The debate is heating up surrounding the hiring of Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. ESPN columnist Pat Forde notes that the seat will be considerably hot for the new coach, given his lack of an IU pedigree. Bob Kravitz at The Indianapolis Star writes that athletic director Rick Greenspan blew his chance to heal Hoosier Nation.
On the surface, it does seem that Greenspan almost went out of his way to continue to smack down the many admirers of Bob Knight--who are still legion enough in Indiana, that Texas Tech games are considered regional telecasts in the Bloomington area. And in spite of the university's problems with Knight, there were certainly candidates available--namely Steve Alford and Randy Wittman--who had both admiration from the faithful and would have easily co-existed with the administration. From the standpoint of politics, Greenspan's move was a blunder, and an unnecessary one.
But whatever the political merits of the move, the AD's decision was sound in its basketball judgement. I think Sampson is one of the more underrated coaches in the country. His record is vastly superior to Alford's and both are in relatively similiar situations. Wittman was an unknown commodity, both as a head coach and in the college game. He might have been popular, but if it hadn't worked out, an IU pedigree will only carry you through so many subpar seasons. Keep in mind that Knight himself wasn't immune to rumblings his final six years in Bloomington, and those were years when Indiana made the NCAA Tournament every year, was seeded in the 6-7 range four times, and never lower then ninth. If Mark Few was not available--and initial reports are that he wasn't interested--then Sampson was as good a choice as any to at least get the program back to the level of Knight's final years and to have a reasonable chance to get back to where schools like Michigan State are today.
And a missing angle in this story is that Greenspan's move will also have the effect of "calling out" Mike Davis, as it were. The deposed IU coach has attempted to make the argument his program was hindered by lack of fan support--and that such support could only come from one of Knight's own. The racial subplot was never far from the surface in this storyline. But if Sampson--an ethnic minority frm outside the Knight family--comes in, does the job and wins over the fans, that eliminates Davis' excuse.
I expect Sampson to win at Indiana, and if the Ws come, the healing in Hoosier Nation will follow. Maybe not right away, like an Alford hire would have. But anyone that appreciates Knight-style basketball knows the value of patience. That's what it will take here.