When IU Athletic Director Scott Dolson reached out to Mike Woodson about the men’s basketball head coach job, he wasn’t willing to talk over Zoom.
Woodson had already missed out on the IU job once and didn’t want another opportunity to pass him by. He said he’d already done everything he wanted to do in basketball. He played at IU, had an 11-year NBA career and had been an NBA head coach.
But this was different. This was his dream job, and Woodson wanted to give the best sales pitch possible.
“I said, ‘If you’re interested in Mike Woodson, either I get on a plane or you get on a plane and come see me,’” Woodson said Monday.
Dolson didn’t hesitate. The next morning he got on a plane to New York to see Woodson.
Dolson said early in the head coach search, he and his team put together a “vision document,” which outlined how they believed the program should be structured and run. It talked about play-style, culture, collaboration and how to bridge the past and the future, creating a new tradition within the storied program.
Within the first few minutes of their meeting, Dolson said it was clear he and Woodson shared the same vision for IU basketball.
“One of the things that he said to me, which struck me, is that he's a collaborator,” Dolson said. “He said, ‘Scott, you and I will be joined at the hip. If we do this, this is a partnership.’ And it actually was music to my ears because that's what I was looking for.”
A part of that collaboration was Woodson’s request to have resources to help guide him in the transition from the NBA to college.
While the head coach of the New York Knicks, Woodson said he had a partnership with Glen Grunwald, general manager and senior advisor of the Knicks, whom he’d use to bounce ideas off of and help assist him as head coach. After hearing about this, Dolson came up with an idea while flying home: What if former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta could be his Grunwald at IU?
“I actually came to him with Thad, and thought there was a perfect marriage there,” Dolson said.
Despite not knowing Matta personally, Woodson agreed, knowing the former-head coach’s track record and success in the Big Ten.
Dolson said what excited him was Woodson’s vision to engage the past to excite the future.
Woodson described his time at IU from 1976-80 under Bob Knight as “one big happy family.” He wants to bring that back to celebrate IU’s past greatness and reinstill that tradition in the current team.
“All I can talk about is the days when coach Knight was here and how, you know, he had everybody come back every year,” Woodson said. “We laid the groundwork for where we are today. And they, those players, should never ever be forgotten. And in my heart, they won't ever be forgotten. So I will bring them all back and bridge this gap that's so desperately needed.”
Related: [‘A complete circle’: Mike Woodson returns home as IU men’s basketball head coach, inspired by Bob Knight]
After firing Archie Miller, Dolson said he wanted to find a coach on the cutting edge of where basketball is going. In Woodson, he thinks he’s found that.
College basketball is quickly shifting toward the NBA style of play, spacing the floor and surrounding the perimeter with shooters. On defense, it’s about being able to switch on the perimeter while defending the pick-and-roll. It just so happens that Woodson was one of the first NBA coaches to adopt that style.
“Mike's known as a visionary,” Dolson said. “I’m talking to people that weren’t advocating for Mike, they had no idea where I was in the search, who talked about there’s no better mind in the NBA than Mike Woodson. And it hit me, we’re looking for the future.”
Woodson said he sees the shift in NCAA basketball and can bring in a system that matches where the game is evolving toward. He said he wants to recruit players that can play three or four positions, similar to what he had on his NBA teams, who can both defend on the ball and rebound as a unit.
On offense, Woodson said he wants to start from the outside, recruiting 3-point shooters and finding players who can dribble and pass to create for their teammates.
“I think I can create an offense that everybody touches the basketball and if you can shoot the basketball and you're expected to shoot it and make shots,” Woodson said. “If you can’t shoot it then you got to do other things to help us win basketball games.”
Before Woodson can implement a system, he needs to figure out what the Hoosiers’ roster will look like. IU has six players in the transfer portal and he said that following his introductory press conference, he plans to spend the day meeting with every member of the team individually to figure out where they currently stand on their decisions.
“They are looking for me to get them where they need to go and I’m looking at them to get Indiana basketball where it needs to go,” Woodson said. “And as getting it back on top, that's why I'm here. I'm excited about being here. You just have no idea, this is just a wonderful day.”