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Woodson Looking To Bridge Gap Between IU's Past And Present

Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson and new head basketball coach Mike Woodson hold up Woodson's old IU jersey.

(Indiana University Athletics)

Mike Woodson may be a name unfamiliar to today’s players, but it is one that resonates with long-time fans of Indiana basketball.  

And as the new head coach of the Hoosiers, Woodson is eager to remind the players of today what it means to play at Indiana, a program that has won five NCAA championships but has struggled recently.    

“It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap between the young people who don’t know who coach Woodson is and the old-timers who do know who I am,” Woodson said Monday. 

Woodson was a two-time All-American during his four-year career at Indiana from 1977-1980 under coach Bob Knight. He ranks fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 2,062 points and was Big Ten most valuable player his senior year even though he only played six games because of a back injury. 

Driving that point home, IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson had Woodson’s No. 42 jersey on hand as Woodson was introduced as the program’s 30th head coach Monday.  

He reportedly signed a six-year deal worth about $3 million a year. 

Woodson opened his remarks by praising Knight. 

“He took a chance on a kid out of Indianapolis many years ago to come here and play basketball,” Woodson said. “He taught me how to play the game of basketball from a fundamental standpoint and he taught me how to be a man on and off the floor. And that was huge for me, coming out of the inner city of Indianapolis. 

“So I pay tribute to Coach Knight in the utmost way, because Indiana basketball will always be Bob Knight.” 

Woodson’s ties to Indiana’s past were a huge plus, but it was his coaching ability that swayed Dolson. 

“I’m talking to people that weren’t advocating for Mike, that had no idea where I was in the search, who talked about there’s no better mind in the NBA than Mike Woodson,” Dolson said. “And it hit me as we’re looking for the future, that was really, really important.” 

Woodson has spent the past two-plus decades as a coach in the NBA, including head coaching positions with the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks.  

The Hawks won just 13 games in his first season in 2004, but increased their win total each year. In his final season in 2010, Atlanta went 53-29. But after getting swept in the second round of the playoffs, Woodson’s contract was not renewed. 

He took over as the head coach of the Knicks late in the 2012 season and led them to a 54-28 record and the Eastern Conference semifinals the next year. After the Knicks failed to make the playoffs in 2014, he was fired. However, he returned to the Knicks as an assistant in 2020 and was with the team until taking the Indiana job. 

He succeeds Archie Miller, who was fired March 15 after four seasons of Indiana failing to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. 

He will be tasked with rebuilding a program that has not lived up to the expectations set back in Woodson’s day for some time. 

It’s been five seasons since the Hoosiers’ last NCAA tournament appearance. Indiana has not reached the Final Four since 2002, two seasons after Knight was fired. 

Woodson said he is not concerned by his lack of college coaching experience.  

“Basketball, to me, is basketball,” Woodson said. “I’ve never coached in college, but I like to think that I’ve coached at the highest level and I’ve coached some of the greatest players that have ever graced the basketball world.” 

His first order of business will be meeting individually with the current players, including a half-dozen who have entered the transfer portal. That means they can stay with IU, but intend to explore their options. 

“I’m going to see where their hearts and minds are, and talk about moving this program in the right direction and getting us back on top,” Woodson said. “That’s why I’m here.” 

Dolson hired former Butler and Ohio State head coach Thad Matta as an associate athletic director for men’s basketball to help run the program. 

Dolson said Matta has been a long-time fan of Indiana basketball, and was in attendance in 1975 when Indiana lost against Kentucky after star player Scott May broke his arm. It was the only game IU lost that year – and the Hoosiers were undefeated and won the national championship the next season.

He called the partnership with Woodson and Matta “a perfect marriage.” 

For Woodson, it’s all about bringing the program back to its glory days. 

He said he applied for the IU job once before, but after not getting it remained in the NBA ranks. But he has kept his eye on the Hoosiers. 

“I’ve watched Indiana basketball all my life from afar,” Woodson said. “Even though the 30-plus years I’ve spent in the NBA, I was always glued to Indiana and that will never change.” 

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