Hoosiers bring back former star player Woodson as coach
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mike Woodson won one Big Ten title and one NIT championship while playing for Bob Knight.
He’s hoping to celebrate a lot more frequently at his alma mater over the next several years.
Indiana hired the former star player as its new coach Sunday, issuing a four-word statement on Twitter — “Welcome home, Coach Woodson” — before the formal announcement.
Woodson returned to the New York Knicks as an assistant this season after previously serving as New York’s head coach for a little more than two seasons. He was expected to meet with his new players Sunday evening and will be introduced Monday.
“I have spoken with numerous individuals at the college and NBA levels, and they were unanimous in their support of and respect for Mike,” athletic director Scott Dolson said. “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.”
The 63-year-old Indianapolis native was a college star, finishing his playing career as the second-leading scorer in Hoosiers history. After graduating in 1980, he went to play in the NBA and then spent his entire coaching career at the professional level. In nine seasons as coach, most of those with the Atlanta Hawks, Woodson went 315-365.
“We know it is a very special opportunity for Mike to return to his alma mater as head coach and wish him the very best,” Knicks president Leon Rose said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Woody had a great impact on our team’s play and culture this season and he will be missed.”
Woodson becomes the first Indiana alum hired as head coach since Lou Watson replaced Branch McCracken in 1965. Dan Dakich, who also played for Knight and is now a radio personality and color commentator on ESPN, was interim coach for seven games in 2008 after Kelvin Sampson was fired.
Woodson is the second Black coach and third minority to lead the program, after Mike Davis, Knight’s successor, and Sampson, who is Native American. He becomes one of 14 Black coaches in the Power Five and Big East conferences, a group that includes other NBA stalwarts in Juwan Howard (Michigan) and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown).
Reaction to the hiring was positive from those closest to the program.
“I love it. Woody is a proven coach,” former Indiana and New York Knicks star Jared Jeffries said. “He did an amazing job with our Knicks team. One of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Most of all, understands our school better than anyone.”
Dolson may have telegraphed the move when he announced March 15 that Archie Miller had been fired after four mediocre seasons. In explaining what he was seeking in a coach, Dolson told reporters he wanted an updated offense that appealed to recruits and college players who hoped to play in the NBA.
Another attractive attribute is Woodson’s history of mentoring top players. During his NBA career, he’s worked with more than two dozen All-Stars. Fans have complained loudly about player development through most of the 21-year post-Knight era.
Some who played for Woodson believe he could be successful immediately.
“One of my favorite coaches to play for,” Jamal Crawford said.
An immediate concern for Woodson is that six Indiana players are currently in the transfer portal. His hiring could prompt at least some of those to reconsider.
To help with the transition, Dolson has hired former Ohio State coach Thad Matta as an associate athletic director for basketball administration. Matta, who played at Butler and later served as head coach at Butler and Xavier, also reportedly interviewed for the coaching job.
Woodson, who still ranks fifth all-time at Indiana with 2,061 points, was one of dozens of players who attended Knight’s return to Assembly Hall in February 2020.