010. His 2012-13 Knicks team went 54-28 and won the Atlantic division title before falling to the Indiana Pacers in the conference semifinals.
According to research compiled by our own Andy Wittry last winter, there were 297 full-time head coaches in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC between the 1984-85 and 2019-20 seasons. None were older than 61 years old, making this a virtually unprecedented hire for Indiana.
A two-time All-American at Indiana, Woodson scored 2,062 points during his IU playing career, while averaging 19.8 points per game during his four-year run in Bloomington. The Broad Ripple product won the Big Ten MVP award in 1980 despite undergoing mid-season back surgery.