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Can Mike Woodson Find Success with the Indiana Hoosiers?

Indiana announced they have hired former Hoosier and current New York Knicks assistant Mike Woodson as its next coach. He will replace Archie Miller, who was fired earlier this month.

Woodson, 63, played for Indiana from 1976-80 under legendary coach Bob Knight. Woodson and the Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 in his senior season. He then played for over a decade in the NBA.

After finishing his career, Woodson coached in the league for more than two decades. As a professional head coach, he has amassed a 315-365 record, including his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks and Knicks. As the head coach in Atlanta for six seasons, the Hawks went 206-286. In each of his last two seasons, Atlanta won a playoff series under Woodson. With the Knicks, he led New York to the playoffs twice. When they missed the 2014 playoffs, Woodson was fired. He then jumped from team to team as an assistant head coach before coming back to the Knicks in September.

“I have spoken with numerous individuals at the college and NBA levels, and they were unanimous in their support of and respect for Mike,” said Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson. 

“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.”

Will Mike Woodson succeed?

The new Hoosiers head man certainly has quite the task in front of him. With lots of controversy around his name, Woodson has college basketball fans around the world speculating how well he can do with a program that’s in shambles. 

Many fans who see Woodson succeeding with the Hoosiers have backed their opinion on the example of Juwan Howard’s recent success with Michigan. After all, it seems to be a similar situation. In 2019, Howard was a former player coming back to his alma mater to coach college basketball with no experience coaching at the level. Despite lots skepticism, Juwan has gone beyond expectations so far, making many believe Woodson can also.

However, the situation is more different than many think. Coming into Michigan, Howard was 47, a young and up-and-coming head coach. Woodson, now at 63, finds himself in the later years of his coaching career. 

Another difference between the two coaches is what they were getting themselves into. Howard was put into good hands after replacing John Beilein — the program’s all-time winningest coach. Before Howard, Michigan basketball was thriving. In the past decade before Howard, the team got to two Final Fours and won four Big Ten tournament and regular-season titles. Indiana, on the other hand, is at one of their worst points in program history and has six players already in the transfer portal. Thrusting Woodson a challenge this heavy now at this stage of his career would still be an experiment and the Hoosiers would only have so much time to make it work.

Besides Howard, it’s rare for an NBA coach to do well as a college coach without any previous experience at that level. An example would include Mike Dunleavy, who won 613 games as an NBA head coach. Hired by Tulane, Dunleavy led the program to three losing seasons, going 24-69 overall, including losing his final 21 games. Former NBA player and coach Jerry Stackhouse is another example. Stackhouse served as an assistant for the Toronto Raptors in 2015-16, coached the team’s D-League team from 2016-18 winning the league title in 2016-17 then serving as an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies. Vanderbilt hired him in 2019 but has gone 11-21 and 9-16 in two seasons.

Woodson has had success in the NBA, but he still has a sub .500 career record as a head coach and he has been in the coaching business for 25 years without ever having had to recruit a single player. It’s an understatement when saying coaching Indiana will be a difficult task, however, it’s not impossible. With the right staff and recruiting, Woodson could possibly get this program back to what it was 30 years ago. 

 

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