Media & Marketing and Sports Business

SPORTS: IU doesn't have to hire from the 'family,' but it will

February 27, 2006

There will be no shortage of worthy successors to Mike Davis as the head basketball coach at I.U.

Rick Majerus? I love Rick Majerus. He's the absolute basketballjunkie with nothing like a wife, family or even a home to distract him from the job. He's a tremendous motivator and strategist.

But he's also a guy who's had heart problems and I worry if he could survive the stress-not from coaching, but from being within an hour's drive of Iaria's.

Thad Matta? I love Thad Matta. From Butler to Xavier to Ohio State to the nation's toprated incoming recruiting class in the last six years, Matta isn't just climbing the ladder, he's got a rocket-pack strapped to his back. But timing is everything, and Matta would be nuts to say Goodbye, Columbus, even if he did once say IU was his dream job.

Kevin Stallings? I love Kevin Stallings, and you can bet IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan loves Kevin Stallings, too, since he hired him at Illinois State a few years back. Stallings is doing great things at Vanderbilt, which isn't easy. But c'mon, a Boilermaker is not going to coach Indiana men's basketball, even if former Purdue star Sharon Versyp is doing an excellent job with the IU women.

There's also Marquette's Tom Crean. Gonzaga's Mark Few. Wake Forest's Skip Prosser. All excellent candidates. And I could go on and on.

But there's no need.

Because if it goes down like it should, Indiana's search should be as orderly, precise and successful as that free throw routine you may recall.

Remember?

Shoes. Socks. Shorts. Dribble. Dribble. Dribble.

Swish.

Steve Alford and his alma mater, Indiana University, are the perfect fit.

And this is-at last-the perfect time for Alford to come home. Where he belongs.

Sure, the speculation and the questioning that began the nanosecond after Davis' resignation make Alford uncomfortable. And as the media unsuccessfully tries to chip away for hints at his innermost thoughts, he can offer no right answer beyond the one he is giving, which is his mantra that all his focus is on getting his current team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, a Big Ten championship and then getting them ready for the NCAA Tournament.

Greenspan, meanwhile, is way too smart to turn his search for Davis' successor into a public one.

That's what the rest of us are here for.

Now you may recall that I wrote last week that I disagreed with Davis' statement that IU basketball needed to be led by one of its own.

I still think that's nonsense.

Unless Alford's ready, willing and available.

If so, it's got to be his job to turn down. I know that. You know that. He knows that. Greenspan and Iowa's athletic director, Bob Bowlsby, know that.

There is only one Steve Alford. Born in Franklin. Son of a coach. Raised in New Castle. Single-game scoring record (57) in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Mr. Basketball. Olympic gold medalist. Captain of the Hoosiers. National Champion. And hardened into steel by the furnace that was Bob Knight.

Yes, the folks in Iowa are divided on Alford. His road there has had its share of bumps. He hasn't had that one or two really big seasons-no Big Ten titles, no Final Fours-that would force his critics to cut him some slack. And his overall record in the Big Ten is sub.-500. Figures don't lie.

But that doesn't mean Alford can't be a great coach in the right situation, and that's Indiana.

His name still deeply resonates with the high school coaches in the state. It certainly resonates with most of the IU family-its alumni, donors and fans ... even the students, who were being born as Alford was slipping on a championship ring.

Alford could unify a Hoosier house that's been too long divided. He couldn't have done it as Knight's successor. There had to be a middle man, and that was Mike Davis.

Now is the time. Yes, the skeptics can and will make the point that Alford hasn't succeeded at a high level at Iowa. I say that's because it's Alford and Iowa. A good fit, yes. But not even close to Alford and IU.

Besides, he's always looked out of place in black and gold. Cream and crimson await. Imagine Alford in those colors walking out into Assembly Hall.

Home again.

For the next six weeks or so, we'll do the dance. But when the music ends, it has to be Steve Alford.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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