Cleaning Out My Closet

*Disclaimer: There’s a less than zero chance that I’m about to call something you think stupid. Bear with me through that. It’s not a personal attack. Thanks.

I have some complicated feelings about Archie Miller and IU basketball that I’ve been working through and I think I can finally articulate them. You may have noticed that I haven’t written much this season (read: at all), or you may not. I don’t know your life. But it’s true. I’ve mostly just tweeted irritably on occasion without coming here to formulate larger arguments or make more intricate points.

I’ve settled on saying things like, “Are we sure Archie can coach?” and “When will Tom Crean learn how to coach against the zone?” I’ve nestled comfortably into a gigantic armchair of snark rather than come here and go on the record with the deeper truth of me and Indiana basketball.

I want to correct that, but first, let’s take a step back.

I spent pretty much the entirety of Tom Crean’s tenure on here telling people to calm down, to stop yelling at Verdell, to quit hating Tom Pritchard while acknowledging the fundamental truth that he was guilty of every foul he was ever called for, to watch our for Tijan’s elbows, and to breathe through the pains of birthing a new program after Kelvin Sampson was done destroying it.

Then we beat UK and started a season #1. I was riding high. Until we lost to Syracuse.

At which point I watched the IU fan base (at least the loud parts of it online) melt down. I watched “The Movement” turn into a turd in the punch bowl, decimating three years of potential, leaving only Yogi.

Then I found myself fighting the losing battle against the Freaners (Fire Creaners) who could not be satisfied, even with Thomas Bryant, OG, and Juwan coming in and despite injuries, helping us grab another Big Ten title.

Eventually, you got what you wanted and Crean was fired. And by that time he needed to go because the fan base had turned so toxic there was nothing he could do, save win the NCAA every year, that was going to be good enough.

Enter Archie.

Here’s where it gets complicated for me personally.

I was already irritated that we were hiring a new coach, but it seemed like the right kind of hire – a young coach on the come up with a track record of success at the mid-major level – even though I went on record saying I’d like an IU guy because whoever was hired was going to need some extra rope as I’d just seen the fanbase eat a coach who’d rescued the program from disaster and won two Big Ten titles and if this new guy didn’t win right away the drum beats were going to start banging again (spoilers: I was right about that).

But then something happened.

Archie was set to give his press conference the same day my dad was going to have an hour-long procedure to fix an issue with an earlier procedure.

Archie took the stage roughly six hours into this one hour operation and I suddenly wasn’t very interested in what Archie had to say. My dad died the next day from the things the doctors did during that operation. Archie’s tenure, for me, is inextricably linked with my dad’s death. So, there’s that.

That coincidence very likely colors the Archie Miller Hoosiers for me. I need to own that out loud.

There’s an underpinning of anger to my view of Archie as a coach. First, you online knuckleheads forced a change I didn’t agree with and then, during Archie’s press conference, my dad died.

As I said, my Archie feelings are complicated.

But here’s the thing. I want IU basketball to be awesome! And if Archie was going to be the guy who would bring us back to awesome I would happily go on that ride. I would support him and cheer for the teams he put on the court.

But I wasn’t convinced from jump street that he was going to be able to do that. I was going to need to be shown and I didn’t really get the irrational confidence of the IU fans who were ARCHIE IS THE MAN before he’d landed a recruit or coached a game.

Wait and see was my approach.

Season one was about what I expected. He inherited an NIT team, tried to put in a new system, and it was a mild success. No post season play, but that wasn’t a huge problem. Growing pains. You know.

And through it all I found myself irritated by online fans who felt the need to build Archie up (in spite of the lack of overwhelming success) while still insisting on tearing Crean down. Things like, “It’s nice to have a coach who draws up an out of bounds plays.” Or “Finally, someone who can coach defense.”

It was a combination of projected wish fulfillment and unneeded Crean bashing. And none of it based in the reality of what was happening on the court.

Things were as expected, but I was still irked.

The end of the season showed some promise. Juwan was looking great. Justin really came on at the end of the year. And there was this basketball savior, this New Albany Jesus that Archie had managed to land (“Crean never would have gotten Romeo. He totally screwed that up”).

Romeo was coming!!!!!! Plus, there was this Phinesee kid out of Lafayette. Archie was sealing borders like Crean never could (let’s all ignore Cody and Yogi why don’t we)!

Now, I’d heard for years how great Romeo was. I’m from Southern Indiana, but now live in Chicago, so I’d never seen him play. All I had to go on was online hype and the word of other IU fans that I knew personally and whose opinions I trusted.

Still, I wasn’t spending much time worrying about his college choice. I can’t allow my emotional health to be impacted by the decisions that high school kids I don’t know are about to make.

Because this is what I believe, I can tell you this. I don’t care if [insert recruit’s name here] plays on the team or not.

But he picked IU and that’s awesome. Let’s go!

My expectations were not crazy as I had never seen him play, but I thought top 4 Big Ten finish, Top 25 team, NCAA threat all seemed reasonable.

And then the season started. We were starting terribly in almost every game (bad). We were finding ways to win close down the stretch (good). Rob seemed to be the real deal (good). Our offense seemed disjointed, like no one was 100% sure where his teammates were going to be at any given time (bad). Juwan was playing well (good). Romeo couldn’t really shoot (bad). Justin seemed to have regressed (bad). We turned the ball over too much (bad). Why are we using so many ball screens and dribble hand offs when we’re clearly terrible at them (bad)? We lost 12 of 13 (awful). We might have turned it around (good). We played 33 awful minutes against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament (bad). We missed the tournament AGAIN (bad). We’re doing well in the NIT (less bad). Romeo is out with a “back injury” (bad).

And all the while I’m seeing two camps emerging online, both of which I found extraordinarily stupid.

There was the “We love our team no matter what. Archie will save the day. Romeo is an angel straight from heaven and we should kiss his feet for gracing us with his presence” group.

And there was the Fire Archie group.

Here’s the reality. Firing Archie after two years is short sighted and would cripple the program. You can’t and shouldn’t do that. But Archie has not been good. Honesty is the best policy and the truth is, this is not good enough.

He took an NIT team, added a projected NBA lottery pick, and produced…an NIT team. Two years and the program is not better than when he was hired. That’s unacceptable.

And this needs to be understood. He and Crean were hired for different reasons, with different expectations, and under different circumstances.

Crean was hired to clean up the program, run it clean, and win. He had Kyle Taber. He then won two Big Ten titles and brought the team back from the edge of extinction.

Archie was hired to win more than Crean. He had a full roster to build on. He lost 12 of 13 in his second year, with Romeo and Juwan, Rob and Justin.

Based only on the product on the floor, Archie has not met the mandate of being better than the guy we forced out because he wasn’t winning enough.

And this, combined with my anger at all of you for forcing Crean out, my whole dad thing, building Archie up into the prince that was promised, telling me what a great player and person Romeo is over and over again, or wanting Archie fired already, has has put me in a mood.

I was telling a friend about this last week and when I told her, “There are two online communities. One that is overly positive and one that is overly negative. And I hate them both.” I understood fundamentally that I was part of my own problem.

Yes, both of these positions are stupid and not based in reality, but if you walk down the street and everyone you meet is an asshole – you’re the asshole.

So, truth time.

We’re all allowed to wear our fandom the way we want. If you want to be Professor Pangloss about the deal (google it if you need to) go right ahead. If you want to watch the world burn, shine on you crazy diamond.

I’m going to be here. Telling you what I see, based in reality. I’ll try to point out my underlying biases as honestly as I can.

And I’m going to try not to be so bothered by the way you do you. It’s none of my business anyway.

No promises. I’m only human and a lot of you drive me nuts. But I’ll do my best.

One last thing.

Archie needs to make the tournament next year. He can’t start his tenure with three years of no NCAA play. That’s not going to meet anyone’s expectations. That’s the bar that’s now set for him. It’s NCAA or bust.

I feel better having screamed.

 

Jeff Taylor